From Publishers Weekly
Harvard classics professor Krebs writes a scholarly but lucid account of the abuse of history. Written in 98 C.E. by the Roman official Tacitus, About the Origin and Mores of the Germanic Peoples was lost for centuries but resurfaced around 1500 as Germans were growing resentful of foreign domination—in this case from the Catholic Church in Rome. The rediscovered book launched a primitivist myth that captivated admirers over the next 500 years, from Martin Luther to Heinrich Himmler, who loved its portrayal of ancient Germans as freedom-loving warriors, uncultured but honorable, in contrast to decadent Romans. In fact, Tacitus probably never visited Germany, Krebs notes. Rather, using books and travelers' reports, he wrote for a Roman audience who shared his romantic view of northern barbarians. Enthusiastic German readers, culminating in the Nazis, ignored Tacitus's disparaging comments, misread passages to confirm their prejudices, and proclaimed that the ancient historian confirmed their national superiority. This is an inventive analysis of, and warning against, an irresistible human yearning to find written proof of one's ideology. Illus. (May)
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“A razor-sharp, eminently readable reminder of the potency of bad ideas. Christopher Krebs shows how intellectuals through the ages used and abused a Latin classic, Tacitus's Germania
, and tells the unnerving story of its final transformation into a Nazi 'bible'. Fascinating stuff.” (Anthony Everitt , author of Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome)
“A most exciting book! In Krebs’ hands, the story of the Germania
manuscript becomes part thriller, part detective story.... A must-read for anyone interested in the pernicious power of the ideas of antiquity—and a timely reminder of the responsibilities placed on readers as well as writers.” (Tim Rood, University of Oxford, author of American Anabasis)
“A fascinating story of how a book could be used and—especially—abused over two thousand years, as enemies saw it as presenting Germans as brutish and barbarian, while German nationalistic pride extracted a quite different message of a nation that was simple, virtuous, and pure.... beautifully told by Christopher Krebs.” (Christopher Pelling, editor of Greek Tragedy and the Historian)