On the subjects of philosophy, society, biographies, literary + cultural history

Götz Aly: Europa gegen die Juden. 1880-1945 © S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2017

Götz Aly
Europa gegen die Juden. 1880-1945

If you go along with Götz Aly’s panoramic study on hostility towards Jews in Europe after 1880, secular anti-Semitism had other, deeper motives. The growing hatred towards Jewish minorities was an effect of the nationalist movements that emerged from the ruins of the collapsing great multi-ethnic empires of Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Imperial and Royal Habsburg dynasty. In the early twentieth century, aggressive nationalism was spreading in fledgling states from Greece to Hungary and Poland, discriminating against and suppressing anything that was different. The idea of the ethnically pure nation was an accelerant for militant hostility towards Jews.More ...
Ulrich Beck: Die Metamorphose der Welt © Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2016

Ulrich Beck
Die Metamorphose der Welt

When Munich sociologist Ulrich Beck died unexpectedly in January 2015, he was working on a book on the question of how climate change is transforming our concept of the world. After Beck’s death, his wife Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim completed the book together with academic companions of the author. ( …) In their style and content, however, the results are unmistakably and genuinely Beck, displaying his typical relish for making strong statements, creating concepts, and using colourful metaphors. (…) In view of the sad circumstances of the publication of Die Metamorphose der Welt (The Metamorphosis of the World), it suggests itself that this work be understood as Beck’s intellectual legacy. (…)More ...
Karl Heinz Bohrer: Jetzt. Geschichte meines Abenteuers mit der Phantasie © Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2017

Karl Heinz Bohrer
Jetzt. Geschichte meines Abenteuers mit der Phantasie

In the beginning is Jürgen Habermas. That is the first name that appears in this amazing book; many others appear on the 540 pages that follow. A 34-year-old literary editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung visits the 37-year-old professor of philosophy, whom he does not know personally, in order to prepare himself during the conversation for a report on the rebellious students in West Berlin. That was in 1967, when the Federal Republic of Germany was just 18 years old and Habermas was already the new star among Germany’s intellectuals. For the first time, the editor, Karl Heinz Bohrer, experienced the thinker’s “unexpected, mercurial spontaneity”, and it left a lasting impression on him.More ...
Otfried Höffe: Geschichte des politischen Denkens. Zwölf Porträts und acht Miniaturen © C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich, 2016

Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens. Zwölf Porträts und acht Miniaturen

The subject of this book can perhaps best be understood by recalling that the author himself is a key contemporary political philosopher. His significance, which is sometimes underestimated, consists in the achievement of having produced step by step both a political anthropology and a philosophically complex doctrine that derive from sovereign knowledge of the Western tradition, and building on that foundation, a comprehensive, normative political philosophy based on theoretical principles. This philosophy, it must be emphasised, succeeds in formulating a fitting contemporary model of the politics of the twenty-first century globalised world.More ...
Peter von Matt: Sieben Küsse. Glück und Unglück in der Literatur © Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, 2017

Peter von Matt
Sieben Küsse. Glück und Unglück in der Literatur

If there were such a thing in literature as an absolute sense of musical hearing, Peter von Matt would have it. (…) Peter von Matt has now written a new book. Its title is Sieben Küsse (Seven Kisses). That sounds like a fairy tale and it is like a fairy tale. Matt’s book has seven chapters dealing with seven kisses. But of course, the retired professor at the University of Zürich gives us a great deal of background to draw up a mighty historical panorama of the subject in world literature. (…) But why should kissing, above all things, this tender “commonplace business”, as Peter von Matt calls it at one point - which is after all one of the basic ingredients of all schmaltzy novels - be a suitable subject of such literary exploration?More ...
Joachim Radkau: Geschichte der Zukunft. Prognosen, Visionen, Irrungen in Deutschland von 1945 bis heute © Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich, 2017

Joachim Radkau
Geschichte der Zukunft. Prognosen, Visionen, Irrungen
in Deutschland von 1945 bis heute

The horizon darkens, the future seems exhausted. It seems unpredictable. Even the Germans, the demographers have discovered, are looking to the year ahead with muted hope. Yet even in times of political earthquakes and collapsing hopes, the role of the future has been assigned to a number of players. (…) The future of which Radkau writes lies in the very recent past. From the remotest of sources, he has compiled what prognoses, visions and confusions have determined expectations for the future in Germany in East and West since the end of the war in 1945.More ...
Heinz Schilling: 1517. Weltgeschichte eines Jahres © C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich, 2017

Heinz Schilling
1517. Weltgeschichte eines Jahres

1517 was much more than Martin Luther’s publication of his 95 theses in the up-and-coming provincial backwater of Wittenberg, “at the frontiers of civilisation", as he put it, and the ultimate division of his own church as a result. 1517 was a breath-taking and multi-layered time full of contradictions, marked on the one hand by new beginnings and on the other by fears. (…) Those were rough, hard, brutal, dangerous times with a life expectancy of just over 30. The people faced the threat of epidemics and natural disasters and were dependent on a good harvest. They also had a literally hellish fear of the devil, regardless of whether they were farmers, monks like Luther, patricians or regents.More ...
Daniel Schreiber: Zuhause. Die Suche nach dem Ort, an dem wir leben wollen © Hanser Berlin Verlag, Berlin, 2017

Daniel Schreiber
Zuhause. Die Suche nach dem Ort, an dem wir leben wollen

Zuhause (Home) is an elegantly written, stimulating meditation on a difficult concept in a world which, for many people, is becoming ever less homely. And at the same time, it is the reconstruction of Schreiber’s own quest for a place that for him could mean something like stability and bonding. Today, in times of globalisation and refugee crisis, 250 million people live outside their native country, the author recalls. Thus, “home” is increasingly becoming an “imaginary place" and “at the same time a real, inner, spiritual or social place”. The questions raised by his essay are correspondingly diverse: can a foreign language provide a home? How long does it take to be able to call a new place home? (…)More ...
Jörg Später: Siegfried Kracauer. Eine Biographie © Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin, 2016

Jörg Später
Siegfried Kracauer. Eine Biographie

Kracauer was a physiognomist, an expert on pictures and any “surface appearances“, which he opened up to his readers using the tools of a phenomenologically-inspired cultural philosophy. The truth that Kracauer’s texts seek is evident; one has to want to see it, however, and, if one is a philosopher, one also has to be able to say what one can see.
Kracauer, who has gained some skill in this field, was self-taught. Although he regularly attended Georg Simmel’s lectures in Berlin when he was a young man, and although he corresponded with Theodor W. Adorno and Walter Benjamin for decades, he was not a philosopher in the academic sense of the word.More ...
Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger: Maria Theresia. Die Kaiserin ihrer Zeit © C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich, 2017

Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger
Maria Theresia. Die Kaiserin ihrer Zeit

For four decades, from 1740 until her death in 1780, a woman, Maria Theresia, governed the Hapsburg Empire, extending from Bohemia to Northern Italy, putting all gender clichés to a hard test. By virtue of being female, she should have been weak and helpless, yet she asserted herself in the men’s world of princes and kings. What is more, Maria Theresia’s reform policy and absolutist claim to power influenced a whole era. (…)
German historian Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (…) describes her as a woman from a very remote, late Baroque world who seems rather alien to us.More ...
Peter Walther: Hans Fallada. Die Biographie © Aufbau Verlag, Berlin, 2017

Peter Walther
Hans Fallada. Die Biographie

The life of Rudolf Ditzen, who came to be known by the pseudonym Hans Fallada, is one of the great mysteries of twentieth-century German literature. German scholar Peter Walther has approached this brilliant and likeable figure, and has processed a great deal of new material (…). Walther describes a highly gifted, driven man. A man without equilibrium who sought extremes. (…)
Fallada had a sharp eye and a sensationally good ear for the underdogs and misfits of his time, and he succeeded in making the worries and wishes of so-called ordinary people appear great and existential.More ...
Volker Weiß: Die autoritäre Revolte. Die NEUE RECHTE und der Untergang des Abendlandes © Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart, 2017

Volker Weiß
Die autoritäre Revolte. Die NEUE RECHTE und der Untergang des Abendlandes

This is a book that is as trailblazing as it is enlightening. It leads right to the heart of the current debates, but cannot be reduced to day-to-day politics. It deals with history, without degrading it to being merely the run-up to the present. It shows developments, without positing them as simple causal connections.
The subject is the new right. Its thinking and approach are presented, but without ideological foaming at the mouth. The book aims to enlighten in the best sense of the word; while specifying strategies and protagonists, it was not written on behalf of a party political agenda.More ...