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Prometheus stole the fire from Mount Olympus so man could evolve from fire to Freud. The Aryans stole the thunder from Odin so that Adolf Hitler, the risen God, could emerged to destroy Freud with the fire of the will and the hammer of Thor.

Peter Watson explains it better than I.
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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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on 23 January 2011
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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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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on 2 January 2016
Bought as a present BIG hit !!!
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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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on 9 October 2012
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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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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