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Ernst Kantorowicz:
A Life
Robert E. Lerner

Hardcover | 2017 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691172828
424 pp. | 6 x 9 | 25 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400882922 |
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A Q&A with Robert E. Lerner

This is the first complete biography of Ernst Kantorowicz (1895–1963), an influential and controversial German-American intellectual whose colorful and dramatic life intersected with many of the great events and thinkers of his time. A medieval historian whose ideas exerted an influence far beyond his field, he is most famous for two books—a notoriously nationalistic 1927 biography of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and The King's Two Bodies (1957), a classic study of medieval politics.

Born into a wealthy Prussian-Jewish family, Kantorowicz fought on the Western Front in World War I, was wounded at Verdun, and earned an Iron Cross; later, he earned an Iron Crescent for service in Anatolia before an affair with a general’s mistress led to Kantorowicz being sent home. After the war, he fought against Poles in his native Posen, Spartacists in Berlin, and communists in Munich. An ardent German nationalist during the Weimar period, Kantorowicz became a member of the elitist Stefan George circle, which nurtured a cult of the "Secret Germany." Yet as a professor in Frankfurt after the Nazis came to power, Kantorowicz bravely spoke out against the regime before an overflowing crowd. Narrowly avoiding arrest after Kristallnacht, he fled to England and then the United States, where he joined the faculty at Berkeley, only to be fired in 1950 for refusing to sign an anticommunist “loyalty oath.” From there, he “fell up the ladder” to Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, where he stayed until his death.

Drawing on many new sources, including numerous interviews and unpublished letters, Robert E. Lerner tells the story of a major intellectual whose life and times were as fascinating as his work.

Robert E. Lerner is professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University, where he taught medieval history for more than forty years. The author of many books, he is a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and the American Academy in Rome, and a former member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.


"A richly illuminating study . . . [and] a timely meditation on the vicissitudes of abstract, purist ideals under the pressure of savage real-world events."--George Prochnik, New York Times Book Review

"Robert Lerner . . . relates this amazing story with both carefully researched detail and engaging verve."--Michael D. Bailey, Montreal Review


"Ernst Kantorowicz was a magical figure who captivated everyone around him. This biography takes his measure and casts a spell of its own. Emerging from deep within the archives, Robert Lerner shows us precisely how Kantorowicz worked his magic, first in interwar Germany and then again as an émigré in the United States. This book is also a memoir, preserving precious chains of lore and reminiscence: an inspired labor of love."--Conrad Leyser, University of Oxford

"Historian, Stefan George disciple, Germanophile, and bon vivant--Ernst Kantorowicz was a matchless figure in twentieth-century intellectual life. With Robert Lerner's magisterial study, Kantorowicz has at long last gotten the biography he truly deserves."--Richard Wolin, Graduate Center, City University of New York

"With forensic archival sense and the sympathies of a subtle historian, Robert Lerner tells the story of a remarkable life against the volatile history of twentieth-century Europe and America. Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life traces the making of the scion of a bourgeois Jewish family into a patriotic soldier, a nationalist intellectual, a refugee, and finally a critic of the Cold War. His life made Eka--as he styled himself--into a most original historian who explored the making of political authority and charisma in the classic The King's Two Bodies. Lerner has written a highly readable and illuminating account of living in extraordinary times."--Miri Rubin, Queen Mary, University of London

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Table of Contents:

List of Figures ix
Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations xiii
Introduction 1
1. Old Posen and Young Ernst 8
2. “With Rifle and Gun” 23
3. Fine Fever 41
4. Heidelberg 55
5. St. George 68
6. The Castle Hill 84
7. Frederick II 101
8. Center of Attention 117
9. Becoming a Professional 133
10. Frankfurt 145
11. Year of Drama 158
12. Oxford 172
13. “Leisure with Dignity” 184
14. Flight 201
15. “Displaced Foreign Scholar” 214
16. “Without Any Desire for Europe” 225
17. Laudes Regiae 240
18. Fight for Employment 252
19. “Hyperborean Fields” 268
20. “Scarcely Wants to Go to Germany” 284
21. “Land of Lotus-Eaters” 294
22. The Fundamental Issue 312
23. Advanced Study 329
24. The King’s Two Bodies 344
25. “Eka Is Sick of Eka” 358
26. Last Years 376
Afterword 386
Index 389

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