Book Reviews

23 junho, 2007

116) Cinco livros sobre a Alemanha

Die Fünf Besten Bücher
These works excel in their portraits of Germany and the German people.
The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, June 23, 2007

1. "The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples" by Herwig Wolfram (University of California, 1997).
Why do thousands of Germans annually visit the 19th-century monument near Detmold honoring the first-century barbarian prince Arminius? Herwig Wolfram explains all. Arminius was the first barbarian to defeat Roman legions, and in his life and deeds one finds the first stirrings of the "German people" among polyglot tribes migrating to the borders of the Roman Empire. At this time, barbarians served Rome as the members of federated armies and as agricultural workers, the talented becoming Roman citizens. By the fourth century, crack Germanic warriors occupied virtually every senior military post in the Roman army. As the Romans were "barbarized," the barbarians were "Romanized." The resulting mix of Roman, Christian and Germanic cultures lay at the heart of what became the German nation.

2. "The Origins of Modern Germany" by Geoffrey Barraclough (Blackwell, 1946).
In a robust history of the German Middle Ages, Geoffrey Barraclough traces Germany's geographic and political fragmentation over 12 centuries (800-1939). It turns out that the most difficult problem in German history was not the rise of National Socialism, whose existence (1920-45) was relatively brief, but the long struggle to arrive at political unity and, eventually, representative government. The failure of Germans to unify their medieval empire, according to Barraclough, is "a story of discontinuity, of development cut short, of incompleteness and retardation." It was only with German reunification in 1990 that the problem was solved, and by the formula that Barraclough prescribed: "a limited democratic Germany within historic boundaries."

3. "Luther" by Heiko A. Oberman (Yale, 1989).
A Dutch Calvinist and a Harvard professor, Heiko A. Oberman (1930-2001) spent a lifetime interpreting the Reformation. Impressed by Martin Luther's beautiful theological mind, he wrote the truest and fairest biography of the father of Protestantism. Although anti-Jewish, Luther was no advocate of a 16th-century Final Solution, nor does Oberman's Luther--as some historians would have it--cynically oppose the peasants' rebellion of 1524-25 to gain influence with German nobles. This Luther laid the foundation stone for religious freedom, and he was something of a swashbuckling theologian. Out of town on a friend's wedding day, he celebrated the event in absentia by making love to his wife at the moment when he estimated the newlyweds would be similarly enjoying themselves--thus the four of them would be symbolically united, he thought, in the divine institution of marriage and love.

4. "From Hegel to Nietzsche" by Karl Löwith (Holt, 1964).
Nineteenth-century students of philosopher G.W.F. Hegel trashed their mentor's classical vision of a human world near to God and eternity. Armed with Immanuel Kant's skepticism, they replaced this world with the mighty mind of man. For Karl Marx, ultimate reality was the ascendant proletariat. For Friedrich Nietzsche, the self-sufficient lone individual was as good as it got. For this new generation of German thinkers, belief in reality beyond the individual was delusional: Today was the first day of everyone's life. Jürgen Habermas and Günter Grass continue this philosophical legacy. It is one that Karl Löwith, then an exiled German Jew in Japan, first eloquently lamented in the 1930s.

5. "Bismarck" by Lothar Gall (Allen & Unwin, 1986).
Lothar Gall's "Bismarck" reconstructs a magisterial figure long out of favor with historians. Untrue is the charge that Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) failed to move Germany forward. When Pope Pius IX condemned modernity, the "iron chancellor" led the defense of new freedoms. Gall, while conceding his subject's failings and contradictions, convinces the reader that Bismarck was an effective leader who ensured peace abroad and prosperity at home. He remains Europe's diplomat of diplomats. The best biographies are thorough to a fault, measured in their sympathy, and they tell the story of an entire age.

Mr. Ozment is a professor of ancient and modern history at Harvard University. His most recent book is "A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People" (Harper, 2004).


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