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The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century (Anglais) Broché – 4 août 2011

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4,3 étoiles sur 5 55 commentaires provenant des USA

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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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4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Gets Better Toward the End 11 mai 2015
Par Peter J. Keiser - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This book has a lot of philosophy in it. If that's what you like then I recommend it. Otherwise, no. The only philosopher I can bear reading is Schopenhauer. Otherwise, reading philosophy in general puts me right to sleep. I can't help but think that maybe these guys need to get out more, maybe change the oil in their car, take the kids to the park, help their wife pick out a dress, something along those lines. Not necessarily a bad book, just very long and somewhat tedious. I haven't finished it yet. Maybe it will all come together at the end. If it does, I'll revise this review. Currently mired in the portion dealing with the dismal morass that was the Third Reich, not exactly Germany's finest hour and certainly not a product of genius of any sort, if you get my drift. Case in point, if Martin Heidegger was so brilliant, why couldn't he see through the Nazis and foresee what a catastrophe they would be for Germany and everyone else? What made him tick? Why was he so flawed? I think the author could have spiced things up a bit with perhaps a more anecdotal style. Both Schubert and Nietzsche died of tertiary syphilis? Yeah? Well, there's probably a story there, aside from a bare recitation of the fact. The book's title is an interesting hypothesis, the delivery leaves something to be desired.
Having finished the book, I changed my rating to four stars. The author pulls a lot of things together toward the end, particularly how Germany reinvented itself after WWII, even rehabilitates Heidegger to some extent and shows how Habermas demonstrates the pickle we're currently in and possible approaches toward dealing with it. Very comprehensive(encyclopedic?), the philosophy emphasis remains a challenge but overall quite good.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 a dazzling intellectual history, within political and cultural context 16 juillet 2015
Par Robert J. Crawford - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
The principal idea behind this book is that we should not let the Holocaust completely dominate our perception of German culture. In his massive intellectual undertaking, Watson attempts to shift our attention to the flowering of the German mind from 1750 to 1933 as well as its transformation post-WWII. Though often a bit too encyclopaedic, Watson succeeds in putting it all into context without neglecting Hitler. As a read, it is thoroughly engrossing and enlightening, an inspiration regarding a subject that western historians have indeed neglected.

The story begins with the father of Frederick the Great, who began to institute a more comprehensive educational system. He was a pietist, the Prussian version of the Puritans, with a great belief in education as a way to improve one's character and, by implication, the nation; this was called the Bildung, a grounding in general culture in the humanities with an emphasis on classical antiquity. Frederick the Great expanded his father's policies, but in the tradition of the Enlightenment, his were more secular and skeptical. This led to the emergence of an educated middle class, the largest in Europe, with rates of literacy far beyond all other nations. They were to be the employees in the bureaucracy as well as replace clerics and pastors as the intellectuals in the society. This also culminated in the establishment of the modern research university in the 19C, complete with PhDs, specialized publications, and research institutes that far surpassed those in other western countries in both quantity and quality.

In addition to this, given the autocratic nature of the Prussian state, the Bildung was largely inward-oriented - encouraging introspection and self betterment rather than political reform or activism. This created a serious tension within the society, a kind of top-down imposition of policies by the state for which there was little alternative. Nonetheless, to fill the void that secularism was opening in German hearts and minds, Watson argues that philosophy rose to take Christianity's place with the idealist concepts of Kant and Hegel, to mention only two; this makes for some pretty turgid reading and cannot really serve as an introduction to the complex and often obscure contribution to western thought. Beyond philosophy, there was an extraordinary flowering in all the arts, from writers and painters to composers. That being said, the population apparently persisted in placing a significantly larger amount of unquestioning trust in the authorities, who "knew better" and had their "interests at heart"; this left the German political culture stunted and undemocratic until after WWII.

During the 19C, the innovators themselves, though too numerous to cover in any depth, are sketched out in context, often showing their inter-relationships. For example, the great German symphonies were regarded as philosophical works, mirroring their counterparts in the academy; this astonished me. Innovators included Nietzsche, who opened the way to post-modernism, essentially denying that any meaning or truth can be taken as absolute or categorical, but is only relative and uncertain. (He summed this up as "God is dead.") In the economic realm, of course, there was Marx, whose revolutionary philosophy was one of the most consequential of the 20C. Freud introduced new concepts as well, leading to a therapeutic approach that attempted to make sense of one's life as a meaningful narrative, i.e. a new kind of introspection that quickly spread to the rest of the world and remains a mainstay of the modern mindset. While the thumbnail portraits are fascinating, they are of necessity rather superficial and vary in quality. (For example, Watson makes some pretty glib claims about Freud's accomplishments, dismissing them as "wrong" or arrived at under "faulty" methods without offering sufficient proof.) I often found this frustrating.

According to Watson, it was at the dawn of the German industrial revolution that the balance of power began to change in Germany: manufacturers, managers, technologists, and financiers began to displace the cultured bourgeoisie, whose humanistic Bildung could no longer monopolize elite status outside of royalty and the aristocracy. Furthermore, scientists were also gaining in influence, again without the introspective underpinnings of the Bildung. With the lack of political reform, Watson argues, this left less and less space for the middle classes, who when the economy collapsed could offer little effective political opposition to the fascists.

To his credit, Watson acknowledges that the rise of the Nazis and their apocalyptic excesses may never be fully understood. Nonetheless, he shows how they transmogrified many of the innovations credited to the great German intellectuals, such as Nietzsche's superman concept, social darwinist racism and eugenics, and the concept of a superior "Volksgeist" or "spirit" of the German people, which was always a nebulous notion to me. Watson also covers how the Nazis and those willing to unquestioningly follow them, including Heidegger and many other intellectuals, destroyed much of the educational and research systems that had grown over the previous 200 years. As everyone know, it is a sad chapter from which Germany is still recovering.

Finally, Watson argues, once the western allies created the Federal Republic, the break with a past of political authoritarianism is at last accomplished. With the institutional groundwork imposed from outside, the protests of 1968 set off a transformation towards modern democracy, according to which the younger generation asks questions that the older one was unable to do, in particular when addressing the Nazi past. This was the least convincing to me, kind of thrown in at the end. Having lived in Germany near to this time, I still found students rather rigid in their ideologies and arrogant as to the superiority of the German culture over American capitalism ("Die Amerikaner sind alle kulturlos.") That being said, I completely agree with the author that Germany has created a decent society that has grown beyond the Nazi catastrophe.

I cannot do justice to the breadth of Watson's coverage. For example, towards the end, he abruptly gets into Heidegger's warnings about technology, which (he argues) the age of genetic engineering has proven "relevant"; I was left unconvinced and feel that Heidegger is over-rated for nationalistic reasons. Nonetheless, in terms of content, this is an exquisite sketch of the basics. I am not sure if what he claims is true - that the intellectual movements actually meant what he says they did - but the connections often made sense to me and put things in a new light. This is a great intellectual adventure and it left me very hungry for more, a sure sign of the book's success.

Warmly recommended.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Stunning in its breath and scope 26 décembre 2011
Par John E. Drury - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Irony struggles with world history in this recent Financial Times headline "Germany told to act to save Europe." Times have changed since 1945. We missed something along the way in all our readings and movies. Convenient villains for so long, the Germans are now asked to play savior. It is time to pull aside the historical blinders of World War Two, its atrocities and aftermath and open our eyes to Germany's contributions to science, philosophy, music, modern thought and their effect on our twenty first centuries sensibilities. Peter Watson's massive survey book reacquaints the reader, if "reacquainting" is the right verb, to the Germanic phenomenon with his deep research and cultural sensitivity without leaving unaddressed the twelve years of Nazi rule. Reading it is a sumptuous feast on Germanic erudition, philosophical thought and achievement by an author with a keen eye for detail and a gift for synthesis.

To paraphrase Philip Larkin, this is a serious book on serious ground; not to be consumed in one or two sittings; its complexities and intricacies are many, inviting the reader to carefully ponder the roots of Western philosophical thought, the wellsprings of nineteenth century symphonic music (mostly Germanic), the scope of Western artistic achievement, the nature of politics and political dialogue in our modern society and the engines of science in the past two hundred years. Watson plies his deep knowledge of the German character in his concluding chapter with five traits of German culture worthy of thoughtful consideration; an educated middle class inhabiting the world of scholarship (and by scholarship, he includes research), the arts (music, film, stage and literature), science, the legal, medical, and religious professions based not on the acquisition of knowledge but "as a process of character development;" a personal reflective character "inwardness" leading one to observe "new structures of our minds;" the German concept of "Bildung," being the primary achievement of the central driving force of inwardness, resulting in a harmonization of research with scholarship leading as " a defining phenomenun of modernity;" and a redemptive community "sustaining a moral community in the face of rampant individualism." These are thought provoking concepts for a people as controversial - and consequential - as the Germans have been for the last century.

Watson offers a fascinating take on the cultural pessimism of German middle class society post World War One and its relationship to Hannah Arendt's theory of "a temporary alliance between the educated elite and the mob" leading to a "constant murderous arbitrariness." This is a view one might not readily read about.

This wide ranging examination of German culture invites the American reader to contrast our American culture with German culture. Writers like Thomas Mann and other emigres to this country shine a caustic light on our culture; in Mann's words, he commented on "the American tendency to oversimplify . . . the `barbarous infantilism' of American life." This is not intended to provocate but to evaluate our culture and how the German literary elite saw us over time. It deserves our attention.

As I write this, the Wall Street Journal leads with a commentary by one of their business writers about the importance of the present day decisions of Angela Merkel on the 2012 elections prospects in this country. It is about time German society and culture is examined more carefully then it has been in the past. Peter Watson's book is a good starting point.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating look at the evolution of German and Western culture in the 19th and 20th Centuries 13 octobre 2014
Par Michael Van Hilst - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
This book is about culture, where it comes from, what it is, and how it evolves. The author takes pains to avoid discussing the sorts of historical, military, and political events found in other history books and instead focuses on the thinkers, writers, educators, and artists who were influential at the time. While the book is about Germany, the American system of education copied the one created in Prussia in the Nineteenth century, especially the university system, and many of the great thinkers in Germany crossed the Atlantic and influenced American intellectual culture as well, especially in the mid Twentieth century. Many, if not most, of the individuals discussed will already be familiar to the reader. Only now you will see them in their context, with many new insights revealed.

I couldn't put this book down. Every chapter contains interesting new facts and insights. Whether you are interested in physics, philosophy, education, music, religion, art, literature or history this book has a treasure trove of information. Peter Watson has assembled a remarkable amount of research to put this book together.

A story about Germany cannot help but be a story about Hitler and the Third Reich. To be anything else would be criticized as a white wash. While the author tries to show that Germany is much more than that, the book still largely focuses on a culture moving toward Hitler before 1940, and coming to terms with those terrible events afterwards. While the book describes what was, I would have liked to see a bit more discussion of what could have been. German culture took distinct turns with Napoleon's victory at Jena, the uprisings in 1848 and 1871, and of course the two world wars. Kaiser Wilhelm, Bismark, and Hitler all took specific measures to suppress certain ideals and ways of thinking. The book talks about how some ideas survived, for example when the government controlled museum shows and theatre performances. But not as much was said about what was lost. In particular, I was hoping to see more discussion of the role of government control over University appointments, for example by replacing the young Hegelians and their Idealist form of skepticism with Positivists (discussed in Marcuse's Reason and Revolution).
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Germany's Contribution to Our Culture -- Enlightening 11 décembre 2013
Par Anne Mills - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
This is an extraordinary book, from which I learned a lot in an area where I knew very little -- the German contribution to the cultural and intellectual patterns of our own society. It leaves me wanting to learn more. For that I’m very grateful. This isn't to say the book is without flaws. First, “The German Genius” is more encyclopedic, and less analytic, than I would have liked – it’s long on lists, but short on connections. Second, it is (perhaps in consequence) a very long, very ponderous read. It’s well worth reading, but in recommending to friends I shall warn them that they are undertaking a Project

Watson, as he notes, wrote the book because of the profound ignorance among most Brits about German history, except for the German history of the Hitler era – an ignorance certainly shared by most Americans. If that ignorance was occasionally reduced – perhaps by a lecture on the German inflation, or on the late emergence of the German state -- the reason for doing so was basically to find out what caused Hitler. This may have been largely unavoidable in the second half of the 20th century. Hitler was hard to look around, and “other” German history did not seem very relevant to Anglo American culture in which English speakers operate. Since English speakers tend to assume that Anglo American culture has now become world culture, this implied that German history really didn’t matter – except, of course, for the question of Hitler.

But German history – German history for hundreds of years, not just from 1933 to 1945 -- is highly relevant to today’s culture. Watson shows this by focussing not on political history, but on cultural history, and it is here that the German contribution is astonishing. Germany did not have one political history until 1870, but it had a cultural history that, Watson would argue, is in many ways the basis of “modernity”. He goes through intellectual area after intellectual area – philosophy, mathematics, sociology, psychology, physics, chemistry, etc. etc. etc – and shows how Germans dominated their development in the 19th and early 20th century. He also looks at the arts; Germans dominated music, of course, but had a much wider impact on literature and the visual arts than I had realized.

The German influence goes beyond what we think, to weigh on how we think. Philosophy is of course an example, but there is a much less obvious and more concrete one. Watson shows how the research-based university developed in Germany, forming a model for the American academic system. This approach required young scholars to develop new knowledge, rather than simply passing on what was already known. It has, Watson argues, a great deal to do with the explosion of knowledge in the past 150 years.

At the end of the book, Watson does look at the question of what caused Hitler: he presents some compelling suggestions, though not a definitive answer – as he is the first to emphasize. But , the importance of this book isn’t in what it tells us about Hitler, but in what it tells us about the rest of Germany’s impact on our world.
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