THE OTHER GERMAN: Willy Brandt's Life & Times by David Binder

THE OTHER GERMAN: Willy Brandt's Life & Times

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A detached, thorough biography of West Germany's first postwar Social Democrat chancellor, who resigned in 1974 over a spy scandal. Binder, a New York Times writer with extensive Central European experience, reviews the youth of the illegitimate Herbert Frahm (Brandt's real name) from Luebeck: his militant socialist grandfather, his own early commitment to left-wing politics, and his exile in Scandinavia after 1933. Binder takes his account of Brandt's overt activities during these years as a journalist and his underground assignments for the anti-Hitler resistance chiefly from Brandt's own memoirs, which have often been contested, while acknowledging that in the early Cold War years, Brandt became a darling of the Western occupation forces. The book proceeds to a dense account of politics in the Federal Republic, which remains invincibly dull for general readers, since West German public life has been dominated over the decades by bogus issues and mediocrities, at times enlivened by wisecracks (successor Helmut Schmidt on Brandt's fall from the chancellery: ""For four years Willy played God and now he's playing the Crucified""). The exception to the rule of mediocrity is the party's parliamentary boss, Herbert Wehner, for whom Binder shows considerable respect. Wehner's role in deposing Brandt remains rather opaque in this study, however; and Binder generally downplays the U.S. influence on West German policy, with the exception of superficial Kennedy highlights. Thus Binder's account of Brandt's Ostpolitik--opening to the East bloc--is valuably detailed but hardly incisive. Binder acknowledges Brandt's indulgence in schnapps and fleeting extramarital affairs; the book does not extend to Brandt's role as Social Democratic party chairman, but leaves him feeling suicidal in the spring of 1974 as he decides not to fight to keep his chancellery post. Much fuller than Terence Prittie's frankly devotional Willy Brandt (1974), certainly less deflating than Viola Brath's muckrake Willy Brandt (p. 1091), this is a ""standard"" sure to be challenged and consulted.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1975
Publisher: New Republic