Tuesday, June 7, 2016


While browsing the Internet I came across this eye-catching title. It headed an article about a phenomenon Red Baron had already mused on several occasions: Why do anglophone authors write more popular books about German history than German historians?

One argument frequently brought forward is the German inclination to navel contemplation. Well, I admit that I have the curiosity to learn what intelligent foreigners write about my country's past too. A good example for those popular anglophone authors is the Australian historian Christopher Clark who wrote the controversial book about the origins of the First World War: The Sleepwalkers.

The chief of the Berlin office of The Economist, Andreas Kluth, invented the word "anglosplaining" referring to a German television series "Where we come from" where Christopher Clark presents to fascinated German viewers their history in a perfect German although with a charming English accent that partly "anglosplains" the success of the series.

Red Baron wrote a blog about Clark's book and had also listened to him when he gave a lecture at Freiburg's University to an overcrowded Audimax. However, there are other good examples of anglophone book writers: Roger Chickering is the author of The Great War and Urban Life in Germany: Freiburg, 1914-1918.

Simon Winder wrote a witty overview of German history called Germania. The problem not only with Winder is that once an author has landed a bestseller he writes another book that generally is not as good as the first one. In fact, Winder's book Danubia describing the rise and fall of the House of Habsburg is boring over long stretches.

The most recent bestseller in Germany was written by Neil Robert MacGregor Germany, Memories of a Nation.

In the 19th century, German history writers like Leopold von Ranke or Heinrich von Treitschke were famous. Red Baron likes to read those old and thick books. Although their style usually is heavy the content is narrative. I also count Schiller's Geschichte des dreißigjährigen Krieges among those exciting books. A History of the Thirty Years' War is still a recommended read for present-day history students.

Available as an e-book
What a difference to today. When German historians give lectures the great majority reads in the tradition of Middle Age universities from a manuscript or a book (Vorlesung). That means that the style is always perfect but the presented information is much too dense because they read their texts. Ergo, the listener must be concentrated all the time to get the full content. As a scientist, I was used to speaking freely with a minimum of notes whereas with German historians the presentation sometimes seems more important than the content.

However, there is some hope. Presently I am reading a lively and well-written book Aufklärung: Das deutsche 18. Jahrhundert - ein Epochenbild. Steffen Martus spreads out his picture on Enlightenment in German territories in the 18th century on more than 1000 pages. It will take me quite a while to finish this exciting book.

No comments:

Post a Comment