EINSTEIN'S GERMAN WORLD by Fritz Stern

EINSTEIN'S GERMAN WORLD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This volume brings together a decade’s collection of essays that brilliantly profile the lives of key figures—primarily German and Jewish—in the context and in the aftermath of the century’s two world wars. Stern, a noted historian and Columbia University professor emeritus, brings enormous scholarship as well as personal memoir to the history. Stern was the godson of the chemist Fritz Haber, who, with Einstein, is the subject of the book’s centerpiece, a marvelous study in contrasts. Haber was a Jew who converted to Protestantism. He was also a loyal German, dedicating his Nobel- winning talents to research to further arms development and even chemical warfare (he thought it more benign than weapons that killed). Einstein not only remained Jewish, but was forever contemptuous of Germany and thoroughly pacifist. Yet the two remained friends; and Stern illuminates their emotional and temperamental bonds—-keen intellects, unhappy marriages, a deep love and passion for research. Here and throughout the volume, Stern describes the complexity of being German and Jewish—what it was like to recognize one’s status as second-class citizen yet also to attain elite status as eminent scientist or statesman. On the other hand, Stern also provides a sympathetic portrait of Max Planck, a non-Jew who was a patriot but unhappy at the plight of his Jewish colleagues and who tried to help when he could. Stern also provides portraits of Paul Ehrlich and Chaim Weizmann, an essay on German historians, and speculations on the future of Germany since reunification. These nuanced essays see complexity and contradictions in human behavior against the background of German history since Bismarck. They thus set the stage for Stern’s essay attacking as simplistic, unhistorical, and distorted Daniel Goldenhagen’s thesis that Germans en masse were Hitler’s willing executioners in the Holocaust. A combination of passion and compassion mark Stern as not only a dedicated and gifted historian, but also one committed to the hope, expressed by Vaclav Havel, that humankind may yet learn to live in trust and in truth.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-05939-X
Page count: 327pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999




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