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The German Genius: Europe's Third…

The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific… (edition 2011)

by Peter Watson

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309436,089 (4.27)17
Title:The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century
Authors:Peter Watson
Info:Simon & Schuster (2011), Paperback, 992 pages
Collections:Your library

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The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century by Peter Watson



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Showing 4 of 4
This was a captivating read and a hard slog at the same time. So many names and short biographies of people I never heard of before that I'll only remember a small portion of them and much of the philosophies were hard to follow, as philosophy often is. But it was well worth it and wraps up with an explanation of how Hitler happened and where Germany is going from here. ( )
  jjwilson61 | Apr 11, 2014 |
(APM's Review) 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, and I wanted to give the book five stars. So why four and a half stars? 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.

(JPH's Review) This is a worthwhile read.

I do believe that in the discussion of Hegel and Kant and the peculiar growth of German politics and culture, the author does make a connection between Hegel, the people, and the Nazis, to the effect that whatever government evolved it was for the best and that autocratic rule (Frederick for Hegel and Hitler for the 1930s) was right.

I agree with APM that people outside of Germany have little understanding of the contribution of the Germans to modernity and that this book remedies that lack. ( )
4 vote annbury | Aug 19, 2011 |
This is an intial comment; a fuller review will follow.

This book aims to redress the balance for British readers in particular, whose view of Germany is coloured by the reaction to, and fascination with, the horrors of the Nazi period and Hitler in particular. It sets out to try to set the clock back to the time before the First World War when Britain and Germany had a close relationship, not only at a governmental, but at societal and cultural levels as well. This is a worthwhile aim.

I do have to take issue with one thing. The author takes a particularly pan-Germanic position with respect to the role of Austria in all this; like others before him, he includes Austria in his study of German culture and society, and effectively declares that Austrians are Germans. This is a fallacy (as well as being insulting to many Austrians who have fought for years to establish their nation as more than just an annexe to the German Empire). Given that the author is putting the case for an accurate portrayal of Germany, this is all the more surprising because he is making the same mistake over Austria as he accuses the average British reader of making in respect of Germany. It is true that the question as to whether Austria and Germany were the same exercised Austria for more than a century; indeed, there is a lot of evidence that this one question drove Hitler's attitude towards Austria. Yet the clue to this question is in the extensive pages of quotations that this book opens with.

Watson quotes Ernst Arndt, with an inflammatory statement that starts "The Germans are not bastardised by alien people..." In these more enlightened times, we would say that "Germany is very mono-cultural"; but my point is that this is a key difference between Germany and Austria. The Austrian sensibility is informed by the fact of its empire and the exchange of peoples that gave rise to. The Austrian Kaiser was quite capable of visiting a mosque in Bosnia or Hungary and observing proper etiquette in such a visit; the Archduke Ferdinand's wife had visited a Moslem women's organisation in Sarajevo the morning that she and the Archduke were assassinated in August 1914.

Watson has made the error of assuming that monoglottism equates with monoculturalism, and he has not bothered to look at Austrian culture and history. I expect to find that the examples he will pick up from Austria will be those that support his thesis - I promise to revisit this when I do review the book as a whole! It is true that it took Nazi Germany to settle the question of Austrian national identity once and for all; Austria was divided over this question until their national identity was taken away from them in 1938. Most pro-Nazi Austrians expected that Hitler would treat them in the same way that Austria treated Hungary during the Dual Monarchy - two nations with equal status. By the time it became clear that that was not what was going to happen, it was too late.

The relationship between Austria and Germany is now similar to that between Britain and the USA, where the older nation has been eclipsed, to a greater or lesser degree, by the younger and more powerful. To lump Austria and the Austrian experience into a book on German culture and achievement is like assuming that British people and Americans are the same. It is a mistake and a deadly insult.

Now to read the book and see what I think of the main hypothesis!
  RobertDay | Jan 9, 2011 |
A wonderfully erudite survey of German contributions to the culture and learning of the Western World from the mid-eighteenth century until the present. Without whitewashing the horrors of the Nazi period, Watson is nonetheless able to fully appreciate and to sensibly explain and interprete Germany's cultural importance up to 1933 as well as Germany's efforts to rebuild its cultural importance since 1945. ( )
  Illiniguy71 | Nov 25, 2010 |
Showing 4 of 4
By 1900, nearly everyone agreed that there was something special about the Germans. Their philosophy was more profound -- to a fault. So was their music. Their scientists and engineers were clearly the best. Their soldiers were unmatched. ... ''The German Genius'' is a lengthy compilation of essential German contributions to philosophy, theology, mathematics, natural and social science and the arts since 1750. Watson enshrines a vast pantheon of creative thinkers, not dwelling very long on any of them.
added by danielx | editNY Times, Brian Ladd (Jul 23, 2013)
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By one of those profitable accidents of history, in 2004 two German brothers were living in London, each in a high-profile position of influence that enabled them, together, to make some very pointed observations about their temporary home.
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