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On the Natural History of Destruction (Modern Library Paperbacks) Paperback – February 17, 2004


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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375756574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375756573
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #495,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shortly before his untimely death last year, Sebald had published to great acclaim Austerlitz, the NBCC Prize-winning fourth of his novel-memoirs that appeared in rapid succession. Now comes this slim collection of four essays addressing the same themes that preoccupied Sebald in Austerlitz and his other major works-memory and survival in an era marked by so much wanton cruelty. The four essays gathered here find Sebald turning his luminous intelligence and rich, sometimes caustic prose on major figures of postwar German literature. Sebald can be a devastating critic: he dislikes melodrama and falsehood, is inspired by crisp, serious prose and veracity. In essays on Alfred Andersch, Jean Amery and Peter Weiss, Sebald suggests that great writing is underpinned by moral fortitude. In "Air War and Literature," Sebald criticizes the silence of postwar German literature on the starvation, mutilations and killings caused by Allied bombings. The essay provoked a major controversy when it appeared in Germany in 1999. Some commentators were dismayed that Sebald chose to revisit those difficult times and to attack, with his full ironic and sardonic powers, a number of revered figures in German literature. Sebald was dismayed that his comments provoked an outpouring of support from those who could talk only about German suffering and Jewish conspiracies. But only at the very end, almost as an afterthought, does Sebald place this suffering in historical context, as the consequence of German policies of total war and the Holocaust. "Air War and Literature" is an important but flawed effort by a writer who always demanded unflinching engagement with the past. B&w photos. (On sale Feb. 11)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Sebald's final work, which roused many Germans to anger, investigates the consequences of the huge civilian loss Germany endured during World War II.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

All in all, however, I think this work is well worth reading.
Douglas K. Bissell
In AIR WAR AND LITERATURE, originally presented as the Zurich Lectures, Sebald delves deeply into some very uncomfortable questions.
Friederike Knabe
To read about WW II from the German vantage is an experience few other authors have encouraged so tersly.
Grady Harp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on April 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This posthumous volume of Sebald's non-fiction writing is a major contribution to German literary criticism and politico-cultural analysis. Accompanying his reflections on the traumatic impact of the air war against German cities are essays studying the very diverse reactions of three `witnesses' of that time as reflected in their post-war literary works. In AIR WAR AND LITERATURE, originally presented as the Zurich Lectures, Sebald delves deeply into some very uncomfortable questions. The air war on 131 German cities killed some six hundred thousand civilians and destroyed more than the homes of seven and a half million people. Why have these events resulted mostly in public silence for decades? Why have so few literary works attempted to speak to the traumatic impact on the population? Most Germans seem to have tried to come to terms with the realities of the war years by suppressing their immediate pain and the longer-term suffering. Sebald has thoroughly researched a multitude of authors, both in fiction and non-fiction. Yet, he deems their explanations unsatisfactory. Heinrich Boell is cited as one of the early exceptions, yet publication of his book, The Silent Angel, was delayed by forty years.
Sebald contemplates the different causes for this persistent silence. For example, basing himself on a range of contemporary sources, he confronts the reader with a detailed description of the Hamburg firestorm. As disturbing as his account is, Sebald's reflective style makes it readable. His objective reporting neither criticises the Allies' campaign nor does he apologise for German actions leading to the war.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Douglas K. Bissell on April 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I found Sebald's descriptions of the Allied firebombing to be moving. One reviewer faults Sebald for his inclusion of several pages on the destruction of the zoo, because the reviewer thinks the original description that Sebald uses gives comfort to neo-Nazis. Perhaps it does, but that doesn't make it invalid. And if you look at the totality of this work, it certainly does not in any way condone Germany's Nazi past.
What Sebald is discussing is human memories of the bombings, and the repression of those memories. He isn't discussing the rights or wrongs of the bombings, which he mentions only briefly in what he calls a postscript. I don't think this should be used, as another reviewer has, to argue that he is minimizing German guilt. You could take the other point of view equally well: that he is minimizing Allied guilt by not discussing criticisms of the Allied bombing campaign. These issues are not germane to his narrowly-defined topic. In other words, the book is not a history of bombing, nor is it a discussion of the ethics of bombing civilians; rather, it is a description of what people remember about these events in later years.
I found the second part of the book, a discussion of Alfred Andersch, to be equally interesting. Here is a man who, according to Sebald, used his novels to rewrite the story of his life, and he wrote it as he probably should have lived it, rather than as he did live it. And he did this without ever apologizing for (or even admitting) his less than heroic behavior in real life.
The last two essays were less interesting to me than the rest of the work. They might be more useful to specialists in modern German literature. This brings me to what I consider a defect in this book.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By MJH on September 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most remarkable books written around World War 2.

Whilst Sebald's primary subject is the lacunae and evasions in German texts around the experience of the Allied bombing campaigns of World War 2, the main essay of this collection also raises profound questions for any reader asssociated with the Allied nations of the war. The response in popular histories written from an Allied perspective is revealed in the wake of the Natural History of Destruction to be less than adequate. Am I alone in feeling a degree of shame and repulsion as a citizen of nations who also violated human rights in such cases as Dresden and Hamburg?

More honesty on our part is called for ... this book offers much food for thought especially around the human feelings at ground zero

Questions about whether this book assists the neo-Nazi cause and also the extraordinary tone (with strong overtones of Nazism)of the many angry letters received by Sebald further indicates how inadequate is later generations' response to the profound moral challenge of World War 2 - espcially now we are in the midst of another war where the goodies and baddies are not quite so easy to tell apart as they are in late night movies

3 other essays examine esteemed 20th century German literary figures in the wake of the war - these figures are less known outside of a German speaking context (with the exception of Weiss' theatre piece Marat/Sade) and serve to introduce them to a new audience

The prose is vivid and evocative - it is a tragedy that this writer was killed in a traffic accident at the height of his powers.
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