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film review

The German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt is best known for her observation of "the banality of evil" at the trial of the Holocaust's administrator, Adolf Eichmann, in 1961. Many misinterpreted or resented the phrase, arguing that to explain evil is to underestimate or excuse it. This solid intellectual biography painstakingly follows the development of Arendt's thought as she was forced to flee her privileged surroundings in German academia, where she was Martin Heidegger's student and lover, to France and then the United States. It is, on the other hand, frustratingly cursory about some details of her personal life and never fully examines the contradictions in a personality shaped by the refugee experience. Arendt passionately embraced humanity in theory and her lovers in practice, yet the harshness of some pronouncements betray a person at once removed from fellow feeling. (PG) Kate Taylor