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The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century [Anglais] [Broché]

Peter Watson

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Revue de presse

'[German] philosophy was more profound - to a fault. So was their music. Their scientists and engineers were clearly the best. Their soldiers were unmatched. It is, of course, the Nazis who have made it hard for us to appreciate what Peter Watson calls "the German genius." Goebbels spoiled the brand when he marketed Hitler as the apotheosis of German culture. Mr Watson, a British journalist and the author of several books of cultural history, would like us to leave the Nazis aside and appreciate that our modern world - at least the world of ideas - is largely a German creation. In effect, with "The German Genius" Mr Watson has given us a kind of Dictionary of German Biography… There were many German geniuses'
International Herald Tribune 17/7
'Post-war perceptions of Germany tend to be coloured by an obsession with the Nazis. Nevertheless, German ideas and practices have been fundamental to the development of modern life in the West. For ill, of course, but more often for good than is now recognised, we could not have done without the Germans, and Watson's book is intended to subvert the negative German stereotypes. Though it checks in at just short of 1,000 pages, it is a usefully concise introduction to the principal themes and personalities of German scientific, philosophical, social, literary and artistic culture since 1750'                                                                             The Times
‘This intelligent book presents a breath-taking panorama. Let up hope that it succeeds in its aim and stimulates a deeper and wider engagement with the country of Kant, Beethoven, Einstein and Habermas’
Christopher Clark, Sunday Times 12/9
‘Peter Watson's colossal encyclopaedia, The German Genius, might have been written for me, but not only for me. A journalist of heroic industry, Watson is frustrated by the British ignorance of Germany, or rather by an expertise devoted exclusively to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. Watson wonders not just why the nation of thinkers and poets came to grief between 1933 and 1945 but also how it put itself together again and, in 1989, recreated most of the Wilhelmine state without plunging Europe into war or even breaking sweat.
Watson has not simply written a survey of the German intellect from Goethe to Botho Strauss – nothing so dilettantist. In the course of nearly 1,000 pages, he covers German idealism, porcelain, the symphony, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, telegraphy, homeopathy, strategy, Sanskrit, colour theory, the Nazarenes, universities, Hegel, jurisprudence, the conservation of energy, the Biedermeyer, entropy, fractals, dyestuffs, the PhD, heroin, automobiles, the unconscious, the cannon, the Altar of Pergamon, sociology, militarism, the waltz, anti-semitism, continental drift, quantum theory and serial music.’
James Buchan, Guardian 9/10
‘The outstanding quality of this book is that it places scientific discoveries at the core of cultural history, linking them with dramatic technical and industrial developments…Watson’s account of the ‘rise’ assembles such a wealth of information, based on an impressive range of sources, that The German Genius will be an essential work of reference for years to come’
Independent 15/10
'Like successive German ambassadors to the UK, Peter Watson has noticed that British perceptions of Germany are dominated almost exclusively by the Third Reich, the Second World War and the Holocaust… The era during which Germany led the world in philosophy, music, science, historical research, and, arguably, several branches of literature, was ended abruptly by Hitler, who sent most of Germany's lead minds into exile and thus hugely enriched the intellectual life of the Anglo-American countries… here we have an encyclopaedic survey in which every famous German artist or thinker, and many who should be more famous than they are, finds a place'
Ritchie Robertson, TLS 1/10
'The reason Peter Watson gives for writing this long intellectual history of Germany since 1750 is a convincing one; that British obsession with Nazism has blinded many British people to the achievements of German culture… An introduction to other German history is welcome'
Alexander Starritt, The Spectator 16/10

Présentation de l'éditeur

From the end of the Baroque age and the death of Bach in 1750 to the rise of Hitler in 1933, Germany was transformed from a poor relation among western nations into a dominant intellectual and cultural force more influential than France, Britain, Italy, Holland, and the United States. In the early decades of the 20th century, German artists, writers, philosophers, scientists, and engineers were leading their freshly-unified country to new and undreamed of heights, and by 1933, they had won more Nobel prizes than anyone else and more than the British and Americans combined. But this genius was cut down in its prime with the rise and subsequent fall of Adolf Hitler and his fascist Third Reich-a legacy of evil that has overshadowed the nation's contributions ever since.
Yet how did the Germans achieve their pre-eminence beginning in the mid-18th century? In this fascinating cultural history, Peter Watson goes back through time to explore the origins of the German genius, how it flourished and shaped our lives, and, most importantly, to reveal how it continues to shape our world. As he convincingly demonstarates, while we may hold other European cultures in higher esteem, it was German thinking-from Bach to Nietzsche to Freud-that actually shaped modern America and Britain in ways that resonate today.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.5 étoiles sur 5  39 commentaires
105 internautes sur 113 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 German history ... and the human condition 8 septembre 2010
Par GDP - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
The book is intended as a history of German ideas over the last 250 years or so, and specifically not a political, economic, or comprehensive "national" history of Germany. The narrative begins near the end of Bach's life (1685-1750), well prior to a German nation having been achieved (1871), and continues beyond the events of 1989 and the subsequent re-unification of what we recall as East and West Germany.

The book considers German ideas as being those of German people, which exceeds the bounds of citizenship in any German nation but instead also includes people of German cultural background from Austria, Bohemia, Moravia and other territories where German-speaking peoples lived en masse. A reader may no doubt quibble with some of the persons who are included as being "German" by the author, but a disagreement over any one person is indeed a quibble, not an indictment of the underlying premise.

The book would seem to have at least three purposes:

1) By documenting the immense fertility of German culture in generating powerful advances in the arts, science and the humanities the author attempts to restore (for those for whom it is needed) a wider, more balanced perspective on Germany than apparently currently exists. Without any attempt to minimize, dismiss, or overlook the evil of the Nazi's and the Holocaust (for which "Germany" has been stigmatized), the narrative offers a reminder of great achievements that were not accidental, but a product of German culture and society.

2) By explaining the elements of German culture that gave rise to those fertile developments, an explanation is also proposed for reasons that some of those same elements could ironically allow or make possible the barbaric (and distinctly uncultured) Third Reich. The exploration of these German cultural elements that "cut both ways" seems even-handed, and consistent with a mature perspective that there is much in life that is ambiguous, with the potential for both good and unintended, tragic outcomes. Again without minimizing the horror of the Holocaust or the role of the German people, the author offers a nuanced view of the cultural ground soil within which the Nazi's were allowed to grow and seize power.

3) To follow the widening influence of German ideas throughout the Western Civilization, part of which reflects the mass emigration of talented Germans during the Third Reich (principally Jewish-German artists and scientists) and part of which reflects the sheer impact of notable Germans. As a quote from Erich Heller presented as an epigram to the book states, "Defeated in two world wars, Germany appeared to have invaded vast territories of the World's minds" or in the author's own words, "The United States and Great Britain may speak English but, more than they know, they think German."

Of noteworthiness is the scope of this book. Reporting that it is 849 pages (plus an author's note, an appendix, and end-notes) does not adequately convey the amount of information contained within. Short biographical sketches for noteworthy individuals pepper the text, usually arrayed to tell the story of the development of a branch of science, commerce or the arts.

The sheer bulk of this information may test one's patience, but it is the supporting evidence for the author's themes.

Well, enough about length, what of substance?

Both the Introduction, titled 'Blinded by the Light: Hitler, the Holocaust, and "the Past That Will Not Pass Away"' and the final chapter, titled 'German Genius: The Dazzle, Deification, and Dangers of Inwardness' are, quite literally, excellent summary bookends to the book's themes, which in some ways have to be culled out of the extensive narrative of people, events and achievements that are documented in between. Reading the introduction and conclusion in sequence proved very helpful.

The book delivers a compelling case for considering such persistent cultural elements as Prussian Pietism (which became institutionalized early through professorships of theology in both Halle and Göttengen), the development of the German university ideal (whose trained graduates fed the burgeoning need for skilled thinkers and bureaucrats in an increasingly centralized world), the search for an agreeable concept of "nationality" for a group of people who had never shared a "nation" before (the concept of the volk was conceived to satisfy the search), and other notable elements (such as the concept of Bildung, a secular version of Pietism) as cultural influences that "cut both ways." These led to both outstanding achievements in the arts, industry and science, as well as led to a national mindset that made Nazi power a possibility and an unfortunate reality.

Quite correctly, there is nothing in this book that would be considered sympathetic to Nazi Germany. In fact, many prominent Nazi "thinkers" are quietly pilloried (like Theodor Frisch, a theologian who argued that Jesus was not a Jew, but that Galileans were actually Gauls, and therefore Jesus was really German!)or scientists Lenard and Stark (both Nobel Prize winners) who dismissed relativity as "a bogus Jewish science"... after the theory had been confirmed by experiment. The author appears interested only in a more complete understanding of the period and of the German people, which includes some empathy for the course of ordinary human lives and the human condition.

The author points out that, like many cultures, Germany was deeply influenced by a respect for classic antiquity. Greek models of the arts and intellectual thought materially shaped German culture. Which makes it doubly unfortunate then, that there was a collective failure to learn from one of the greatest of Greek achievements, tragic drama. The unfortunate experience of Germany and the victims of Nazi Germany appear as a cruel, ironic enactment of Greek Tragedy. Choices made for seemingly well-intended purposes result in, perhaps many years later, the preconditions for an enormous amount of suffering. The protagonists cannot foresee the looming disaster despite the chorus that tries to warn them. Perhaps one of the points of The German Genius, though, is that because of certain German cultural elements, the chorus wasn't loud enough to be heard.

As the author further points out, strains of the German Genius are still with us (including an emphasis upon science and technology, as well as an emphasis on "inwardness" - his description of the effects of Pietism or Bildung - at the expense of community involvement). Read this book, it is both a history and a timeless story.
180 internautes sur 206 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Don't mention the war! 8 juillet 2010
Par Gaius Valerius Catullus - Publié sur
Oh please, with peace to the previous reviewer. Here's my problem with the review. When one says that they are rather ignorant of German culture and history and then goes on to myopically focus in on the Nazi era and holocaust as if it were the sum of German history, I have to wonder if they had learned anything constructive from Watson's excellent survey at all.

It is as if Anglos are perpetually in the grip of wartime propaganda some 70 years after the war. Actually, the propaganda really goes back to WWI in which the UK launched the first modern state propaganda campaign against another people, using race imagery btw.

Watson's book is an attempt at a corrective to this distorted and one sided view of history, and it should be applauded in so far as it succeeds. Unfortunately, based on the previous review, I wonder if he has. Although I'm of Anglo ancestry, I have lived in Germany and speak German with intermediate ability. It is a wonderful country and people, and being a classical musician, I can say that their achievement in that sphere is unparalleled in the history of mankind. The most we Anglos can muster seems to the Beatles and other such low rent music (Elgar, who spent summers in Bavaria, excepted). What does that compare with Mozart or Bach?

What galls me in such thinking is the presumptuous, arrogant and glib superiority complex that Anglos have about themselves. We view ourselves as the world's angels, forgetting the international slave trade (which Germans had nothing to do with), the creation of concentration camps (for Boers in S.A. during the Boer War), the wholesale extermination of various native tribes in North America, and host of other crimes against humanity. Yet, we continue to put on as if we are the greatest thing to happen to humanity while treating Germany as if she were still a rogue state (one only need think of Thatcher's reaction to German reunification). Bottom line is that we will go down as history's biggest hypocrites. Germans will fortunately be spared that epitaph.

There's no need for Watson to grill a great culture once more over their 'crimes.' Enough (not for some of course) has been written on that to occupy one for a lifetime. Watson's goal is to remind English speaking readers that the world we live in today in so many ways is a creation of German speaking technology and culture. This is an incontrovertible fact. While, on a purely geopolitical level, they failed to become dominant since the UK could not and would not dare imagine themselves after 1815 as anything but number #1 rather like the USA today, yet they succeeded in virtually every other sphere.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an open mind about Germany's many sided contributions to European and global culture. If you're looking for yet another 'Hitler and the Germans' or 'Germany and the Nazis' book, you need to look somewhere else. It is a much needed breath of fresh air into the discourse surrounding a people literally central to the present European Union.
35 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The German contribution 1 août 2010
Par Ludvig - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This work is compendious and detailed, indeed may be too heavy for some readers. There is a wealth, not only of facts
but also a comprehensive reporting of most aspects of society and the matrix in which modern German contributions and thinking across the spectrum of activities.
Definitely the best I've read on this subject
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 You'll want more 24 septembre 2010
Par Telamon - Publié sur
Excellent one-volume overview of the German genius from the death of J. S. Bach to the advent of the Third Reich. Obviously a well-read man, Watson gets to the heart of these geniuses and their work in a decidedly pithy way; to me, this book is the starting-point of my real research into the German genius.

But if you wanted the author to write more about Goethe, Schopenhauer, Diesel, Hegel, Schlegel, Schiller, Schubert, Mahler, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Friedrich, Herder, Wolf, Fichte, Humboldt (and so on and so on), well, you ask for too much. So, I'd say start here and enjoy the journey.
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 finding out things about Germany I have never seen in other contexts 17 septembre 2010
Par zkreg - Publié sur
The introduction alone was worth the purchase price and is what pulled me into purchasing the book. It is quite fascinating. Given that it is written by a British author/journalist who discusses England's relationship to Germany and some of his motivations for writing the book is also a plus.

German Genius is not a fast read and at times I wish for more of the synthesis of information that he displayed in the Introduction, however one realizes the problem as he appears to really be trying to bring in every German of significant contribution.

And as an author he appears to be able to stand in the background. I'd like to read this book faster, but it doesn't lend itself to that because of the level of detail, but I am finding out things about Germany I have never seen in other contexts.
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