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Ernst Kantorowicz:
A Life
Robert E. Lerner

Hardcover | 2017 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691172828
424 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 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Drawing on many new sources, including numerous interviews and unpublished letters, Robert E. Lerner tells the story of a major intellectual whose life and times were as fascinating as his work.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

"[A] finely grained portrait."--Robert E. Norton, Times Literary Supplement

"A thorough and fascinating chronicle."--Brendan Simms, Wall Street Journal

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

"A labour of love inspired by youthful sightings of its charismatic subject. . . . Lerner’s admirable study suggests that our understanding of the mind of the 20th century might be enriched by looking back at Kantorowicz’s brilliant, if recondite scholarship, alongside this tribute to its author."--Stoddard Martin, Jewish Chronicle

"Lerner’s accessible, conversational tone and deft use of quotation bring Kantorowicz to life, showing the man behind the scholar and the development of a brilliant mind over a lifetime. Throughout, Kantorowicz’s voice is sharply present. Lerner admits that, posthumously, motivations are impossible to discern, but his discernment is a gift in this unflinching treatment of Kantorowicz’s legacy."--Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword

"[Robert Lerner] sets Kantorowicz in the context of his time, uniting heroic archival research, including numerous interviews with Kantorowicz’s associates and friends, with discerning judgments to trace his remarkable odyssey. The result is a valuable contribution to modern European and American intellectual history."--Jacob Heilbrunn, The National Interest

"The extraordinary story of Kantorowicz’s passage from Posen to Princeton via California is admirably told by Robert E. Lerner, and he has undoubtedly written the biography of record."--Hamish Robinson, The Oldie

More reviews

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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