BERLIN JOURNAL by Robert Darnton


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 Spending a year in Germany to write another monograph on the 18th century, Darnton (The Kiss of Lamourette, 1989, etc.; European History/Princeton) encountered history in the raw: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the movement toward German unification. Here, in describing these events, he proves himself a far lesser journalist than historian. The first chapter presents Darnton's ``Confessions of a Germanophobe'' and contains the irony of showing a scholar of the Enlightenment under long-term siege by the forces of his own prejudice and unreason. The text then rumbles along to cover developments that led up to the dancing on the Berlin Wall. Darnton is at his best when he forgets himself, listens to people, and tells the story--as he does increasingly in the second half of the book, which gives accounts of his travels, talks, and research in East Germany. Several reports are fresh and lively. And yet, in Darnton's own words, ``my greatest handicap was my ignorance. I have never spent much time studying German politics or culture. But at least I knew that I knew nothing, which is an advantage in a way.'' Perhaps--but not when language barriers or cultural misreadings hinder understanding. Darnton misses much of the heartbeat in Germany's gentle revolution. In Berlin, for instance, he has trouble catching on to the city's paradoxical brand of wit, which delights in proudly self-deprecating humor. Lacking cohesion, this reads frequently like an afterthought, with the additional flaw of placing the historian in conflict with the journalist.

Pub Date: June 3rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02970-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991


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