The best books on art and aesthetics in Nazi Germany

Gregory Maertz Author Of Nostalgia for the Future: Modernism and Heterogeneity in the Visual Arts of Nazi Germany
By Gregory Maertz

The Books I Picked & Why

The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany

By Jonathan Petropoulos

Book cover of The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany

Why this book?

Painstakingly researched and written with a novelist’s eye for telling details and colorful personalities, Petropoulos’s book is an early (2000), ambitious attempt to bring to life the most influential and, because of their collaboration with the Hitler regime, controversial figures in German art under National Socialism—the directors of museums, art dealers, art journalists, art historians, and artists. 


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Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts

By Alan E. Steinweis

Book cover of Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts

Why this book?

This is one of the most influential studies of cultural politics in Nazi Germany which takes as its focus the bureaucracy Joseph Goebbels charged with integrating pre-National Socialist artists and their organizations into the new cultural and political order. Noteworthy, of course, throughout Steinweis’s masterpiece of institutional reconstruction, is the revelation that National Socialist aesthetic preferences were not novel but represented the appropriation of the prevailing conservative taste dominant in the late Weimar Republic.


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The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany

By Eric Michaud, Janet Lloyd

Book cover of The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany

Why this book?

A superb English translation has transformed Michaud’s Un Art de L’Éternité into a classic study of the ultimate purpose of Nazi aesthetics: to convert depictions of present reality in Hitler’s Germany into enduring images of National Socialism’s aspiration to generate aesthetic values that would last an eternity. In addition, Michaud argues persuasively how art was central to Nazi ideology.


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Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich

By Jeffrey Herf

Book cover of Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich

Why this book?

Another highly original study—of the confluence of politics, technology, and culture in Nazi Germany as a holdover from tendencies already present in the Weimar Republic. Herf’s striking and influential phrase, “reactionary modernism,” encapsulates the seeming paradox of a future-oriented and technologically advanced regime that nonetheless adopted a seemingly archaic symbolic vernacular. 


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Totalitarian Art: In the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People's Republic of China

By Igor Golomstock, Robert Chandler

Book cover of Totalitarian Art: In the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People's Republic of China

Why this book?

Rich in illustrations, ambitious in scope, and still relevant despite having been written in the pre-perestroika Soviet Union, Golomstock makes his four-way comparison accessible and convincing by insisting that “totalitarian art,” a distinct genre with its own aesthetics and style, organization, and ideology, emerged with the rise of the four regimes indicated in the title of his book. 


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