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German Literature: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – May 28, 2008

ISBN-13: 000-0199206597 ISBN-10: 0199206597

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199206597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199206599
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Boyle has a sure touch and an obvious authority...this is a balanced and lively introduction to German literature. Ben Hutchinson, TLS highly impressive... Professor Boyle concentrates on creating a lucid, wide-ranging historical background against which each of the five periods is brought to life, with a challenging choice of examples Forum for Modern Language Studies

About the Author

Nicholas Boyle is Professor of German Literary and Intellectual History at Cambridge University. He has so far published two volumes of his prizewinnning biography, Goethe: the Poet and the Age, and his most recent book is Sacred and Secular Scriptures: a Catholic approach to literature published in 2004, based on the Erasmus Lectures which he delivered at Notre Dame University. Professor Boyle was awarded the Goethe Medal of the Goethe-Institut, is a Fellow of the British Academy, and holds an honorary degree from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Germanist on December 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
Boyle is clearly an expert in his field, and at least initially the book offers a good basic summary of German literature and history in the early and classical eras - even despite a distracting and ultimately tedious tendency to historicist reduction. As the book goes on, however, Boyle's prejudices become more and more manifest. Nietzsche is given a few sneering paragraphs, Heidegger barely acknowledged except to name him "an intellectual totem of the right," Benjamin's contribution reduced to a supposed mistake in the understanding of "art," and Adorno dispatched merely as someone who agreed with the Nazis about jazz music and an elitist writer of "half-truths" (who is moreover surpassed in philosophical acumen by Hesse!). And lest all this be excused on the grounds that Boyle is ultimately discussing German literature, not philosophy, he also condescendingly reduces Jean Paul to a writer of popular novels, Kleist in a brief paragraph to a nationalist and Brecht to a hypocritical aesthete. (Thomas Mann, meanwhile, is bestowed over eight glowing pages.) The contributions of Kafka, Rilke, Musil, and other non-"German" writers of German literature are also indeed sorely missed.

To put it simply, Boyle's book is one of extreme tendentiousness masquerading as erudite objectivity. The book is rife with odd distortions, simplifications, and questionable opinions. It pains me to think that people coming to German literature for the first time might be tempted to take Boyle at his word. For someone who knows a bit about German literature and can read this book with a critical eye (and much anger), the book can provide a decent review (as well as illuminating some of the battles that are still to be fought). For anyone looking for a good place to begin the study of German literature: buyer beware.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Elena Cuomo on October 7, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Boyle, the author of the most thorough and insightful biography of Goethe in the last century, has composed an excellent introduction to German literature. It's ideal for someone who would like to understand the connections between German history and literary expression. However, the book is complex and it treats the literature in the context in which it was written, not according to modern standards. It might be heavy going for a casual reader, but for someone who wants to think seriously about the topic, Boyle's book is ideal.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones on August 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
German Literature: A very short introduction by Nicholas Boyle, Oxford University Press, 2008, 182 ff.

The author, who is the Schröder Professor of German and President of Magdalene College at Cambridge University, makes the point in the Introduction to his book that literature is about more than the texts themselves. They reflect on and impact on the world through their authors and readers. German literature has excelled in subjective poetic literature but has contributed rather less to the more objective realistic novel. Boyle makes the point that the term `German literature' embraces a wider field than just books generated by authors within what we now recognise as the German nation.

During the Middle Ages the German nation was slowly establishing an identity for itself through the increasing importance of the university throughout German lands after the Reformation. Boyle maintains that Luther's `revival of Augustine's distinction between the earthly and the heavenly cities was the true source of the modern dualism of matter and mind that is usually attributed to Descartes.' In fact, the Reformation that Luther inspired did much to promote the influence of the universities. The first Prussian university was established in Prague in 1348 and in this period there were 40 universities in Germany compared with just two in England. Meister Eckhart, Jacob Böhme, Martin Luther, Gottfried Leibniz, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Klopstock, to mention just a few well-known writers cited by Boyle, emerged from within this cultural setting. Johannes Gutenberg invented printing in the 15th century and this led to widespread dissemination of literature.

`The History of Dr John Faust' appeared in Frankfurt in 1587.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lazy Shopper on November 26, 2013
Format: Paperback
I would strongly recommend buying the Kindle version rather than the paperback, which is so small that the print is virtually unreadable.
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17 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kristian Lavrentidis on April 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book was disappointing in several aspects, none of which were related to brevity. We can all forgive authours for oversimplifying movements and works, and skipping past things that are important, because in a short introduction, some things simply must go. However, the authour betrays his religious views on literature throughout this book. For example, Martin Luther is treated with great reverence, yet nothing is mentioned of his raving anti-Semitism, misogyny, or his devotion to ignorance through approaching everything by means of Scripture. Luther did indeed help open the doors to challenge the autocracy of the Catholic Church, but he would not give an inch when it came to critical thinking about the Bible, and he became a papist in his own right when the Lutheran church was established, refusing to allow even the tiniest modifications to the Augsburg Confession of Faith. He sternly rebuked his fellow Lutheran Philip Melanchthon, the principal authour of said confession, because of Luther's extremely fundamentalist position on trivial theological matters, such as the Lord's Supper.

I have not read Boyle's famous work on Goethe, but it is clear to me that he exaggerates the faith in many authours, including Goethe. Romantic writers all over the world showed a positive lack of faith, and a very critical view of the very idea of God, yet Goethe comes across as a good Christian. Immanuel Kant is treated as a great moral philosopher, which he was considered to be, but his thorough critique of religion is barely glanced at. If Boyle could dedicate entire pages to his theistic views, then he had room also for the atheistic ones.
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