- Hardcover: 624 pages
- Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (October 5, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0871403366
- ISBN-13: 978-0871403360
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,484 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives 1st Edition
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“Wieland is shrewd…about her subjects and has done serious work…that give her book credibility, texture, and unending interest. This is the story of two glamorous women whose achievements in another time might have been no more substantial than the images on a screen but who assumed real-life roles with the highest historical stakes.”
- Claudia Roth Pierpont, The New Yorker
“The true subject of [Wieland’s] dual biography is…the contrast between good and evil…Did the women ally themselves with a particular nation because that nation reflected their authentic selves? Or did the choice itself―Dietrich's move to America; Riefenstahl's complicity with the Third Reich―transform them into different people than they would otherwise have been? Wieland offers no pat answers…Evil here is not banal; it is jaw-droppingly bizarre and eclipses good.”
- M. G. Lord, Los Angeles Times
“In this lively, deliciously gossipy dual biography, Karin Wieland treats both with great sympathy but also clear-eyed assessment.”
- Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“[With] hypnotic power…. Wieland uses these two virtuosos’ lives to generate piercing insights about ambition, ego, creativity and the life-changing, world-altering repercussions of a momentous choice.”
- Michael Sragow, Washington Post
“Behold Karin Wieland's Dietrich & Riefenstahl, a double-decker biography about a pair of sacred monsters that motors the length of a century, through two world wars, countless affairs, still-burning controversies, and white satin streams of Hollywood lore, never losing focus on the point on the horizon where fame and infamy meet…As a mere mortal myself, I finished Dietrich & Riefenstahl fully sated and completely agog.”
- James Wolcott, Vanity Fair columnist and author of the PEN Award–winning collection Critical Mass
“Illuminating…. Via a fluent, often witty translation by Shelley Frisch, Wieland draws the portrait of women who were ambitious to a degree stunning in their day. Moreover, by tracking their divergent careers together, she is able subtly to suggest some answers to a question that hangs over every mid-century German artist: what kind of responses were available to the Nazi apocalypse?”
- Farran Smith Nehme, The Guardian (UK)
“A sweeping, revelatory dual biography.”
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Separating fiction from the apocryphal, German political theory historian Wieland takes readers on a densely layered, whirlwind tour of Weimar Germany, 1930s Hollywood, the Third Reich, World War II, and more…. An absorbing read and a must-have for film collections. Highly recommended where Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts is popular.”
- Kent Turner, School Library Journal
“Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl have found an ideal biographer in Karin Wieland. She brings a lively style, a wealth of detail, and a perfect balance between skeptical objectivity and measured sympathy to her account of the parallel and then diverging lives of these two ambitious women.”
- Celia Applegate, Vanderbilt University
About the Author
Karin Wieland lives in Berlin and is an historian of political theory at the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture.
Top customer reviews
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a serious problem is that numerous events & personages in german history, all no doubt known to the german audience who have learnt their 20th century history exhaustively in school, are unknown to english-speaking readers. (the revolution of 1918, conrad veidt when he was german....) & while it is welcome that the translator has translated all the original german footnotes, she has inexplicably failed to add the normal "translator's notes" to explain cross-cultural history to her readers. THIS IS PART OF THE TRANSLATOR'S JOB, EVERYWHERE & ALWAYS. she has failed to do her job, so the history eludes us. this is inexcusable. the pompous subtitle, therefore, "a century in 2 lives," is a con. you will not learn much history from this book, unless you keep jumping up & searching wikipedia.
these 2 women would seem perfect subjects for a double-bio, as they were so similar: glamorous & talented, self-centered, opportunistic, promiscuous, etc. but the most obvious & annoying problem with the presentation is that leni is treated consistently as a villain. she is Written as a villain. sentences begin "leni was such an amoral opportunist that she..." "leni was so staggeringly self-centered that she..." excuse me! we are not in sunday school here! just tell me what she did & let me make my own moral judgment. yes, we all know she was pals with hitler (as many people were), which may be why some of us are reading the book, but it is absolutely improper for a historian to keep throwing these heavily-weighted pies in our faces. if one cannot be objective, one cannot call oneself an historian; & if one hates the subject so much, why write about her at all?
marlene, on the other hand, consistently smells like a rose. arguably the single most promiscuous woman in recroded history, she does not suffer a whiff of moral judgment thru'out, or even, more to the point, of coherent exposition! her numerous lovers are treated like wardrobe pieces, ho hum, with no real explanation why she decided to take off one & don another...even tho the author had access to reams & reams of personal letters & interviews. but the lovers fade in & out swifltly & silently & keep a very low profile indeed: quite a feat, considering there were so many of them.
there is also much less examination of marlene's anti-nazi wartime activities than there should be. whoever she was privately, she was a political hero, & we should know more about this.
there are barely any photos, sad to say, altho the author does describe in detail many photos she has seen but (why?) was presumably unable to print. another excellent point of the book is her detailed descriptions of the films, particularly leni's, so many of which we will not see.
it is of course difficult to write a double-bio of 2 such extraordinary women with such long & full lives while giving equal attention to both within the space available. the author has chosen to use the method of a comprehensive but shallow chronology, rather than leaving out some things to allow deeper examination of others. this is a valid decision but cannot please everyone, including me. altho a very pleasant read, the book ultimately just skims the surface of these 2 rich lives & in a fundamental way both women remain ciphers. i did not Learn nearly as much as i expect to from a history book.
The strengths of the book are the clear expository writing which keeps the story threads clear even when switching back and forth between the two protagonists. The life story of each of these women is fascinating and would be interesting on its own; the juxtaposition increases the drama. The reader gets a real sense of knowing the details of these lives without a sense of being dragged into salacious gossip which is a real trap in telling the stories of two sexually active women. Of course, real lives do not follow narrative arcs that make fiction read better than reality.
The weakness of this book is perhaps something that can not be avoided. Berlin is full of beautiful, intelligent women; a quick walk along the Kudamm will confirm this. Exactly what made these two rise above their more quotidian sisters? Ambition, intelligence, and opportunity are important, but ultimately genuine original creativity might not be explainable to us more ordinary folks. How did one become a Hitler sycophant while the other became an opponent? What was the role of frank sexuality in achieving success in a country whose leaders promoted a "Kids, Kitchen, and Church" place for women?
The book made me admire both women more. Dietrich for her uncompromising stance for what is right, and Riefenstahl for the thought provoking clarity of the images she produced.
One minor quibble: I would have enjoyed a lot more illustrations. Both produced thousands of striking images. A picture album might be a good addendum to this book.
Dietrich shot to stardom in Von Sternberg's The Blue Angel. She moved to Hollywood to star in such films as Destry Rides Again, Morocco with Gary Cooper and The Scarlet Empress. During World War II she entertained the troops and was a staunch supporter of freedom.
Both women were complete narcissists who thought only of themselves and their own fame. Dietrich is the better woman while Leni is to be condemned for her service to the horrible Nazi tyranny.