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A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich Hardcover – May 2, 2011
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“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)
Top Customer Reviews
That is the question I kept in mind as I read Christopher Krebs' A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich. Krebs traces the book, actually a tract of less than 30 pages, from the hand of Roman historian Tacitus to the hands of Nazi leaders in the Third Reich. To borrow a phrase, Tacitus would spin in his grave at the knowledge of the uses and misuses of his work throughout history. Written at a time when what we think of as modern Germany was a collection of tribes, Tacitus finds both brutality and nobility in this loose federation of people.
Tacitus' words might have forever been lost to history if not for the work of mideval scholars and humanists who brought the Roman's book to light 1,000 years or so after it was written. From that point on, Germania was a text seemingly made of putty whose meaning could be stretched and shaped to meet the demands of whoever controlled it. Want feudal Germans to take part in a Crusade? Then play up the tales of their forefathers banding together to defend against their enemies. Want to rail against the German character? Then stress the passages that mention human sacrifice by the early Germanic tribes.Read more ›
In his study of the "Germania" and its latter-day influence on the Germans, Christopher Krebs in "A Most Damgerous Book" relates not only the background of the essay but how it affected the German people themselves, many of whom looked on it as a verification of the stoutness of German character. Krebs even brings the story up to modern times and the bizarre misuse of the work by the Nazis to prove their belief in the purity of the "Aryan race." A source of this misuse was Tacitus's characterization of the wild German tribes as noble savages. Had Rousseau bothered to read the "Germania" he too would have applauded the idea of the German tribes as worth emulating.
Krebs's book certainly fills out a gap in Tacitean studies about the influence of his ethnological essay on later readers. Highly readable, and certainly enlightening, it's a book no admirer of the the Roman historian should miss.
As an avid reader of the ancient sources, I had no problem following the trail of the discovery of his manuscript by the Humanists. This is an entire territory unknown to me, and though it seemed like it was drifting into minutiae at times, Krebs would bring me back to the main themes which are plainly written by Tacitus, but often twisted and misconstrued, especially by those who wanted to raise the "nation" of Germany into a mighty state. The irony is that there was no nation of Germany, there were only small states of German speaking peoples. This book addresses the big question of how Germany came to be as a nation--something difficult to understand and Krebs sheds some light on it.
But the really interesting question that many people have wondered about--what was the justification for the whole "Aryan race superiority"? Why did Germans buy Hitler's (and Goebbels, and Himmler) propaganda about the destiny of Germany to rule the world? What was all the fuss about "racial purity"?
This book connects all these questions to Tacitus' monograph about the disparate 'Germanic tribes' east of the Rhine. You really should read it first before reading this book. It is easily available on-line. Believe me, Tacitus is easy to read compared to Krebs. Krebs is brilliant, scholarly and witty--but some readers may resent being taken along on his ride down research lane. Personally I appreciated all the insight into researching the Humanists etc--it was 'Enlightening.' LOL.
Anyway, I hope this valuable book induces more readers to take a look at Tacitus.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
a very inspiring study about a book written about 2000 years agoPublished 3 days ago by Amazon Customer
A phenomenal detective story illustrating the origins of the German obsession with a fabled past and racial purity. A must read.Published 5 months ago by F. Fearon
The sin of Tacitus was to mention that the Germanic Huns had a democracy of sorts and that they treated women as equals. Read morePublished 5 months ago by a badly positioned hole near centre of chariot wheel
and more about the project to invent a concept of "Germanness" beginning in the 15th century and continuing through the bizarre revisionism of the Third Reich. Read morePublished 13 months ago by N. Perz
The Roman historian Tacitus was set for my Latin A level. I was then more than satisfied if I could render his prose into passable English. Read morePublished 14 months ago by gerardpeter
the author shows how German nationalism was invented by intellectuals who harkened back to Tacitus' myths about the ancient Germanic tribes. Read morePublished 19 months ago by art
Germans are bad, thousand words, cut paste of other books, (some I even have read before), Germans are very bad, thousand words, "Hitler says the Greeks were building iconic... Read morePublished on May 10, 2014 by Matthew Jerabek
I personally loved this book because it deals with topics that I find fascinating (Latin, German, European History, etc). Read morePublished on March 17, 2014 by Ernesto Hernandez
In reading Eric Larson's Garden of Beasts, I was struck how Krebs' tracing the history of Tacitus' erroneous history of the Germanic peoples influenced and legitimized Hitler's... Read morePublished on January 11, 2014 by Frank Taylor