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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

Pushing Time Away

Peter Singer

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Pushing Time Away

Title: Pushing Time Away
Author: Peter Singer
Genre: Biography
Written: 2003
Length: 244 pages
Availability: Pushing Time Away - US
Pushing Time Away - UK
Pushing Time Away - Canada
  • My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a life offering an interesting perspective on the times and place, fairly well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Forward . 18/4/2003 Benjamin Balint
The Independent A 6/8/2004 Julia Neuberger
The NY Rev. of Books C 20/11/2003 Daniel Mendelsohn
Sydney Morning Herald . 1/3/2003 Andrew Riemer
TLS . 12/11/2004 Ritchie Robertson
The Washington Post . 23/3/2003 Steven Beller

  From the Reviews:
  • "But in his latest and most personal book, he takes up another kind of legacy -- and with it an entirely different sort of alleged moral failure -- in a way that casts new light on his philosophical project. Pushing Time Away is the engrossing story of his maternal grandfather" - Benjamin Balint, Forward

  • "(T)he fundamental flaw in his book, which is a tendency to emotional detachment, a tendency to miss emotional clues and rich details of lived life that, in another's hands, would have made this biography searing rather than merely affecting." - Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Review of Books

  • "Yet Pushing Time Away is unusual among memoirs written by survivors of the persecution of European Jews (or by their descendants) because of its individual slant. (...) Yet the major emphasis of this memoir reconstructed mainly from the Oppenheims' letters and David's publications falls on a topic such memoirs usually fail to consider: the intellectual life of these otherwise typical members of Europe's assimilated Jewry." - Andrew Riemer, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "In exploring these ideals, Peter Singer is composing not only his family history but also the genealogy of his own values." - Ritchie Robertson, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Peter Singer has written, in the best possible sense, a pious family memoir, about another Viennese classicist and secular Jew, his maternal grandfather, David Oppenheim. (...) Yet, as should be plain to any reader of this touching, thoughtful and profound book, Singer's aim here as well is a deeply ethical one. (...) Singer is interested not in explaining David Oppenheim but in understanding him." - Steven Beller, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Peter Singer's book is a quite personal biography of his grandfather, David Ernst Oppenheim, whom he never met. In Pushing Time Away Singer attempts to reconstruct this life, based largely on a trove of family documents: it is both a biography and an account of Singer's efforts, as he interrupts the narrative with numerous brief asides from the present, describing his progress in tracing his grandfather's life.
       Oppenheim (1881-1943) isn't at all a well-known figure, and arguably the story of typical Viennese Jewish intellectual life in this time could be (and has been) presented using better-known examples, but this perspective turns out also to be a very interesting one. He may not have been well-known, but Oppenheim was close to some of the leading thinkers of the time. He was only a high school teacher -- but that at the renowned Akademisches Gymansium, where he taught Greek and Latin and left a lasting impression on many of his students (including Erwin Ringel and Friedrich Heer). He was also active in the circles first around Freud and then Alfred Adler, working together with them and eventually also publishing a book.
       As Singer shows, Oppenheim's life was touched and formed by many of the significant issues and events of the day. Though descended from a rabbinical family he was not a religious man and, for the most part, was completely accepted in cosmopolitan Vienna -- but could, eventually, not escape this part of his heritage.
       A talented academic, he married a perhaps even more brilliant woman, Amalie Pollack, who gave up her potential career to devote herself to her husband's. (Singer does speculate about what she might have been capable of, but overall he doesn't devote enough space to her.) A curious sidenote is that both Oppenheim and Amalie expressed some strong homosexual inclinations, at least in their younger years (and it's entertaining to see how Singer sorts through the fraught implications of this). But all the evidence suggests they had a strong and fine marriage (and they wound up having two daughters).
       Oppenheim fought in the First World War, and here and elsewhere Singer uses his grandfather as a springboard to describe the larger goings-on of the period, making for an effective portrait of fin-de-siècle and then post-war Austrian life. Things grow bleaker -- though not as quickly as one might expect -- with the rise of Naziism in Germany, and then catastrophe comes with the German takeover of Austria. The Oppenheim's fate is tragic in its twists and turns, as some relatives (including Singer's parents) escape while, for a variety of reasons, David and Amalie ultimately don't. Still, they continue to survive in Vienna, in ever-worsening circumstances, until they are finally deported to a concentration camp.
       The fascination of Pushing Time Away lies in how very much Oppenheim's life seems almost everyday. Certainly, he was more remarkable than most but his life and then death moved along a similar arc as that of many thousands of others, with choices -- from what career-path to take and who to marry to how desperately to try to emigrate -- having a profound effect not only on the individual but also on the generations that follow.
       Singer presents the material quite well. He fills in the background -- about Vienna, politics, Freud, and much else -- in a sympathetic, no-frills sort of way, cutting straight to the most essential. The wistful glimpses from the present, as he touches the removed past, don't work quite so well, but do loosen up the text and make it a more personal read. Singer also throws in some philosophical and ethical speculation -- and the last chapter is an attempt to calculate whether Oppenheim's could be described as 'A Good Life ?' -- valid questions, though, since this isn't the focus of the text, the answers seem under-developed.
       All in all: a fine, affecting portrait with some fascinating detail.

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Pushing Time Away: Reviews: Peter Singer: Other books by Peter Singer under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Australian philosopher Peter Singer is the author of the influential Animal Liberation, and currently teaches at Princeton University.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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