The best books on German thought

Peter Uwe Hohendahl Author Of Perilous Futures: On Carl Schmitt's Late Writings
By Peter Uwe Hohendahl

Who am I?

Spending my childhood in Nazi Germany, the nature and the horrific consequences of Nazi ideology have occupied me as a student of German history and later as a teacher of intellectual and literary history. In 1933 Car Schmitt opted to support the Nazis. While he was banned from the public sohere in post-war Germany, his ideas remained influential on the far right and the far left, fortunately without significantly impacting the democratic reconstruction of West Germany. It was the growing international visibility of Schmitt’s writings that became my personal concern after 2000. In particular, Schmitt’s increasing influence in the United States energized me to reread and respond to his writings.


I wrote...

Perilous Futures: On Carl Schmitt's Late Writings

By Peter Uwe Hohendahl,

Book cover of Perilous Futures: On Carl Schmitt's Late Writings

What is my book about?

The writings of the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt have been debated, cited, and adopted by both left- and right-wing thinkers with increasing frequency, though not without controversy given Schmitt's explicit support for the Nazi Party. 

The study focuses on Schmitt’s late work. After World War II Schmitt wrestles with such timely concerns as de-colonization, asymmetrical warfare, and the shifting international order. Against the backdrop of Schmitt’s persistent opposition to liberal democracy, the book charts his shift from a nationalist focus on Germany to a European and international agenda. 

The books I picked & why

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Chinese Sympathies: Media, Missionaries, and World Literature from Marco Polo to Goethe

By Daniel Leonhard Purdy,

Book cover of Chinese Sympathies: Media, Missionaries, and World Literature from Marco Polo to Goethe

Why this book?

Lately, the news about China and the West has been discouraging. The media focus on the dangers of authoritarianism. But was this always the case? This book tells the fascinating story of the unexpected and multifaceted influence of classical Chinese culture on early modern Europe (1600-1800) and in particular Germany. German thinkers and writers felt that they could learn from China. The study was an eye-opener for me that changed my understanding of the intellectual formation of modern Europe and especially modern Germany. It is a crucial narrative that contrasts with the well-known narrative of European expansion and domination.

Chinese Sympathies: Media, Missionaries, and World Literature from Marco Polo to Goethe

By Daniel Leonhard Purdy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chinese Sympathies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Chinese Sympathies examines how Europeans-German-speaking writers and thinkers in particular-identified with Chinese intellectual and literary traditions following the circulation of Marco Polo's Travels. This sense of affinity expanded and deepened, Daniel Leonhard Purdy shows, as generations of Jesuit missionaries, baroque encyclopedists, Enlightenment moralists, and translators established intellectual regimes that framed China as being fundamentally similar to Europe.

Analyzing key German literary texts-theological treatises, imperial histories, tragic dramas, moral philosophies, literary translations, and poetic cycles-Chinese Sympathies traces the paths from baroque-era missionary reports that accommodated Christianity with Confucianism to Goethe's concept of world literature, bridged by Enlightenment debates over cosmopolitanism and…


Staging the Third Reich: Essays in Cultural and Intellectual History

By Anson Rabinbach, Stefanos Geroulanos (editor), Dagmar Herzog (editor)

Book cover of Staging the Third Reich: Essays in Cultural and Intellectual History

Why this book?

Are you tired of Hollywood clichés about Nazi culture? The Princeton historian Anson Rabinbach is your man. His brilliant essays on aspects of Nazi culture as diverse as the popular novel under Nazism, the Nazi-organized leisure industry, and the fate of the humanities at German universities between 1933 and 1945, provide the sharp, well-informed analysis you never got at school. Get started with the interview the author gave to two younger colleagues (pp. 450-480); here things become personal. Of course, Rabinbach is a pro, he knows the critical literature on the topic and cites it to differentiate his argument. But more importantly, his insights and arguments force you to rethink your response to German fascism, and to question the facile opposition of democracy and Nazism portrayed in American pop culture.  

Staging the Third Reich: Essays in Cultural and Intellectual History

By Anson Rabinbach, Stefanos Geroulanos (editor), Dagmar Herzog (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Staging the Third Reich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A widely celebrated intellectual historian of twentieth-century Europe, Anson Rabinbach is one of the most important scholars of National Socialism working over the last forty years. This volume collects, for the first time, his pathbreaking work on Nazi culture, antifascism, and the after-effects of Nazism on postwar German and European culture. Historically detailed and theoretically sophisticated, his essays span the aesthetics of production, messianic and popular claims, the ethos that Nazism demanded of its adherents, the brilliant and sometimes successful efforts of antifascist intellectuals to counter Hitler's rise, the most significant concepts to emerge out of the 1930s and 1940s…


Cosmic Miniatures and the Future Sense: Alexander Kluge's 21st-century Literary Experiments in German Culture and Narrative Form

By Leslie A. Adelson,

Book cover of Cosmic Miniatures and the Future Sense: Alexander Kluge's 21st-century Literary Experiments in German Culture and Narrative Form

Why this book?

Do you know Alexander Kluge? If you don’t, it’s high time for you to learn more about this brilliant German storyteller, filmmaker, and essayist. He was influenced by thinkers like Adorno and Benjamin and has been a crucial part of the European intellectual scene for the last generation. Leslie Adelson is the best American guide for this exciting task. The central question of her book is: What is the meaning of hope in our catastrophic time? And how does one think, write, and talk about the future as a challenging dimension of time? Interpreting and guiding us through Kluge’s radical narrative and essayistic prose also enables Adelson to discuss the possibility of hope as a collective historical concept.  

Cosmic Miniatures and the Future Sense: Alexander Kluge's 21st-century Literary Experiments in German Culture and Narrative Form

By Leslie A. Adelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cosmic Miniatures and the Future Sense as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alexander Kluge's revolutionary storytelling for the 21st-century pivots on the production of anti-realist hope under conditions of real catastrophe. Rather than relying on possibility alone, his experimental miniatures engender counterfactual horizons of futurity that are made incrementally accessible to lived experience through narrative form. Innovative close readings and theoretical reflection alike illuminate the dimensional quality of future time in Kluge's radical prose, where off-worldly orientation and unnatural narrative together yield new sensory perspectives on associative networks, futurity, scale, and perspective itself. This study also affords new perspectives on the importance of Kluge's creative writing for critical studies of German thought…


Thomas Mann's War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters

By Tobias Boes,

Book cover of Thomas Mann's War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters

Why this book?

Most of us are familiar with or have at least heard of the novelist Thomas Mann, the author of Buddenbrooks (for which he received the Nobel Prize) and The Magic Mountain. He is less remembered for his important work as a public intellectual, as a formidable defender of liberal democracy and bold critic of Nazism during World War II. Tobias Boes’s lucid and well-researched study focuses on Mann’s critical contributions to the public discourse in the United States from 1938 until 1948, first as a refugee and later as an American citizen, through public lectures, numerous essays, and radio addresses. This is the fascinating story of a writer who started out as a German conservative and turned into Hitler’s most vocal critic. Thomas Mann’s War is a timely book, reminding us of what it meant to stand up for democracy and defeat Fascism in the 1940s and what it takes to defend democracy today.  

Thomas Mann's War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters

By Tobias Boes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thomas Mann's War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Thomas Mann's War, Tobias Boes traces how the acclaimed and bestselling author became one of America's most prominent anti-fascists and the spokesperson for a German cultural ideal that Nazism had perverted.

Thomas Mann, winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize in literature and author of such world-renowned novels as Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, began his self-imposed exile in the United States in 1938, having fled his native Germany in the wake of Nazi persecution and public burnings of his books. Mann embraced his role as a public intellectual, deftly using his literary reputation and his connections in an increasingly…


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