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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2013
It's about time someone challenged the stigma attached to the Germans, and give them pride of place as the greatest country on earth.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2011
Mind expanding covering a wide scope of cultural history. I am in awe of such sweeps of scholarship and appreciate the revisionist take on German intellectualism.
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on 8 November 2014
An outstanding introduction to and survey of the intellectual contribution that Germany has made in every field from the natural sciences to the arts to philosophy.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Clear, lucid, authoritative, exhaustive but never exhausting, absorbing, eye-opening - a must for anyone interested in going beyond the common stereotypes of Germany and the Germans.
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on 16 July 2015
A bit of a disappointment. A good broad survey but let down by quite a few factual errors (particularly on Goethe and Wagner).
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29 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2011
I am a keen Germanophile and speak German reasonably well, so was delighted to hear about this book which was presented to me as a culturual history of Germany, not least because of the English-speaking world's profound ignorance of non-Nazi German history. However, I have to say I gave up after about 250 pages out of roughly 850. Whilst its intellectual breadth and depth is admirable, even stretching, I have to admit it seems like more of a history of German philosophy than a cultural history. I find philosophy dry at the best of times, but a history of philosophy is just more than I can cope with.

I count myself as being intelligent and am a regular listener to BBC Radio 4's "In Our Time" programme (a weekly 45-minute history of ideas discussion programme) but I think this book is best aimed at seriously academic readers and researchers.
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14 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 26 September 2011
The customer reviews of Watson's book make for fascinating reading.

There seems to be a consensus that this is a rather rushed text. But this consensus comes with an apologia whether via praise or criticism: how could it be anything other, given the enormous scope of the topic.

But this is really problematic, because the whole point of this book is redress through depth. Instead Watson hurtles through an exercise in detailed namechecking, and in doing so summarises ideas so succinctly that frankly in many places the writing is reductive if not downright inaccurate.

Truth is I should have hesitated before buying this book. If I'd thought about it a little more, I'd have realized this problem was inevitable - a sort of journalist shorthand, a substitute for literary form, has always infected Watson's books, such that reading them often feels like ploughing through a never-ending copy of The Spectator.

So this is a book that still needs to be written. Obviously. Anyone who sets about structuring their (entirely valid) argument through an account of the contemporary socio-cultural perception of The Holocaust, but doesn't bother to rapidly bring 'Education after Auschwitz' to the fore, is asking for trouble.

Go figure ...
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Peter Watson acknowledges that the only German most British schoolboys have heard of is Adolf Hitler. He sets himself the task of redressing our ignorance.

What a lot of German geniuses there were, and they all composed Latin poetry at the age of six. Enough to give your average non-genius Anglo-Saxon (me) an inferiority complex.

My complex didn't last for long. Included in the geniuses are Danes, Swiss, Estonians, Slovaks and sundry other nationalities. Of course (to paraphrase Metternich) Germany in most of the period under discussion, 1780 - 1930, wasn't even a geographical expression. But this amount of lebensraum is way too much. Given the same latitude I could write the Book of Famous Belgians.

It is also notable how many were in error. To take one example, Germans were groping to an understanding of evolution. But they were blindsided by Kantian notions of ideal forms. (We're all going to turn into triangles or something.) It took Darwin to realise that competition, survival and reproduction is enough, you don't need a teleology.

German philosophers are more easily parodied than understood. My appreciation (could be wrong) is that Watson is actually quite good at explaining Fichte, Feurbach and all those texts I'll never read. Oddly enough it's quite an easy read, for a book of 800 pages.

But my major objection is Watson's notion of a specifically German and undervalued "national genius". This is somewhat too close to the opinion of the German mentioned in the first paragraph for my taste. Perhaps this is unfair on Watson and Germans in general (I do hope my German brother in law doesn't read this review). But I can't help thinking that if this book had been published in Germany there would be a scandal. What about the European tradition? How dare you call Mendel a German? The Austrian - Hungarian Empire is not German. And so on.

Frankly if my nation's most famous intellectual exports were homeopathy and Marxism I'd try to keep quiet about it.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2011
The book does mention some of the cultural and scientific achievements of Germany, but it is also full of stereotypical valuations, prejudices and clichés. On balance, the book has as many shortcomings as it has merits. To name just one of the many weaknesses, the author did not begin to understand Oswald Spengler's eminent work "The Decline of the West". And I have to say that the book gets worse and worse the more you read of it.

Although some details about recent German history are mentioned in this book, the reader does not know, at the end of this book, what Germany really is all about.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
LSD discoverer, Albert Hoffman isn't included, but fellow Swiss, C. G. Jung, is. Apart from that, this is an ok book about, erm, Germans!

Here is another great fact for fact fans... German chemists were the first to bring ayahuasca back from the Amazon, but Peter Watson mentions none of this. Silicon Valley scholars argue that psychedelics led to the Internet and, seeing that Germans discovered these chemicals, well, what a scoop! These fascinating avenues are not inside Peter Watson's otherwise excellent book.

The lack of experience musing in German Genius isn't Watson's fault mind. The Brits didn't have a psychedelic revolution and so German Genius is still a veritable monument to scholarship, but mere scholarship, the one side of the coin (the other side being experience). You would never have guessed that those German robots where responsible for creating the hippies and the flower generation.

Peter Watson is very brilliant, but writers of his caste remind me of Dr Faust, but without the devil. In the beginning of Goethe's play, Dr Faust is complaining that his genius, his learning, the respect he has rightfully earned from his peers, has come to naught. And coming from Goethe, the man who knew everything, this is profound. You can write a 900 page book a decade, for forever, but you will still die. It's written in one of the upanishads that the biggest handicap to liberation is the belief that knowledge will get you to liberation. Goethe is saying that Dr Faust wanted an experience, the experience, not the awards and fancy reviews by his peers, but a solid hit! This is why Dr Faust summons Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles was the experience. If you read the play as a psychedelic trip, then it's a great read indeed. I always wondered, how did Goethe know about these realms?

Goethe is considered a towering man of quality, who also knew hard science, but he was misunderstood. I reckon that even though Mephistopheles isn't around anymore (being Gods mate and all), chemical penicillin is a real clue to what Goethe was hinting at. It is a shame that modern academics ignore all this because of the misguided prohibition on certain chemicals.

Goethe knew that you won't become a genius by reading about genius' and you won't become enlightened by reading about buddhism. Reading isn't the same as doing, you know. You can read lovely writing on the music of Bach, but you'll hear nothing.

German Genius is still an excellent book to reference but it won't supply you will an experience. I wish Peter Watson all the best. Only in a more enlightened world will an obvious genius like Peter Watson try Goethe's remedy for a grey existence.
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