Author(s): Peter Watson
From the end of the Baroque age and the death of Bach in 1750 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 influential than France, Britain, Italy, Holland and the United States. In the early decades of the 20th century, German artists, writers, philosophers, scientists and engineers were leading their freshly-unified country to new and undreamed of heights, and by 1933, they had won more Nobel prizes than anyone else and more than the British and Americans combined. But this genius was cut down in its prime with the rise and subsequent fall of Adolf Hitler and his fascist Third Reich - a legacy of evil that has overshadowed the nation's contributions ever since. Yet how did the Germans achieve their pre-eminence beginning in the mid-18th century?
In this fascinating cultural history, Peter Watson goes back through time to explore the origins of the German genius, how it flourished and shaped our lives, and, most importantly, to reveal how it continues to shape our world. As he convincingly demonstarates, while we may hold other European cultures in higher esteem, it was German thinking - from Bach to Nietzsche to Freud - that actually shaped modern America and Britain in ways that resonate today.
'[German] philosophy was more profound - to a fault. So was their music. Their scientists and engineers were clearly the best. Their soldiers were unmatched. It is, of course, the Nazis who have made it hard for us to appreciate what Peter Watson calls "the German genius." Goebbels spoiled the brand when he marketed Hitler as the apotheosis of German culture. Mr Watson, a British journalist and the author of several books of cultural history, would like us to leave the Nazis aside and appreciate that our modern world - at least the world of ideas - is largely a German creation. In effect, with The German Genius Mr Watson has given us a kind of Dictionary of German Biography... There were many German geniuses' International Herald Tribune 17/7
'Post-war perceptions of Germany tend to be coloured by an obsession with the Nazis. Nevertheless, German ideas and practices have been fundamental to the development of modern life in the West. For ill, of course, but more often for good than is now recognised, we could not have done without the Germans, and Watson's book is intended to subvert the negative German stereotypes. Though it checks in at just short of 1,000 pages, it is a usefully concise introduction to the principal themes and personalities of German scientific, philosophical, social, literary and artistic culture since 1750' The Times
'This intelligent book presents a breath-taking panorama. Let up hope that it succeeds in its aim and stimulates a deeper and wider engagement with the country of Kant, Beethoven, Einstein and Habermas' Christopher Clark, Sunday Times 12/9
'Peter Watson's colossal encyclopaedia, The German Genius, might have been written for me, but not only for me. A journalist of heroic industry, Watson is frustrated by the British ignorance of Germany, or rather by an expertise devoted exclusively to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. Watson wonders not just why the nation of thinkers and poets came to grief between 1933 and 1945 but also how it put itself together again and, in 1989, recreated most of the Wilhelmine state without plunging Europe into war or even breaking sweat. Watson has not simply written a survey of the German intellect from Goethe to Botho Strauss - nothing so dilettantist. In the course of nearly 1,000 pages, he covers German idealism, porcelain, the symphony, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, telegraphy, homeopathy, strategy, Sanskrit, colour theory, the Nazarenes, universities, Hegel, jurisprudence, the conservation of energy, the Biedermeyer, entropy, fractals, dyestuffs, the PhD, heroin, automobiles, the unconscious, the cannon, the Altar of Pergamon, sociology, militarism, the waltz, anti-semitism, continental drift, quantum theory and serial music.' James Buchan, Guardian 9/10
'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'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' Independent 15/10
'Like successive German ambassadors to the UK, Peter Watson has noticed that British perceptions of Germany are dominated almost exclusively by the Third Reich, the Second World War and the Holocaust... The era during which Germany led the world in philosophy, music, science, historical research, and, arguably, several branches of literature, was ended abruptly by Hitler, who sent most of Germany's lead minds into exile and thus hugely enriched the intellectual life of the Anglo-American countries... here we have an encyclopaedic survey in which every famous German artist or thinker, and many who should be more famous than they are, finds a place' Ritchie Robertson, TLS 1/10
'The reason Peter Watson gives for writing this long intellectual history of Germany since 1750 is a convincing one; that British obsession with Nazism has blinded many British people to the achievements of German culture... An introduction to other German history is welcome' Alexander Starritt, The Spectator 16/10
Peter Watson was born in 1943 and was educated at universities in Durham, London and Rome. He has been on the staff of the Sunday Times and The Times, and has written for many other newspapers. He is the author of over a dozen books including Ideas: A History from Fire to Freud. He lives in London.