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Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy Hardcover – 24 Sep 2007


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (24 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069101695X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691016955
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 915,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
A History Book Club selection
One of Financial Times's Best Books for 2007

"In his engaging readings of these works, Weitz forgoes abstruse analysis. Instead, he presents them as fresh attempts to make sense of a world in which reliable beliefs about authority and order, class and gender, wealth and poverty, no longer held. His most innovative chapter is an imaginary walk through Berlin, observing the daily lives of the city's different classes. . . . Better than most histories, the book connects culture, politics and city life."--Brian Ladd, New York Times Book Review

"Weimar Germany is elegantly written, generously illustrated and never less than informative. It is also history with attitude. In that respect, it perhaps also reflects in itself something of the fractious period which its pages so convincingly evoke."--Peter Graves, Times Literary Supplement

"Excellent and splendidly illustrated. . . . Weimar was more than a German phenomenon. . . . [Weimar Germany] is a superb introduction to its world, probably the best available."--Eric Hobsbawm, London Review of Books

"Weitz takes readers on a walk through Weimar Republic­era Berlin in the footsteps of a 1920s flâneur, an urban ambler. . . . Separate chapters, with a wealth of well-chosen illustrations, explore Weimar's new theories of architecture, graphic arts, photography, theater, philosophy and sexuality. Weitz selects key exemplars of each discipline--Brecht, Weill, Mann, Bruno Taut, Erich Mendelsohn, August Sander, László Moholy-Nagy, Hannah Höch, Siegfried Kracauer, etc.--for in-depth focus. . . . A lively style and excellent illustrations make this intellectually challenging volume accessible to both academics and armchair scholars."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Weitz has produced an elegant and captivating study of Germany's Weimar years, that turbulent period from 1918 to 1933 when the old German society seemed to break apart. In this period, Germany became a constitutional democracy, the arts blossomed, modern and liberal ideas flourished, and the economic and political situation staggered from one crisis to another, ending in the Nazi ascendance to power. This period is often treated as simply the forerunner to the Nazi era, but Weitz shows that it was far more than that. . . . Weitz has synthesized in clear and engaging fashion a great deal of the huge primary and secondary literature of Weimar. . . . If you have only one book on the Weimar period, this should be it. For all libraries."--Barbara Walden, Library Journal (starred review)

"[Weitz] is a reliable guide through Weimar's political and economic maze, and a good one on the social revolution that made many women--far from all--less dependent on husband, hearth and home. In one of his best chapters, Mr. Weitz takes us on a ramble through the sleepless metropolis of 1920s Berlin: from the glittering cafes around Potsdamer Platz to Isherwood's cabarets and seedy bars, from the bracing beaches of Wannsee Lake to the dank and stifling dwellings of the workers' quarter, Wedding."--The Economist

"Brilliantly maps a pivotal era."--Peter Skinner, Foreword Magazine

"Weitz offers a comprehensive history of the Weimar Republic that combines a sober approach to the politics and economics of this conflicted era with a highly engaging and readable new take on its famous cultural and social experiment...One of the book's achievements compared to previous Weimar histories is Weitz's integration of important work on gender, sex, and the body throughout his nine chapters."--H.D. Baer, Choice

"It is impossible to talk about post-1918 Germany without focusing on its political and financial instability. . . . Weitz covers this ground clearly and in sharp detail, breaking down the complex tug-of-war between communists, democrats and conservatives. . . . But more gripping to Weitz (and to this reviewer) is the artistic and intellectual ferment that Weimar embodied--a cultural explosion he chronicles with a passionate, persuasive voice. . . . [Weitz] wins points for his no-frills language that transports us back to the racy, cosmopolitan atmosphere of 1920s Berlin--and for saving his best for last. In the book's resonant closure about the rise of authoritarianism, Weitz seems in directly to hold a mirror up to America's own political catastrophe in the post-9/11 Bush years."--Michael Levitin, The Financial Times

"Eric D. Weitz has written a splendid book. . . . Appreciating Weimar's unique qualities and extraordinary accomplishments is something Weitz allows all of us to do with this fine book."--Robert G. Moeller, American Historical Review

"The name Weimar has always carried a double charge. In politics, it means an incurable disease, a state divided against itself, a habit of hatred and assassination; in culture, it means fruitful transgression, the gratified shock of the modern. By showing how these two sides belong to the same coin, Weimar Germany serves as a perfect introduction to its subject."--Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

"Now . . . comes Eric D. Weitz's long-awaited Weimar Germany, a work that builds on the extant literature and gives things a refreshing new spin. A seasoned scholar of German history, Weitz offers an altogether original approach, a potent mix of cutting-edge historical analysis, rich visual and literary illustration, and imaginative excursions through the physical spaces and places of the era, bringing to bear his uncommon erudition and a prose style that is at once rigorous, wonderfully animated, and distinguished by breathtaking clarity."--Noah Isenberg, Bookforum

"It is the thesis of Eric D. Weitz in Weimar Germany that even before the Nazi coup of 1933, Weimar democracy, however brilliant its cultural particulars, never had a chance....And yet, as Weimar Germany makes elegantly clear, what a vibrant and kinetic moment it was with such artists as Käthe Kollwitz and George Grosz, such architects as Erich Mendelsohn and Walter Gropius, such novelists as Alfred Doblin, Thomas Mann, and Joseph Roth, the theater of Bertolt Brecht and Kurl Weill, the photography of August Sander and László Moholy-Nagy, the cinema of Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang..."--John Leonard, Harper's Magazine

"Considers Germany between the World Wars from far more than merely the political perspective. Stressing the new liberalism and modernism that marked the Republic, Weitz . . . devotes whole chapters in his new work to Weimar's astonishing flowering in architecture, cinema, photography, literature, painting, sculpture, journalism, and cabaret life. . . . Presents a comprehensive synthetic history, it is thoughtfully illustrated (including wonderful color plates) and it is written in a crisp, transparent prose that might serve as a model for modern historians."--Matt Nesvisky, The Jerusalem Report

"Weimar lasted 14 years, the Third Reich only 12. Yet Weimar is always seen as a prelude to the Third Reich, which appears to have been created by Weimar's failures. Actually, as Eric Weitz argues, the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was not responsible for the Reich; it was a democratic, socially aware and progressive government, way ahead of many other European governments in its introduction of workers' rights, public housing, unemployment benefit and suffrage for women. However, Weimar was, from the beginning, the target of the anti-democratic forces of the established Right. . . . Weitz looks closely at many aspects of Weimar and demonstrates clearly just what an extraordinary time this was . . . A fine and important book."--Justin Cartwright, Spectator

"A well-informed, sophisticated analysis of Weimar's greatest accomplishments and their lasting significance. . . . The best introduction to the historical setting and rich legacy of Weimar culture. And this, as [Weitz] convincingly argues, is the Weimar that speaks most clearly to us."--James J. Sheehan, Commonweal

"Nothing enlivens history more than the people who experienced it, and Weitz gets at concepts and trends through the work and lives of the players. His mostly lively and descriptive writing paints visual pictures that are complemented by well-chosen photographs and illustrations. . . . Generally, Weitz, as in his tour of Berlin, succeeds in guiding readers down the avenues of this unusually rich and complex time, until these boulevards finally meet in an abrupt dead end."--Francine Kiefer, Christian Science Monitor

"Eric D. Weitz, in his well-illustrated book, explores this contested society. He sees the 'promise' of his subtitle in the optimism of its creative community's embrace of the Weimar Republic's potential, and the 'tragedy' in the efforts of the established right to destroy the republic."--James Skidmore, The Globe & Mail

"The unquestionable strength of this well-written book . . . lies in the depictions of culture, everyday life, art, literature, and philosophy as well as in the deep understanding of the changing world of everyday people. . . . Weitz's unobtrusive gender awareness and his sense of class-bound life and experiences come across in a matter-of-fact manner and show what writing about history has to offer when a talented author knows how to combine political, economic, social, gender, and cultural history and how to weave them into a lucid picture of the past."--Hanna Schlissler, German Studies Review

"Weitz . . . attempts far more than merely to produce a new history of Weimar suitable for the age of the 'War on Terror.' His aim is to transform the way that we approach the 1920s in Germany. . . . Weimar Germany is a most welcome addition to the existing literature on this hotly contested period."--Tobias Boes, Modernism and Modernity

"Weitz's meticulous research and excellent use of contemporary poster and photographs, along with other period pieces, make 1920s Germany, especially Berlin, come alive. Readers will stroll down Potsdamer Platz with its elegant shops. They will hear political debates in beer halls, cabarets, and street corners. They will see the birth of modern architecture and view the neighborhoods of the Jews, Poles, and Slavs fated to become Nazi scapegoats. . . . This is a thought provoking book that gives keen insight into a society teetering over the edge."--Jewish Book World

"In Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, Professor Eric D. Weitz of the University of Minnesota fills in the details. He does a good job. He presents a case history worthy of study by lawyers of this century."--Walter Barthold, New York Law Journal

"[Weitz] has written a spirited survey chat for grounds cultural and intellectual developments, and it will find a well-deserved place in many courses on German history and German cultural studies."--Peter Jelavich, Central European History

"The story of the Weimar Republic is the story of Germany's journey from fallen Old World power to the ultimate symbol of modern horror--of cutthroat politics, lingering postwar resentments, new freedoms, and modernist art. Eric D. Weitz, a University of Minnesota historian, sorts through this knotty mass of narratives in order to describe how German consciousness was uprooted from the Bavarian forests and ushered into the ferocity--and beauty--of the machine age."--Colin Fleming, Wilson Quarterly

"Weimar Germany is strikingly illustrated with numerous photographs, posters, and reproductions of paintings supplemented by text that is both well-written and captivating in its use of imagery. The author's interest in the period shows through as does his sense of foreboding, given the aftermath of this fiery burst of creativity."--Lou Tanner, Virginia Quarterly Review

"Between 1918 and 1933 every aspect of Weimar Germany was in a state of flux. It is a great achievement that Weitz has managed to bring all the disparate strands together and to develop a cogent argument that Weimar Germany was so dynamic, so exciting and so suffused with optimism and creativity. Weitz's strength lies in his ability to make the era come alive. This is superb history."--Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

"Each era writes its own histories of earlier eras, and now we have the equally commendable Weimar Germany . . . . To read about Weimar is to be reminded of the stupendous number of gifted people it produced or nurtured or gave passing shelter to, and who contributed to creating 20th-century Western culture. Weitz goes into illuminating detail about their achievements and their influence, even in areas beyond their art."--Roger K. Miller, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"A concise, yet comprehensive survey of life, art and politics during a crucial period in German and, indeed, world history."--Alan Behr, CultureKiosque

"An engaging representation of the cultural climate of Weimar Germany in a variety of areas."--Faith Anne Scott, eHistory

"Eric Weitz paints Weimar--actually Berlin, nothing much ever happened in Weimar--as suffering from a split personality: vibrant and creative, on the verge of modernity; and sullen, backward-looking and afraid."--Harry Eagar, Maui News

"[Weitz tells] a story that continues to attract us three-quarters of a century later as lived experience, a story that, while it ended badly, should not sit perpetually in Hitler's shadow. . . . Perhaps the best single-volume history available in English."--John Kappes, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy is an impressive work, interesting, well researched and creatively written. . . . He includes many important observations on Weimar politics and economics, but the greatest strength of the book is its treatment of Weimar culture and particularly the crucial place of Berlin in that history. . . . It is a significant addition to the literature on Weimar Germany and should be read by everyone interested in the period."--Paul Bookbinder, European History Quarterly

"Weitz is at his best when examining the vibrant cultural life of Weimar and the many individuals whose work both evoked and manifested the hope that a better society would emerge from the ruins of the old."--Irene Guenther, European Legacy

"Weitz has done a fine job of integrating much of this material (highlighted in a short bibliographic essay) into a fresh new synthesis. His particularly judicious selection of illustrations--color plates and black and white--makes the volume a well-rounded resource for students and scholars alike."--Ulf Zimmermann, H-Net Reviews

"A valuable read for those interested in what came before as well as later."--NYMAS Review

"Weitz has penned an outstanding book. He gives the message of 'Berlin is Weimar; Weimar is Berlin' its most stimulating, colorful, and elegant voicing. Weitz's Weimar is visually stunning. With inviting, even friendly, prose he guides the reader through the sights and sounds of Berlin. . . . Weitz's structure is clean yet rounded; functional yet playful; revolutionary yet organic. . . . His bibliographic essay is a model of concision."--Kevin Ostoyich, The Historian

"[A]s the discussion of right-wing discourses, parties, and movements progresses, one is struck again by the author's ability to tie specific example to general trend. Like his account of the republic's beginning, Weitz's depiction of the end is a taut, clear narrative that delivers thought-provoking analysis."--Theodore F. Rippey, Monatshefte

From the Back Cover

"This is not another standard history of the Weimar Republic. Eric Weitz effortlessly blends politics and economics, philosophy and literature, art and architecture in a gripping portrait of a culture whose pathology was exceeded only by its creativity. From Heidegger to Hitler, from Bauhaus to 'our house,' from Thomas Mann to Fritz Lang, much of Western modernity was invented here-its glories as well as its horrors. This is history at its best."--Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of Die Zeit and fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

"This superb book not only finally delivers a satisfying general history of Weimar that has been missing for many years, but, more important, is a remarkable accomplishment in that it covers all the main themes of Weimar Germany, ranging from politics to literature, architecture to economy, cinema to ideology. Elegantly written and cleverly structured, this is an outstanding achievement by a mature, erudite, balanced, and intellectually sophisticated scholar."--Omer Bartov, Brown University

"Implied throughout this book is the question of whether it is possible for contemporary democracies to succumb to neofascist forces in the same way that the Weimar Republic fell to the Nazis. For Weitz, the downfall of Weimar does not simply provide a lesson of what we should avoid today. Rather his insightful book vividly portrays the Weimar period as a historical epoch filled with creative experiments and utopian projects that still need to be realized."--Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota

"Eric Weitz, a leading American historian of the German Left, has given English-language readers the most textured, encompassing, and engaging history of Weimar to date. He presents the first German republic, and Berlin in particular, as a beleaguered experiment in mass politics and mass culture: overshadowed by the terrible costs of a lost war, deeply divided politically, but still an open-ended wager on modernity."--Charles Maier, Harvard University

"Weitz has written a simply magnificent history of the Weimar Republic, one that incorporates its economic, political, and cultural history in a way that no other book has succeeded in doing. The book is knowledgeable, lively, lucid, and thorough, and Weitz's enthusiasm for his subject is palpable. Undoubtedly, this will be the standard history of Weimar Germany for years to come."--Richard Wolin, author of The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism

"Enriched by many contemporary photos, Weitz's comprehensive and highly readable account of the Weimar Republic incorporates the latest research on post-World War I Germany. To my knowledge, there is no other book that does a better job of examining the country's precarious existence between liberal-democratic modernity and conservative-authoritarian backlash."--V. R. Berghahn, Columbia University

"This is an important and evocative book that balances broad cultural developments and richly detailed analyses of, for example, the cultural criticism of Siegfried Kracauer, the collages of Hannah Höch, and the pessimistic ruminations of Oswald Spengler. Weimar Germany should find a broad audience given its subject, its lucid and lively style, and its wonderful illustrations."--Mary Nolan, New York University


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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 30 Jan. 2008
Format: Hardcover
The theme of this book is that the shattering of the structure of Imperial Germany led to an explosion of innovation and creativity, an optimism that it was possible to create a better and freer world; but that the unbroken old elites in business, the churches, the judiciary and the army hated all these changes, blamed them on the Republic and consistently undermined it where they could. The rhetoric of the conservative Right was widespread long before the Nazis became significant, that indeed `the Nazis invented nothing ideologically or rhetorically'. The crisis of the Depression and the inability of the Reichstag to deal with it brought the conservative and the radical Right together. And although Weitz says a few times at the end that there was nothing inevitable about Hitler coming to power, that it was `the result of a small group of powerful men around the president who schemed to place Adolf Hitler in power', the impression left by the book as a whole is that the tensions inside the Weimar Republic between progress and reaction, tradition and modernity, was so intense that the Republic was doomed almost from the start. One baleful symptom was the militarization of the parties on the left and the right, always ready to march in demonstrations.

The two outside chapters are political. The opening chapter is good on analysis but amazingly sketchy in parts of the narrative: the Spartacist Revolt of 1919 receives the briefest of mentions; the upheavals in Bavaria (1918/1919) none at all; the Beer Hall Putsch and the Communist rebellions in Saxony and Thuringia (1923) are dismissed in two sentences (p.102): `Communists attempted a revolution; the Nazis attempted a march on Berlin to seize power. Both were fiascos.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James-philip Harries on 12 July 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I suppose that if we read (or live) history we balance between two camps. The predestination camp sees history as a game of consequences, logical in retrospect, not obvious at the time. The Henry Ford camp ("One damn thing after another") imagines life as much messier and contingent.
Exhibit 1 for the destiny camp is nearly always Weimar Germany. Weitz is very good at showing the founding contradictions and corrosive myths of the period, without insisting on the inevitability of the final debacle.
Some of the political and economic history is treated summarily, but there was a lot of this and I for one am grateful that I can lift this book with only one arm.
The middle section, dealing with Weimar culture is useful, interesting or padding depending on your point of view. Illustrations are well chosen to fit the paper requirements, and Weitz draws some interesting mini portraits of the work of some of Weimar's leading lights. Some (like me) might be glad to have a five page summary of the thought of Heidegger or the works of Thomas Mann. Then we can bluff without the tedium of reading them. Some might think that actually Mendelsohn wasn't that great or influential architect so why devote pages to him. I was inspired by accounts of two photographers I'd never previously heard of - must look at more of their work.
Once the culture's done, we're back to history. Weitz has a soft left feminist angle, and clearly has too many German friends. Well my brother in law is German too, but I think we can be a bit more anglo saxon about it and call Weimar what it was: not founded on myths, but lies.
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10 of 40 people found the following review helpful By dpp74 on 8 Jun. 2009
Format: Paperback
This book contains all the trappings of post-modern bias. It is feminist, left-leaning and full of clumsy interpretations that are easy to make in the early twenty-first century. If you are a rabid feminist who likes to revel in men's "mistreatment" of women then there is much in this book to please you. If you wish to blame the German Right for the failure of the Republic then there is plenty to please you. If you want a balanced, fair account of the period without the tacky contemporary perspectives, give this one a miss.
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0 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peder Ellegaard Larsen on 10 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
I had probems with cancellation of my first buy (new), when I after a while found a cheaper (used). I used one click operation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
The Golden Age of Weimar Germany 22 Oct. 2007
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Weimar Germany (i.e., the period between the two wars) is usually primarily seen merely as a precursor to the Nazi era which was to follow. This is a shame because Weimar itself is an extremely interesting period well meriting extensive study on its own. This excellent study, by a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, demonstrates the virtue of taking a close look at this fascinating period.

Most books on Weimar tend to focus on the political developments that led to Hitler's rise; while that is covered in this book as well (the initial chapters focus upon the aborted German revolution and the "political worlds"), it is clearly secondary to other concerns of the author. He sees Weimar as fundamentally being about trying to cope with "modernism" and all of the technological changes that swept life in the 1920's and 1930's. So there is sustained discussion of the mass printed media, radio, theater and film, architecture, photography (Sander and Moholy-Nagy), music and expressionist art as well as political developments and the impact of economic crises on German life. Culture and the "mass society" is a constant focus here, including some interesting capsule discussions of individuals such as Thomas Mann, Bertold Brecht, Kurt Weill, Martin Heidegger, and an absolutely fascinating figure of whom I had not previously been aware, the artist Hannah Hoch. "Bodies and Sex" is another interesting topic which I have not encountered in other studies of Weimar.

All of this is discussed against the political background which is so critical to understanding the period. As such, the book is a richer study with wider sweep than Peter Gay's stupendous "Weimar Culture," which it complements nicely. The book contains extremely helpful notes, a useful bibliographic essay, and a number of incisive illustrations, many in full color. The author begins his book stating: "Weimar Germany still speaks to us." This fine study validates that perspective.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Portrait of a fractured society 30 Jan. 2008
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The theme of this book is that the shattering of the structure of Imperial Germany led to an explosion of innovation and creativity, an optimism that it was possible to create a better and freer world; but that the unbroken old elites in business, the churches, the judiciary and the army hated all these changes, blamed them on the Republic and consistently undermined it where they could. The rhetoric of the conservative Right was widespread long before the Nazis became significant, that indeed `the Nazis invented nothing ideologically or rhetorically'. The crisis of the Depression and the inability of the Reichstag to deal with it brought the conservative and the radical Right together. And although Weitz says a few times at the end that there was nothing inevitable about Hitler coming to power, that it was `the result of a small group of powerful men around the president who schemed to place Adolf Hitler in power', the impression left by the book as a whole is that the tensions inside the Weimar Republic between progress and reaction, tradition and modernity, was so intense that the Republic was doomed almost from the start. One baleful symptom was the militarization of the parties on the left and the right, always ready to march in demonstrations.

The two outside chapters are political. The opening chapter is good on analysis but amazingly sketchy in parts of the narrative: the Spartacist Revolt of 1919 receives the briefest of mentions; the upheavals in Bavaria (1918/1919) none at all; the Beer Hall Putsch and the Communist rebellions in Saxony and Thuringia (1923) are dismissed in two sentences (p.102): `Communists attempted a revolution; the Nazis attempted a march on Berlin to seize power. Both were fiascos.' The concluding chapter is a better narrative account of the death-throes of the Weimar Republic, although I think that Weitz is unduly harsh on Chancellor Brüning, who, he says, `happily deployed' Article 84 of the Constitution which enabled him to govern by emergency decree, because he `wanted to use his office to overthrow the Republic and create some kind of authoritarian political system.' With the Reichstag unable to agree on any measures to deal with the economic crisis, what else could he have done? Of course Brüning wanted a reform of the Constitution, but that is not the same as wanting to overthrow the Republic, and he was after all overthrown because he banned the SA and the SS when Schleicher and Papen wanted to negotiate with the Nazis.

The seven chapters in the middle deal with the social and cultural history of the period. The social history is well done. The role of women - the hardships they suffered during the three great crises (post-war hunger, inflation, and depression) but also their liberation is frequently underlined. The impact of radio, cinema, the gramophone and photography are described in great detail (though those chapters would have applied to most countries in Western Europe and the Soviet Union. The popularity of the Tiller Girls in Germany disturbed the journalist Siegfried Kracauer: `they joined together his two nightmare visions: Prussian militarism and the American factory'. No mention that the Tiller Girls originated in England.) The sexual liberation, though also not confined to Germany, was perhaps greater in Germany - or rather, in Berlin - than it was in other countries, and the cult of nudity and the Body Beautiful was also more pronounced in Germany than elsewhere. The conservative forces, especially the churches, hated all that and blamed the Republic.

The chapters devoted to the arts consist of sometimes rather long essays devoted to a handful of individuals whom Weitz considers representative of the wish to break completely with the traditions of the past. In architecture they are Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, Erich Mendelsohn, and Bruno Taut; in the theatre Berthold Brecht, also breaking with the traditional forms of theatre and opera. In painting there is Hannah Höch's Dadaism: her collages represent `the cacophony of modern life' and her provocatively trans-gender and trans-racial images predictably caused outrage among conservatives; but there is very little on German expressionist artists apart from the comment that they expressed both the jagged anxiety of the period and also its frenetic joy. There are no examples given of the Neue Sachlichkeit, though the school is referred to. Only in literature is more attention given to conservatives: Thomas Mann is shown as nostalgic about the culture which existed before the age of the masses; Martin Heidegger as expressing his distaste for modernism, technology, the mass culture that stifled authenticity, and the frantic life of the cities by isolating himself in his hut in the forest. Oswald Spengler and Ernst Jünger are shown as using a vocabulary which the Nazis picked up.

I think the book is excessively repetitive, but it does bring out well that life in the Weimar Republic was more fractured and more damaged by the three monumental crises in its short life than were other societies in the West. But I think that, like so many other historians of the Weimar period, Weitz is in danger of reading history backwards from the Nazi period. Perhaps the judgment in 1926 of an outsider, a Harvard specialist on Germany called Kuno Francke, was superficial: `Germany is running with a smoothness as if it has been used to republican government for generations'. Not much awareness of a fractured society there!
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
An Incomplete Political Analysis 26 Feb. 2008
By Michael Jay Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The rise of the hyper-specialized academic, overbred for success (read tenure) in a clubby, overpoliticized hothouse (read department of history), deprives educated general readers of first class yet accessible works of the caliber their parents or grandparents enjoyed. The days when Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (Harvard) or Richard Hofstadter (Columbia) commanded substantial readerships are long gone. There are exceptions, of course, and a number of fine writers outside the academy have stepped forward partially to bridge that gap. Occasionally an academic publisher seeks consciously to marry cutting-edge scholarship to engaging, accessible prose. Princeton University Press aims high with its lavishly illustrated presentation (including one of the most beautiful covers ever to adorn a historical monograph) of Eric D. Weitz's Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy. Unfortunately, the text itself is something of a mixed bag.

At least one of the other reviews here suggests that Weitz offers little that one could not find elsewhere, including the first volume of Richard Evans's Third Reich trilogy. This is correct, at least with regard to Weimar politics, but not in my view necessarily objectionable. Plainly Weitz aims here at an introduction for readers new to the subject. And Weitz covers far more than Weimar politics. The problems here, and the book's real strengths partially offset them, pertain to Weitz's pedestrian and at times repetitive prose, and to his selective assignment of blame for the Weimar Republic's political demise. One is sorely tempted to trace both deficiencies back to Weitz's abode in the academic hothouse.

First, though, the book does a number of things well enough. Chapter length summaries introduce us to significant developments in architecture and housing design; in literature and theater; to conflicts over new, modern ideals regarding bodies, sex, and women's role in society. For many readers, the concise precis of Bruno Taut's housing projects (a boon to German workers who now would enjoy modern utilities plus windows open to the sun and greenery--but in other aspects designed "the way people should live, whether they liked it or not"), or Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, or Billy Wilder's Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) will amply justify their investment of time and energy in this book.

But modernism, Weimar Germany's oversized contributions notwithstanding, was not a uniquely German phenomenon. Those who seek in these pages an explanation of what made Weimar unique may not leave fully satisfied. Weitz asserts that during the 1920s and early 1930s, Weimar was the situs of an especially vibrant kinetic energy, one that pulsed more intensely because Germany had lost the First World War. Having experienced a greater sense of postwar disillusion, Weitz writes, Germans experienced a more acute effort by "artists, writers, and political organizers... to unravel the meaning of modernity." This may very well be correct, but Weitz does not really prove it. Possibly doing so would require a different book, one that embraced a more comparative approach.

Weitz's inclusion of "political organizers" among the great modernists brings us to the nub of his analysis. As Weitz shows, the harsh traditionalist reaction to modernist cultural advance was only one front of a broader indictment of perceived "un-Germanic" elements in the extant culture, government, and populace. Words like nomadic, uprooted, and Bolshevist were flung with equal fervor at the Bauhaus, the republic and the Jew. Well before Hitler assumed the Chancellorship, Weitz writes, "the attack on the modernists became entwined with ever-growing race thinking."

But Weitz attributes Weimar's demise exclusively (or nearly so; he can be a bit clever on this point) to a determined political effort by the nationalist political Right, which ever considered the republic an alien imposition upon the German Reich. The problem here is that the German Communist party also denied Weimar's legitimacy, also sought violently to overthrow it, and also contributed significantly to its demise.

Weitz's response, enunciated briefly at several points in his text, is that the Communists were never strong enough to overturn Weimar democracy while right-wing nationalist parties culminating in the Nazi movement were. This is true of course, but the better question is whether Weimar might have survived had its Communist foes instead lent their support to German democracy. Flanked on either end of the political spectrum by revolutionary, anti-democratic parties, the democrats never quite commanded majority support, and they proved that much weaker when the final showdown came. In that sense, extreme nationalists and communists alike were responsible for Weimar's demise.

Among the Weimar Republic's real and ultimately fatal weaknesses was that its army, civil service, and judiciary all substantially accepted the right-wing nationalist charge of republican illegitimacy. Weitz repeatedly blames the democrats for failing fully to reform them, or, as he puts it, to "clear away the old order" during the rush of the 1918 revolution. Well, yes. But at the time (1918-21), the Social Democrats and their allies instead were expending their limited political capital coming to terms with those institutions -- a move necessitated by Communist efforts violently to overthrow the fledgling democracy. If there was a way to purge the army -- at that moment or later--Weitz doesn't reveal it.

So in the end, says Weitz, Weimar failed for its unwillingness to clear away the old order. That's always a popular prescription on campus, but not always feasible in the real world.

These caveats aside, this is not a bad choice for the reader who plans on reading only one book on Weimar. If, however, one's interest runs more toward arts, letters, and culture, one might look instead I suppose to Peter Gay. For political analysis, Richard Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich remains a superior choice.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Weimar Germany - Should be better known 27 Feb. 2008
By Jay Lippman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I became interested in Weimar Germany after attending the recent
exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. Seeing this fascinating
show made me want to learn more about this unique era of German
history. So I was pleased to see this newly published book.
It's well researched covering topics from politics and
economics thru arts such as film, architecture and music. I was
surprised and disappointed that the author didn't address the
great german painters of this period. A really puzzling ommission
to me. He covers how the Weimar republic came to be and how it
was doomed to failure and how it inevitably led to the rise
of Hitler and the Third Reich. I learned a lot from this
book. I would have given it a higher rating but I found
the writing kind of stilted and stiff. The author doesn't
really engage the reader. But I would recommend it to
anyone who is interested in learning about this unique
period of German history
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great view of culture, less on politics 13 Jan. 2012
By Gderf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This delves deeply into the art, architecture, literature and philosophy of Weimar Germany. Weitz is especially good at describing and summarizing works of literature and art. I learned much about the careers and works of many notables of the era. The collaboration Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill in developing 'The Three Penny Opera" is well told. Works of Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque and others are nicely reviewed. Careers and influence
of architects Bruno Taut, Walter Gropius and Erich Mendlesohn are described in detail.
Art works of Kathe Kollwitz and Hannah Hoch are pictured and their influence described.
Philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Oswald Spengler is very well analyzed. Many others are mentioned with somewhat lesser detail.

Along with excellent coverage of culture, there is much missing. The significance of the somewhat popular view of Weimar as a "Jew-Republic" is not well captured. Politicians of the era, like Friedrich Ebert, Gustav Streseman and Karl Leibnecht get only passing coverage. Hindenberg rates a nice picture in uniform and jackboots. German science is curiously absent. Einstein is mentioned only as a friend and guest of architect Erich Mendelsohn.
There is no mention of the significant contributions of Heisenberg or other German scientists
although many were already looking for other venues. In spite of many references to the German inflation of 1919 to 1923 and war reparations, coverage of economics is sparse. Hjalmar Schacht is never mentioned. The Dawes, Locarno and Young plans are all mentioned with few specifics.

There is an interesting, albeit sparse, view of the development and relationships among the political parties including rise of the right wing parties. The book ends in triumph of the Nazis in a reaction to the effects of the depression. It indicates how Bruning's tight money policy exacerbated economic problem as in the USA and other locations.

Like America, Germany in the inter-war period exhibited conspicuous consumption in the midst of poverty. The social effects of radio and film in Germany are extensively covered with influence on elections and entertainment, culminating in their use for government propaganda as well as insights into the movie industry and attitudes on sex and physical fitness.
Arnold Shonberg's critique of radio is very interesting.

There are potentially valuable references to works of Theodore Mommson, Erich Eych and others. The book does leave me with the desire to read more. The book is enhanced by a wonderful selection of photographs, some by the author, that are well chosen to relate to the text. Special mention should be made of Weitz's profound synopsis of Oswald Spengler's 'Decline of the West' and his view of the career of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Weitz uses these and other examples to justify his verdict that German intellectuals had a hand in the eventual right wing triumph. There was more than thuggery to the Nazi movement.
The social aspect of the Hitler Youth is ominously mentioned.

This surely deserves a five star rating as a view of Weimar culture, although there should have been a disclaimer for anyone expecting more on politics or economics.
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