“The relation between culture and tyranny is a complex one,” Kater concludes. Indeed, and his book does much to make it...

CULTURE IN NAZI GERMANY

A much-needed study of the aesthetics and cultural mores of the Third Reich, with often surprising turns.

Kater (Emeritus, History/York Univ.; Hitler Youth, 2006, etc.), a widely published scholar of the Nazi era, begins with the premise that “in order for a new Nazi type of culture to take hold, the preceding forms first had to be wiped out.” These forms were those presumed to be “non-German” and, indeed, were largely Jewish or African: jazz, modernist art, anything smacking of the avant-garde–ism of the Weimar era. Joseph Goebbels was among many Nazi officials who took the lead in bringing music, film, architecture, and the like under the control of the regime. Though Hitler had a thorough cultural program in mind, his tastes were not always predictable or widely shared: He may have revered Wagner, but he wasn’t much of a Beethoven fan even if, in 1934, Goebbels, always pressing for a “German” art, “cut down on the political crudities and embarked on a campaign of promoting serious music, beginning with a Beethoven cycle in February, followed by rich programs of music by Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Bruckner.” Hitler, like so many readers of German fiction, was a fan of the pseudo-Westerns of Karl May, but he had no special interest in farming and so paid little attention to his regime’s emphasis on “blood and soil" novels celebrating farming and the outdoor life. Nazi officials spared a few Jewish practitioners of the arts, but most suffered the same fate as Jews everywhere in the Reich. In a narrative rich in detail and documentation, Kater examines such matters as the plotlines of films in the wake of the defeat at Stalingrad, competition among various Reich figures and ministries to take the lead in cultural matters, the flight of German intellectuals such as Thomas Mann to the U.S., and the general mediocrity of Nazi art.

“The relation between culture and tyranny is a complex one,” Kater concludes. Indeed, and his book does much to make it comprehensible.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-300-21141-2

Page Count: 472

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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