Fruitful reading for students of modern European history and the rise of nationalism.

GERMANY

A NATION IN ITS TIME: BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER NATIONALISM, 1500-2000

A noted historian outlines the development of the German nation in novel ways.

Smith (History/Vanderbilt Univ.; German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics, 1870-1914, 2016, etc.) begins his account in 1500, when there was no Germany as such but instead a collection of cities and mostly small principalities: “No charts drew the German lands to scale and no drawings showed its borders. And no one had described Germany as a space with a recognizable shape.” Modern cartography would change this, marking German itineraries and linking German-speaking cities into a “Germania” that “was an act of discovery, not chauvinism.” However, chauvinism would soon follow: Martin Luther railed that the humanism of mapmakers and scholars had “Judaizing tendencies” that yielded too much to “the enemies of Christ.” In time, nationalism would replace the former German devotion to hometowns, and it found expression in the depopulating Thirty Years’ War, which took decades to recover from. On that note, Smith writes, although millions of Germans lost their lives during the Hitler years, recovery was swift—and although a majority of Germans believed, just after the war ended, that national socialism was a meritorious system whose leaders had merely taken a few missteps, by the time the “economic miracle” was at work in full force, most conversely saw that Hitler had been ruinous. German nationalism today is a very different thing from its manifestations in the two centuries prior. Smith writes of a crowd of soccer fans cheering for their team against Portugal during the 2006 World Cup and finally feeling comfortable enough about being German to wave their national flag. Even though Germans are now resolute internationalists, Smith concludes, there are troubling rumblings of a reborn nationalism in opposition to the German government’s comparatively open-door policy toward immigrants and refugees, so that “public discourse now seems increasingly rife with prejudice toward outsiders.”

Fruitful reading for students of modern European history and the rise of nationalism.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-87140-466-4

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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