Peter Watson's virtuoso sweep through modern German thought and culture, from 1750 to the present day, will challenge and confound both the stereotypes the world has of Germany and those that Germany has of itself.
From the end of the Baroque era and the death of Bach 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 creative and influential than France, Britain, Italy, Holland, and the United States. In the early decades of the twentieth century, German artists, writers, scholars, philosophers, scientists, and engineers were leading their freshly unified country to new and unimagined heights. By 1933, Germans had won more Nobel Prizes than any other nationals, and more than the British and Americans combined. Yet this remarkable genius was cut down in its prime by Adolf Hitler and his disastrous Third Reich—a brutal legacy that has overshadowed the nation's achievements ever since.
How did the Germans transform their country so as to achieve such pre-eminence? In this absorbing cultural and intellectual history, Peter Watson goes back through time to explore the origins of the German genius, and he explains how and why it flourished, how it shaped our lives, and, most important, how it continues to influence our world. As he convincingly demonstrates, it was German thinking—from Beethoven and Kant to Diesel and Nietzsche, from Goethe and Wagner to Mendel and Planck, from Hegel and Marx to Freud and Schoenberg—that was paramount in the creation of the modern West. Moreover, despite World War II, figures such as Joseph Beuys, Jurgen Habermas, and Joseph Ratzinger ensure that the German genius still resonates intellectually today.
"To discredit the stereotype that equates Germans with Nazis, this book takes us back beyond Hitler to the period 1780-1830, defined – in the opening collage of quotations – as the German Renaissance. Early chapters are devoted to the achievements of Lessing, Herder and Winckelmann, Goethe, Kant and Schiller, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. But Peter Watson breaks new ground in his account of the founding of the University of Berlin in 1810, from which he dates the rise of the educated middle class as the basis of unprecedented prosperity.
…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 sums up this process in the words of the historian Max Lenz: ""The intellectual life cannot be too highly valued. It provides the basis on which the strength of the state can eternally rest.""
The ""rise – and then the fall"" of the educated middle class forms the axis of this compendious volume. 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.
…We are left in no doubt that for over a century Germany led the world through its scientific, educational and cultural achievements. It is when we come to the "fall" that the argument falters. If things were going so well, how come they turned out so badly? “- The German Genius, By Peter Watson, Reviewed by Edward Timms, research professor of history at the University of Sussex
Peter Watson (born 1943) is an intellectual historian and former journalist, now perhaps best known for his work in the history of idea. He educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome.
He has been a senior editor at the London Sunday Times, the New York correspondent of the daily Times, and a columnist for the Observer. He has also written regularly for the New York Times and the Spectator. He is the author of several books of cultural and intellectual history, including Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention and, most recently The German Genius. He is the author of thirteen books and has presented several television programmes about the arts. His work on the art world and art crime includes The Caravaggio Conspiracy, Sotheby’s: the Inside Story, and The Medici Conspiracy.
From 1997 to 2007 he was a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.