Einstein’s German World
By Fritz Stern
Princeton University Press – £18.95
The foolish faith in authority [Autoritätsdusel] is the worst enemy of the truth.
Albert Einstein, 1901
A country of mass murderers.
Einstein to Max Born, 1953
It’s interesting that in the Preface of this new paperback edition of what can only be described as an utterly terrific, invigorating book on both the history of, as well as the underlying influential trajectory of German culture, author Fritz Stern writes: ”And it is not alone in its uncertainty. Israel is embattled at home and abroad. Palestinians and Israelis spew hatred at each other, and both sides, while ritualistically intoning their commitment to a ”two-state solution,” have in fact abandoned it. Palestinians will not recognise a Jewish state, and they demand their right of return, meaning a return of Arab refugees in far greater numbers than those originally uprooted from what is now Israel land. Meanwhile, decades of a deliberate Israeli humiliation of Palestinian lives, dispossessing their lands and creating more and more Jewish settlements in the territory Israel conquered in 1967, have brought about not a third intifada, but unceasing random and murderous aggressions by Arab youth against Israelis.”
So before Einstein’s German World even begins, the reader is already embroiled within a pendulum of predominantly tough, inflammatory rhetoric, the likes of which truly substantiates how much of a diplomatic statesman today’s politicians absolutely need to be. Britain’s new Prime minister, Theresa May, will most certainly have her work cut out for her; although regardless of her policies, I’m sure she’ll cut the political mustard handsomely.
If only the same could be said for the American Republican nominee, Donald Trump. A belligerent and self-obsessed, Hitlerite oik, if ever there was one.
Could you imagine him chairing peace-talks in the Middle East?
Or any peace talks anywhere come to that?
Alas, I digress, which, given the current, twisted turmoil that is so very rampant amid today’s political world, is admittedly, very easy to do when reviewing a book such as this.
These 301 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) make for a superlative and indeed provocative read of the first order. Each of the book’s nine chapters make for a profoundly in-depth read of spot-on, yet realistic and provocative analysis – the likes of which is more often than not, merely touched upon in most publications of a similar persuasion.
To be sure, at the turn of the last century, Germany was ”Europe’s pre-eminent power and poised to achieve greatness – its material strength and strident militaristic ethos apparently balanced by a vital culture and extraordinary scientific achievement.” And it is the combination of all three that author Fritz Stern so readily explores throughout Einstein’s German World.
Betwixt the ambiguous promise of Germany before Hitler and it’s horrifying decline under Nazi rule (not to mention its remarkable recovery since World War II), Stern combines history and biography in a sequence of studies – of both Germany’s great scientist and that of its Jewish relations before and during Hitler’s regime. In so doing, he illuminates the issues that have made the country as well as Europe, so terribly important in a tumultuous century of creativity and fraught violence.
As The Financial Times‘ Jackie Wullschlager remarks on the back cover: ”Stern writes with the wisdom and the truth of a historian who never fails to empathize with the human uncertainty and frailty that operate in extreme as well as everyday historical conditions… No one has written better on the country’s rise and fall.”
I couldn’t agree more. There really is something profoundly prophetic and poignant about Stern’s writing, which accounts for Einstein’s German World being such a terrific and vital one-off.