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Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas Hardcover – June 15, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0226304984 ISBN-10: 0226304981 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 622 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226304981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226304984
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,265,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Remarkable and exceptionally readable... There is wit, wisdom and an immense erudition on every page." - Jonathan Steinberg, Times Literary Supplement; "Gossman's book, a product of many years of active contemplation, is a tour de force. It is at once an intellectual history, a cultural history of Basel and Europe, and an important contribution to the study of nineteenth-century historiography. Written with a grace and elegance that many aspire to, few seldom achieve, this is model scholarship." - John R. Hinde, American Historical Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

Teemingly rich and wondrously entertaining."-Edward T. Oakes, First Things

This remarkable history tells the story of the city-republic of Basel in the nineteenth century, and of four major thinkers who shaped its intellectual life: historian Jacob Burckhardt, philologist Johann Jacob Bachofen, theologian Franz Overbeck, and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Parker Benchley VINE VOICE on January 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the years many books have been written on the culture of fin-de-siecle Vienna, but no one had attempted a similar study of Basel, Switzerland, a city that blossomed as a cultural center during the Renaissance and then slowly faded over the centuries, as peace and prosperity teamed together to eliminate the tensions that make a city into a center of arts and literature. Vienna was done in by the war, Basel by peace.
Lionel Gossman has written an interesting and lively study of the city, choosing to focus on the four major thinkers that mark its last great period in intellectual history: Jacob Burckhardt, Johann Jacob Bachofen, Frans Overbeck, and Friedrich Nietzsche. and how their ideas were ultimately interwoven with the culture and tradition of Basel itself.
Recommended for anyone interested in the history of ideas and the question of not only whether liberty can co-exist with democracy, but can a culture keep alive in a setting that has escaped the tensions of its day, such as revolution, depression and war?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Scott L. Malcomson on February 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
Lionel Gossman seems to be a student of human nature as well as a professional historian, and he is at his best when examining his main characters: the rather delirious Johann Jacob Bachofen (treated here at length); Friedrich Nietzsche (discussed much more briefly but to great effect); and the central figure of Jacob Burckhardt. For more than two decades, Gossman has been wrestling with the confrontation of these men and modernity in the historical theater of 19th-century Basel. This magnificent book is the result. Gossman writes about his characters with a certain wryness that may be born of familiarity, but his enthusiasm for them (particularly Burckhardt) has not been worn down by time or erudition. His style of intellectual history reminded me of that of Joseph Levenson in his trilogy on Confucian China: large-souled yet agile and ready to be delighted.

Burckhardt was a rebel, in his way; thus, in great part, the "Unseasonable Ideas" of the subtitle. As the previous reviewer noted, the issues being dealt with here are very serious ones for us today as they were in Burckhardt's time. There is a rebellious quality to Gossman's own thinking, when he invites us to re-examine some of our received ideas about democracy, culture, education and the well-lived life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a great example of what is meant by "intellectual history." Focusing on the four professors from Basel, Switzerland, Gossman explains their work and how their environment influenced that work. Basel is a small city state of wealthy merchants who look at the dawn of "modern" Europe with non-disguised horror and disgust. The critique is both with Prussian style nationalism and with incipient "mass culture," here represented mostly by "the press" and newspapers. These thinkers provided a conservative critique that has proved profoundly influential to thinkers on both the left and right. As you read Burckhardt denouncing the popular press, you can't help but think of William Bennett and the Frankfurt School simultaneously. How's that for influence and prescience?

Gossman also does excellent work summarizing the positions of opposing scholars. Pretty much everything about this book is well executed, and it's even more amazing because Gossman is a professor of Romance Languages at Princeton. This subject matter isn't exactly in his specialty. But, the Burckhardt would no doubt approve. Recommend!
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By David G. on October 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quite simply, a broad brilliant sweep, not only of Burckhardt, Nietzsche, Overbeck and Bachofen, but of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Romanticism, German Wissenschaft and historiography, the growth of militarism, nationalism and the bureaucratic mentality of Germany, Hegelian "optimism," a corrective of the distortions of 19th century Greek classicism, a history of the Rhine, and of course of Basel and Switzerland. One might think at first blush that with so much it must be a survey. Far from it. It is a cohesive whole and thorough. This is scholarship at its finest, with the pivot Jacob Burckhardt, one of the most brilliant minds of the 19th century.
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