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Five Germanys I Have Known Paperback – July 24, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530860
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 5.4 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In 1944, upon visiting the desolate ruins of Stalingrad, Gen. Charles de Gaulle reportedly said, with a touch of awe, "Quel peuple!" He was referring not to the Russians but to France and Russia's mutual enemy, the Germans. According to Stern (Einstein's German World), former provost of Columbia University and among the most venerable of America's German historians, de Gaulle grasped the "deep ambiguity that hovers around German greatness": Germans were not only the destroyers of historic Europe but also its creators. In this fascinating memoir, Stern looks back over the "five Germanys" his generation has seen—the Weimar Republic, Nazi tyranny, the post-1945 Federal Republic, the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic and, lastly, the reunited Germany of the present—and explains how he came to reconcile himself with his birth country (which his Jewish family fled in 1938) as it has come to terms with its new place in today's more cohesive and peaceful Europe. His history, says Stern, can be read as "a text for political and moral lessons, as a drama in dread and hope." The book's intriguing structure makes it a wonderful combination of history, memoir, analysis and even poetry. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

One of the twentieth century's most distinguished scholars of modern European history, Stern has been the psychological explicator of the past, the effort to understand historical events as they were perceived by those who experienced them directly. Having grown up in prewar Breslau (in what is now Poland) before emigrating to New York in 1938, Stern has been dedicated to studying the cultural context of Nazism and the mind-set of its adherents. He now addresses the most incessant question of twentieth-century European history--how a nation as civilized as early-twentieth-century Germany could be responsible for the greatest horror in Western history--through the lens of his own trajectory through European and American history. Oscillating between historical narrative and memoir, Stern fuses the ambiguities and self-deceptions of Germany history from Weimar to the present with affectionate memories of his family; he also celebrates his engagement with the century's defining intellects, including Fritz Haber, Lionel Trilling, and Chaim Weizmann. The result is a brilliantly intimate portrait of both history and historian that shines with optimism about what the world can learn from Germany. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 27 customer reviews
I thought the book started to drag at this point.
Stern interweaves his own personal family story of life in Germany with his extraordinary knowledge of German history and culture.
plow girl
Essential reading for anyone who tries to understand what happened.
H. Schneider

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on October 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fritz Stern, emeritus professor of European history at Columbia, has produced quite a distinctive book on German history: it is at once an autobiography as well as an examination of Germany during its five most recent identities: Wilhelmine; Weimar; Third Reich; Divided Germany; and finally unified Germany. This dual focus serves Stern rather well--since he was born in 1926, forced to flee Silesia (now part of Poland) for the United States in 1936, and has had extensive involvement with Germany and things German since at least the early 1950's, his personal perspective and activities are quite valuable. Particularly his discussion of the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) is full of insights, as is the book's discussion of the Federal Republic (West Germany) and the reunification process. I found it helpful to have a copy of Stern's "Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History", a collection of his essays, handy for reference. At over 500 pages, this is a long book, which has a large cast of characters (such as Haber, Kohl, Schmidt, and a whole slew of academics, diplomats, journalists, and others) about whom Stern offers some perceptive insights. To be sure, Stern on Stern sometimes resembles one of those Christmas letters, but after all it is his life he is recounting. An unusual way to learn a good deal about Germany from one who has sought over the last 50 years or so to explain it to the rest of us.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By N. Ravitch on September 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Occasionally an historian becomes famous -- usually posthumously. There are Thucydides, Herodotus, Edward Gibbon, a couple of American historians ending recently perhaps with Arthur Schlesinger. But for the most part historians are archival and campus moles who influence people in small and indirect ways. Here a Columbia historian, Fritz Stern, because of his trans-atlantic life, his brilliant insight into the mind and heart of the Germans who forced his emigration in the Third Reich, his ability to connect sympathetically with many people of influence and enlightenment --here is a man who is an historian and truly an intellectual celebrity. He has lived through a flight from the Nazis, campus upheaval over the Vietnam War, the reunification of a Germany unable to define itself or its history, and the probable end of American hegemony in the world. He has taken all this in and written about it with brilliance and insight. He is the model of an historian of European and world history on the American scene.

Just compare this book to the self-serving, arrogant and self-righteous autobiography published a few years ago by another American historian transplanted from Europe, Richard Pipes. Both are accomplished historians and very able in their fields, but Pipes is not the man you would go to in a personal or professional crisis. Stern would be a real mentor, something rare on American or European campuses.

This is the book for those interested in Germany, in academia, and in America's role in the world. It is also well written and elegant.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By lisatheratgirl VINE VOICE on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Fritz Stern is an impressive writer. This book takes one from 19th century Germany to about 2002, mostly in the context of his own family history. I had a particular interest in the book, because Stern comes from Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland). I've spent time there and have many relatives living in and around that city. In addition, a family friend escaped the Nazis out of Breslau in much the way Stern's family did. Anyone who is interested in German history should read this book, especially as a starting point. Stern gives many explanations and insights into events that are not commonly known and gives the reader plenty to think about. I have one of his other books, Gold and Iron, that I now can't wait to read.

One criticism I had was the chapter on German Themes in Foreign Lands. I can understand the author's wanting to put the lessons of 20th century in a global context, but to me this material seemed like a diversion, with too tenuous a connection to German history. If I want to study China, India, Argentina or other countries, I'd read a book exclusively on that subject. I thought the book started to drag at this point.

Otherwise, anyone interested in German history from a German/Jewish/American perspective shouldn't miss this.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on December 7, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A liberal American historian, German by birth, from an eminent, converted Jewish family, writes a memoir and history book about his relationship with his birth country, respectively with the 5 permutations that occured during his life time. He is in his 80s now, so he experienced personally Weimar, the 3rd Reich, the Bundesrepublik, the DDR, and re-united Germany. Probably he will not be around to see a next version, the whole looks reasonably stable right now.
Stern begins with a chapter about the one Germany that he missed due to belated birth: the Kaiserreich, which one might call the 2nd Reich, if one wanted to follow the arithmetic appproach of the monsters who ran the 3rd. He tells not just the story of his family in Silesian Breslau, but also the story of Jews in Germany in the 19th and early 20th century, and of the German version of anti-semitism. Like the aside that the German army could not have a Dreyfus scandal, as no Dreyfus could have been an officer in Germany at that time.
Essential reading for anyone who tries to understand what happened. (Not that I find what happened understandable in a basic way. How can one.)Stern defines as one of the goals of his book to explore 'how the universal potential for evil became an actuality in Germany'. He thinks it was neither accidental nor inevitable. Has he answered his questions? Possibly not finally. He identifies cultural pessimism as one underlying tendency among Germans, which fostered and enabled the rise of violent nationalism: anti-modernism, anti-liberalism, anti-Westernism, anti-semitism. He also worries that these or similar attitudes are still virulent and cause danger still. Not so much in Germany though.
Apart from this heavy question he also gives us plenty of interesting episodes.
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