The French political philosopher Raymond Aron once observed that the twentieth century "could have been Germany's century." In 1900, the country was Europe's preeminent power, its material strength and strident militaristic ethos apparently balanced by a vital culture and extraordinary scientific achievement. It was poised to achieve greatness. In Einstein's German World, the eminent historian Fritz Stern explores the ambiguous promise of Germany before Hitler, as well as its horrifying decline into moral nihilism under Nazi rule, and aspects of its remarkable recovery since World War II. He does so by gracefully blending history and biography in a sequence of finely drawn studies of Germany's great scientists and of German-Jewish relations before and during Hitler's regime.
Stern's central chapter traces the complex friendship of Albert Einstein and the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Fritz Haber, contrasting their responses to German life and to their Jewish heritage. Haber, a convert to Christianity and a firm German patriot until the rise of the Nazis; Einstein, a committed internationalist and pacifist, and a proud though secular Jew. Other chapters, also based on new archival sources, consider the turbulent and interrelated careers of the physicist Max Planck, an austere and powerful figure who helped to make Berlin a happy, productive place for Einstein and other legendary scientists; of Paul Ehrlich, the founder of chemotherapy; of Walther Rathenau, the German-Jewish industrialist and statesman tragically assassinated in 1922; and of Chaim Weizmann, chemist, Zionist, and first president of Israel, whose close relations with his German colleagues is here for the first time recounted. Stern examines the still controversial way that historians have dealt with World War I and Germans have dealt with their nation's defeat, and he analyzes the conflicts over the interpretations of Germany's past that persist to this day. He also writes movingly about the psychic cost of Germany's reunification in 1990, the reconciliation between Germany and Poland, and the challenges and prospects facing Germany today.
At once historical and personal, provocative and accessible, Einstein's German World illuminates the issues that made Germany's and Europe's past and present so important in a tumultuous century of creativity and violence.
"Stern's portrait of [Einstein] is sparklingly comic and profound. . . . He writes with the wisdom and truth of a historian who never fails to empathize with the human uncertainty and frailty that operate in extreme as well as everyday historical conditions. . . . No one has written better on the country's rise and fall than Fritz Stern."--Jackie Wullschlager. Financial Times
"Elegiac, subtle and wide-ranging in scope, Fritz Stern's book goes a long way to restoring one's hopes for a Germany that once included Einstein."--Michael Burleigh, Times Literary Supplement
"Revealing, absorbing, and often poignant. . . . Frtiz Stern's writing has an unmatched authority and a magisterial sweep that throws a brilliant light on the tragic disintegration of a noble culture, one in which science reigned supreme. . . . Stern's is the civilized voice of reason and understanding; his book is revealing, absorbing and often poignant."--Walter Gratzer, Nature
"A superb and gripping collection of essays."--Stanley Hoffmann, Foreign Affairs
"This is a book pervaded by a genuine sense of pity. Fritz Stern is alive to moral and historical ambiguity, arguing that there is no simple judgment on the compromises of a Max Planck, any more than there is a simple way to characterize German-Jewish relations or the circumstances that made the Holocaust possible. Fritz Stern has been successful beyond the historical profession as a voice of liberal tolerance. . . . [He] has earned his reputation as a non-historian's historian."--David Blackbourn, London Review of Books
"A rich collection of essays--some scholarly, others more personal--written during the past decade. Without ever pointing an accusatory finger, Stern's approach helps readers to grasp how the extraordinary potential for 'what could have been Germany's century' ended so disastrously."--Publishers Weekly
Table of Contents:
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR ix
PART ONE: The Promise of German Life
CHAPTER 1. Paul Ehrlich: The Founder of Chemotherapy 13
CHAPTER 2. Max Planck and the Trials of His Times 35
CHAPTER 3. Together and Apart: Fritz Haber and Albert Einstein 59
CHAPTER 4. Walther Rathenau. and the Vision of Modernity 165
PART TWO: The Great War and Consequent Terrors
CHAPTER 5. Historians and the Great War: Private Experience and Public Explication 199
CHAPTER 6. Chaim Weizmann and Liberal Nationalism 223
CHAPTER 7. Freedom and Its Discontents: The Travails of the New Germany 253
CHAPTER 8. The Past Distorted: The Goldhagen Controversy 272
CHAPTER 9. Lost Homelands: German-Polish Reconciliation 289
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