To most persons Kant's philosophical writings are unreadable and are to be avoided, Paul-Heinz Koesters, author of "Deutschland deine Denker" called "The Critique of Pure Reason" the most complicated book of World Literature. Kant the man has been caricatured as an anti-social celibate pedant who lived his life with mechanical accuracy. This much needed full length Biography of Immanuel Kant is well-researched, well-documented and well-written, and goes a long way to removing these erroneous assumptions.
Kuehn, Professor of Philosophy at Marburg, Germany, begins by outlining a history of Kant Biographies, starting with the three biographers who knew Kant personally, Borowski, Jachmann and Wasianski. He concludes with Stuckenberg (1882) and Vorländer (1924), the last true biographers of Kant, making an excellent case that a full length Biography was much needed. He is correct in the assessment that Kant's correspondence is one of the best, yet underutilized sources. His thesis is to prove how Kant's intellectual path is more closely connected with biographical details of his life as has been previously assumed, and how Kant's life was much more diverse and more full of human contact. In this Kuehn succeeds well.
In nine remarkably even Chapters, both in paginal and chronological length, Kant's Life and work are discussed together. This is very difficult to do, and requires someone who is knowledgable in Philosophy and whi is also a good writer, which Kuehn obviously is. He makes a series of excellent observations, documenting them amply with the 1,656 Footnotes. I will only mention a few here because of space limitations: Kuehn writes correctly that though Kant was much influenced by the values of his parents, his Philosophy was not influenced by Pietism. Also correct is the contention that Königsberg was by no means the out of the way provincial town it has been portrayed to be. On the contrary, Kant had much contact with persons of many cultural backgrounds and social standing, and the University of Königsberg was more advanced than other German Universities of the time. Of great interest are the descriptions of University life, of Kant's lecturing style, and his relationships with students. It seems that Kant was also gregarious and sought after in society. He was witty, well mannered and by all accounts an excellent conversationalist. He was not a recluse at all. Not having a house of his own until the age of fifty-nine, he ate in pubs for over thirty years. Of great interest is also the variety of friendships he had, with students, with the English Merchants Green and Motherby, and with the Novelist von Hippel, to name a few. Especially Kant's early life was far from methodical.
Interspresed with all of this biographical information are carefully written discussions of all of Kant's writings, and his philosophical development. By putting these into the context with Kant the man, they are much easier to understand. The discussion of the writing of the "Critique of Pure Reason" and the desciption of the book itself, its Philosophy, is the most readable and easiest to understand account I have ever read. Truly well done, as this can also serve as a useful introduction to Kant's Philosophy. The thesis here is that Kant's Critical Philosophy was not the result of a sudden inspiration, as has been pointed out elsewhere, but the result of many years of methodical work. Kuehn also correctly identifies some of Kant's misguided work, for example, "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime".
The criticisms I have of this book are errors in quotations, for example of Kant's correspondence and citations from the Critique of Pure Reason and of the misuse of apostrophies in German. These seem to be proofreading errors. In addition, there are many excellent illustrations of Kant, his contemporaries and of Königsberg available (see Uwe Schultz "Immanuel Kant in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten"), thus the choice of the eleven mostly second rate illustrations by Cambridge University Press seems unfortunate. It would also have been most helpful to see fascimiles of Kant's handwriting which are fascinating to see. Finally, the Bibliography is one only of "Works Cited". It could have been more complete.
These criticisms aside, the Biography is very well done. It is surely accessible to persons not having a background in Philosophy. I believe that most readers will be pleasantly surprised that the life of Kant was not boring at all, especially in the way it is presented by Manfred Kuehn. I recommend this book very highly. Anyone wanting further biographical information on Kant is welcome to contact me.