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Books & Ideas

German is "a language that likes to invade from all sides. This means that Germans read and speak differently; we scan to the end of the sentence, then we go back and parse it....English speakers make it up as they go along; German speakers have to know where they're going."  (Literary Hub, 11/17/17)

Jens Müller's Pioneers of German Graphic Design deserves a place of honor on your coffee table.  (The Verge, 11/12/17; Third Coast Review, 11/13/17)

"Compromises compromise—they weaken your handshake," says the narrator of Sieben Nächte. "The only desire that counts is that for a beating heart." Simon Strauss is at the fore of a new, ultra-romantic literary movement.  (The Guardian, 11/10/17)

Happy birthday, little yellow books! The Reclam Universal-Bibliothek was founded 150 years ago, on November 10, 1867.  (Deutsche Welle, 11/10/17)

"The German novels to be excited about right now have no comedy moustaches and no young men wearing horn-rimmed spectacles. Instead, they're experimental and full of empathy."  (The Skinny, 9/18/17)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie revisits Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich(The New Yorker, 8/1/17)

"Can German philosophy be consumed at a common, everyday level without being dumbed down or having its ideas stripped of their complexity?"  (Foreign Policy, 7/24/17)

The Protestant Reformation turns 500
"Reconciling the confusing, often paradoxical origins of Protestantism in Luther and his successors seems like a good project for a half-millennium retrospective." (The Nation, 7/12/17)

"Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther solves crimes for Nazi Germany. Why do we like him so much?" If Jane Kramer doesn't persuade you to read Prussian Blue, nothing will.  (The New Yorker, 7/10/17)

Historian Rolf Peter Sieferle continues to spark debate with his essay collection Finis Germania, published after his death.  (The New York Times, 7/8/17; The Guardian, 7/28/17)

John le Carré makes an eloquent case for studying German. "Those who teach language, those who cherish its accuracy and meaning and beauty, are the custodians of truth in a dangerous age."   (The Guardian, 7/1/17)

Alone in Berlin has a complicated backstory: "Historians in Germany allege that Fallada's fictionalised depiction of resistance to the Nazis has only helped to cover up a true story of collaboration with the communist regime that followed in East Germany."  (The Guardian, 6/17/17)

"Sebald’s work can put you in mind of Diderot selling his library to Catherine the Great: he seems to be downloading everything he has ever read."  (The New Yorker, 6/5/17)

Here's a double dose of book recommendations about 20th-century Germany, from Hester Vaizey and Chris Petit. (Five Books, 5/25/17; The Guardian, 5/31/17)

Meet Gerhard Steidl, printer extraordinare. His superlative craftsmanship has earned the regard of the world's best photographers and fashion houses.  (The New Yorker, 5/22/17)

Rüdiger Safranski's Goethe: Life as a Work of Art, translated by David Dollenmayer, "is aimed squarely at a German readership of Bildungsbürger, educated and tolerant of abstractions and paraphrases."  (The Washington Post, 5/17/17; Literary Review, 6/2017; The New York Times, 6/6/17; The Economist, 6/15/17; The New York Review of Books, 12/21/17)

"The fake anecdotes are just as good as the real ones, and sometimes a little bit better." Before he wrote Effi Briest, Theodor Fontane earned a living by concocting fake news.  (Ozy, 5/16/17)

It's the Shortest History of Germany, if not the best informed. "No doubt many true scholars of German history will take issue with Hawes's book."  (The Observer, 4/24/17; The Oldie, 6/2017)

Congratulations to Wolf Erlbruch, winner of the Astrid Lindgren memorial award for children's literature.  (Deutsche Welle, 4/4/17; The Guardian, 4/4/17)

Happy (?) 60th birthday, united Europe.  The Frankfurt School (via @NeinQuarterly) offers you "the necessity and urgency of critique and self-critique — with little to no assurance of making any difference."  (Foreign Policy, 3/24/17)

"Early 20th-century America was the global leader in race law," writes James Q. Whitman in Hitler's American Model, reminding us that the National Socialists found much to admire in the United States' discriminatory legal traditions.  (Inside Higher Ed, 3/8/17; Tablet, 3/20/17; The New York Times, 5/22/17)

Welcome to Heligoland, "an apt location from where to rethink the Anglo-German past."  (The Economist, 2/18/17)

Danke, Rebecca Schuman, for bringing us Schadenfreude: A Love Story, a bildungsroman channeling "the weltschmerz of a former wunderkind rejected by the professoriat and exiled to the creative lumpenproletariat." The freude is ours!  (Slate, 2/16/17; Open Letters Monthly, 6/1/17)

Remember the girl who played with matches instead of listening to her cats? Here's a fun new translation of the classic Struwwelpeter poem. (The Paris Review, 2/15/17)

George Prochnik and Maria Schrader discuss the relevance of Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday today.  (The New Yorker, 2/6/17; Los Angeles Review of Books, 2/17/17)

In The Political Orchestra, Fritz Trümpi examines the experiences of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras under National Socialism.  (Times Higher Education, 2/9/17; Literary Review, 3/2017; Commentary, 6/14/17)

You'll hear echoes of Robinson Crusoe and The Magic Mountain in Lutz Seiler's award-winning novel Kruso, now in English translation.  (The Irish Times, 2/4/17; The Guardian, 2/7/17; The Economist, 3/2/17)

"Germany has a soccer team made up entirely of writers."  (PRI, 1/24/17)

"This is without a doubt the WORST writing I ever laid eyes on": Marlene Dietrich's final performance space may have been the pages of her books.  (The New Yorker, 12/26/16)

Walking in Berlin by Franz Hessel (first published in 1929 and newly translated by Amanda DeMarco) presents "a portrait of a city on the brink of irrevocable change."  (The Independent, 12/14/16; The Guardian, 3/26/17; Los Angeles Review of Books, 5/5/17)

"The extent of narcotic consumption by Nazi soldiers and Hitler has surprised even those who have spent decades researching this era." (The New York Times, 12/9/16; The New York Review of Books, 3/9/17; The Guardian, 5/2/17)

Introducing Germany's 2016 Word of the Year....postfaktisch (post-truth).  (Deutsche Welle, 12/9/16)

"The Frankfurt School knew Trump was coming."  (The New Yorker, 12/5/16)

Günter Grass’s "greatest regret seems not to have been that life per se is finite but that creativity is too, and the loss of his earlier deftness grieved him." Vonne Endlichkeit is now available in English (Of All That Ends, trans. Breon Mitchell). (The Arts Desk, 12/4/16; The Spectator, 12/31/16)

Dive into Stuart Jeffries' Grand Hotel Abyss, the witty history of the Frankfurt School that we've all been waiting for.  (The Washington Post, 9/28/16; The Guardian, 11/3/16; The New York Review of Books, 3/23/17)

"Mr. Ullrich offers a fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country." (The New York Times, 9/27/16; The Washington Post, 9/28/16; Deutsche Welle, 9/30/16)

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky, "hums with beautiful strangeness"—and now it's won the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.  (Granta, 9/22/2016; The New York Times, 11/25/16; Words Without Borders, 12/2016)

What better time to reacquaint yourself with the life and work of Jürgen Habermas? A new biography is here to help. (The Nation, 9/14/16; The Guardian, 2/15/17; The New York Review of Books, 3/23/17; Boston Review, 4/12/17)

Another Marx biography? Gareth Stedman Jones demonstrates an impressive command of his subject in Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion.  (Financial Times, 8/5/16; The New York Times, 10/21/16; The Nation, 2/8/17)

Historian and journalist Volker Ullrich's well-crafted biography of Adolf Hitler is now available in English, translated by Jefferson Chase.  (London Review of Books, 6/2/16; The Wall Street Journal, 9/23/16; The New York Times, 10/14/16)

"Get ready to start hearing a lot about Martin Luther..." In advance of the Protestant Reformation's 500th anniversary, Lyndal Roper has written a thought-provoking biography of a difficult hero. (Literary Review, 6/2016; The Spectator, 6/11/16; The Weekly Standard, 5/5/17)

Vicki Baum's bestselling Grand Hotel (originally published as Menschen im Hotel in 1929) "spoke to the anxieties of Weimar society—and of the world at large—about modern life."  (The New York Review of Books, 5/9/16)

Author Thomas Bernhard "is a gleeful butcher who makes the best charcuterie from the most forlorn and desiccated roadkill." Read Goethe Dies (translated by James Reidel) and find out more.  (The Nation, 5/5/16)

Daniel Blue's The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche gives us a portrait of the artist as a (very) young man.  (The Spectator, 4/30/16; Literary Review, 6/2016)

"But is it really vital for the understanding of the darkest chapter of German history to know what Hitler had for lunch before shooting himself in the head in the Führerbunker with his Walther PPK pistol in 1945 (spaghetti with a light tomato sauce)? Probably not."  (The Washington Post, 4/27/16)

Oh, the power of poetry: Jan Böhmermann sparks debate about the legal boundaries of freedom of expression
, confirms Recep Tayyip Erdogan's inability to take a joke, and creates a major diplomatic headache for Angela Merkel. (Deutsche Welle, 4/8/16; Deutsche Welle, 4/11/16; Exberliner, 4/11/16; The Guardian, 4/11/16; The Washington Post, 4/12/16; Spiegel Online - International, 4/12/16)

Alfred Rosenberg's diary was lost for nearly six decades—and then it reemerged in a small publishing house in upstate New York.  (The New York Times, 3/30/16; The Guardian, 5/5/16) 

Not up for reading three magisterial volumes on Kafka's life? Biographer Reiner Stach has thoughtfully assembled Is that Kafka? 99 Finds for us instead.  (The New Republic, 3/22/16; The New Yorker, 3/22/16; The Washington Post, 3/23/16)

Don't believe the hype—Berlin isn't "all sex, all the time," and Katy Derbyshire has the literary examples to prove it!  (Literary Hub, 3/17/16)

Here's another Taschen book to covet: Germany Around 1900, featuring 800 photochrom postcard images "drenched in a kind of enchanted Romanticism."  (Hyperallergic, 3/8/16)

Klaus Mann—"writer, lecturer, provocateur, world traveler, anti-Nazi militant"—is the subject of a new biography by Frederic Spotts.  (The Guardian, 3/6/16; The Weekly Standard, 3/28/16; The Irish Times, 4/16/16; The Barnes and Noble Review, 6/6/16)

Anke Feuchtenberger "pushed German comics into a new realm, redefining the medium in cultural, political, and aesthetic terms."  (World Literature Today, 3/2016)

Skip Vincent Perez's new film Alone in Berlin and read Hans Fallada's novel instead.  (The Guardian, 2/15/16; Variety, 2/15/16; NPR, 1/12/17)

For the protagonist of Darryl Pinckney's novel Black Deutschland, "Berlin meant white boys who wanted to atone for Germany’s crimes by loving a black boy like me.”  (The New York Times, 1/28/16; The New York Times, 2/5/16; The Atlantic, 2/15/16)

"What's great about Goethe?" So very glad you asked!  (Open Culture, 1/28/16; The New Yorker, 2/1/16)

Summer Before the Dark, by Volker Weidermann (translated by Carol Brown Janeway), is a novel about Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, "men who were expelled from history by the Nazis and had to watch helplessly as it steamrollered them into oblivion."  (New Statesman, 1/25/16)

Ismar Schorsch traces the emergence of a new historical study of Judaism in 19th-century Germany.  (Tablet, 12/28/15)

Martin Kitchen dismantles "the myth of the good Nazi" in Speer: Hitler's Architect.  (The Wall Street Journal, 12/23/15; The New Criterion, 3/2016; History Today, 3/3/16)

To publish or not? Mein Kampf in the Internet age
It's 2016, and (a 2,000-page, heavily annotated) Mein Kampf will be on sale in German bookstores for the first time in 70 years. (The Economist, 12/19/15; Deutsche Welle, 12/29/15; The New Yorker, 12/30/15; The Guardian, 1/1/16; The New Yorker, 1/12/16; Spiegel Online - International, 1/15/16)