What can Nietzsche teach us about trekking through life?

Hiking with Nietzsche: Becoming Who You Are is a tale of two philosophical journeys―one made by John Kaag as an introspective young man of nineteen, the other seventeen years later, in radically different circumstances: he is now a husband and father, and his wife and small child are in tow. Kaag sets off for the Swiss peaks above Sils Maria where Nietzsche wrote his landmark work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Both of Kaag’s journeys are made in search of the wisdom at the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy, yet they deliver him to radically different interpretations and, more crucially, revelations about the human condition.

Just as Kaag’s acclaimed debut, American Philosophy: A Love Story, seamlessly wove together his philosophical discoveries with his search for meaning, Hiking with Nietzsche is a fascinating exploration not only of Nietzsche’s ideals but of how his experience of living relates to us as individuals in the twenty-first century. Bold, intimate, and rich with insight, Hiking with Nietzsche is about defeating complacency, balancing sanity and madness, and coming to grips with the unobtainable. As Kaag hikes, alone or with his family, but always with Nietzsche, he recognizes that even slipping can be instructive. It is in the process of climbing, and through the inevitable missteps, that one has the chance, in Nietzsche’s words, to “become who you are."

Reviews of Hiking with Nietzsche

--Steven B. Smith, The New York Times Book Review

"Kaag is a lively storyteller who brings Nietzsche's life into continual contact with his own . . . [He] challenges his readers to be what they might become." 

--Becca Rothfeld, The Atlantic

"Not just an approachable introduction to Nietzsche’s thought. Kaag’s book is also . . . a confirmation that philosophy thrives when it provides an antidote to the wholesome doldrums of sanity . . . Kaag may have outgrown his youthful dramatics, but he continues to let philosophy upend him."

--Heller McAlpin, npr.org

"As in American Philosophy, Kaag deftly intertwines sympathetic biography, accessible philosophical analysis, and self-critical autobiography . . . Kaag extracts plenty of relevant ideas from Nietzsche and his followers in this stimulating book about combating despair and complacency with searching reflection." 

John F. Muller, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Kaag has carved out a genre all his own, a genre with the promise to narrow some of the gaps between the esoteric and the familiar, the academic and the non-academic, the philosopher and the self-help guru. For those with Kaag’s unusual mixture of philosophical sophistication and narrative skill, it is a genre well worth emulating.” --

―Sue Prideaux, author of I Am Dynamite: A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche

“A searing, very personal journey through John Kaag’s own Nietzschean abyss.” 

--The New Yorker

"[An] engagingly unacademic meditation . . . The question, ultimately, is whether Nietzsche’s philosophy, so attuned to lurking monstrous urges, can be of use in daily life. Kaag’s answer is both elliptical and profound, manifesting a deep understanding of his subject matter." 

What's Next?


Available March 17, 2020 Princeton University Press

A compelling introduction to the life-affirming philosophy of William James.  

Coming soon!...Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life

In 1895, William James, the father of American philosophy, delivered a lecture entitled "Is Life Worth Living?" It was no theoretical question for James, who had contemplated suicide during an existential crisis as a young man a quarter century earlier. Indeed, as  Kaag writes, "James's entire philosophy, from beginning to end, was geared to save a life, his life"―and that's why it just might be able to save yours, too. Sick Souls, Healthy Minds is a compelling introduction to James's life and thought that shows why the founder of pragmatism and empirical psychology―and an inspiration for Alcoholics Anonymous―can still speak so directly and profoundly to anyone struggling to make a life worth living.

Kaag tells how James's experiences as one of what he called the "sick-souled," those who think that life might be meaningless, drove him to articulate an ideal of "healthy-mindedness"―an attitude toward life that is open, active, and hopeful, but also realistic about its risks. In fact, all of James's pragmatism, resting on the idea that truth should be judged by its practical consequences for our lives, is a response to, and possible antidote for, crises of meaning that threaten to undo many of us at one time or another. Along the way, Kaag also movingly describes how his own life has been endlessly enriched by James.

Advance Praise for Sick Souls, Healthy Minds


"Not since Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance have I read such a mesmerizing confluence of personal experience and formal thought as John Kaag's American Philosophy: A Love Story. That combination is on display again in his Sick Souls, Healthy Minds―a brief and powerful book about one of America's most profound minds, William James, and what he can teach us about what makes life worth living."―Robert D. Richardson, author of William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism


"Kaag's reading of James is as elucidating as readers have come to expect from him. Once again, he writes in a clear, focused, and winningly self-aware style that makes friends of James and himself for anyone who wonders if life is worth living. A book in which Kaag further carves out his niche in philosophy: personal, practical, and crucial." (Kirkus Reviews)


"In this beautifully written book, which is filled with bracing insights, John Kaag shows why William James has had a deep, life-altering, therapeutic effect on his readers over the past century―and can continue to have the same effect on new readers today."

―Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, author of American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas

Kaag is also the Author of American Philosophy: A Love Story

Named a 2016 NYT Editor Choice and NPR Best Book of 2016

Reviews of American Philosophy

John Kaag



John is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and a Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute.  He just finished Sick Souls, Healthy Minds: How William James Can Save Your Life, which will be published with Princeton in spring of 2020.  

John lives with his partner Kathy and their two lovely children, Becca and Henry.    He is currently finishing  Love's Conditions, the third in the trilogy after American Philosophy and Hiking with Nietzsche, and he is also working on Think Again: An Introduction to Philosophy for Norton and  American Blood for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  

Selected Academic Publications


American Philosophy

"Pragmatism and the Lessons of Experience" (Daedalus: The Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

Pragmatism and Aesthetic Ideals (British Journal for the History of Philosophy)

Josiah Royce's Philosophy of Loyalty (History of Philosophy Quarterly

"Paddling in the Stream of Consciousness" (Journal  of Speculative Philosophy)


Social and Political Philosophy

Drones and the Paradox of Choice (with Jamie Ashton in Harvard Review of Philosophy)

the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Asymmetric Conflict (with Sarah Kreps in Polity)

Military Frameworks: Technological Know-How and the Legitimation of War (with Whit Kaufman in Cambridge Review of International Affairs)  


Cognitive Science

The Neurological Dynamics of the Imagination (Phenomenology and Cognitive Science)

Getting Under My Skin: William James on the Emotions, Sociality, and Transcendence (Zygon)

Fallibility and Insight in Moral Judgement (Human Studies)

Want to hear about events and publications?


Please email with thoughts or questions

John Kaag

Professor of Philosophy, UMass Lowell

Represented By

Markus Hoffmann

Regal Hoffman Literary


Andre Dubus III (Author of the House of Sand and Fog) on American Philosophy: A Love Story