A Historical Portrait
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 An ambitious--and successful--attempt to grapple with a problematic city. Few cities in Europe can compete with Berlin in laying a claim to history. Taylor (emeritus professor of German at the University of Sussex, England) has written biographies of Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Kurt Weill, as well as histories of medieval and modern Germany. Here, a lifetime of study is distilled. The book--like the city itself--makes demands, but the reader will be rewarded for perseverance. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the author takes us to 1990 and the formal dissolution of the East German state. As Taylor readily admits, he begins with a conventional conception of what constitutes ``culture'' (literature, philosophy, painting and sculpture, theater, music, and the decorative arts). Some may criticize the lack of attention paid to popular culture, although most scholars would now recognize that the division we draw today between ``high'' and ``low'' (or more properly ``popular'') culture was blurred for most of European history. To his credit, Taylor recognizes that contemporary cultural history overlaps with traditional intellectual history and the more modern forms of social history. Of particular interest are the last three chapters on Weimar, Nazi, and postwar Berlin: Otto Dix and George Grosz shockingly revealed the decay behind a glittering, bourgeois Berlin in the 1920s; the bombast and false heroism of the Nazi regime is contrasted with the quiet dignity and poignant literature of the ``inner emigration''; and postwar Berlin is divided between a commitment to socialist realism and the attraction of artistic freedom found in the West. Taylor's postscript touches on the problem of a unified Berlin in a unified country: He is cautiously optimistic. Beautifully produced and profusely illustrated (the color reproductions are particularly good), a look at a city whose long history has much to teach us.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07200-7
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997