The German Genius is a virtuoso cultural history of German ideas and influence, fromto the present day, by acclaimed historian Peter Watson Making of the Modern Mind, Ideas From Bach, Goethe, and Schopenhauer to Nietzsche, Freud, and Einstein, from the arts and humanities to science and philosophy, The German Genius is a lively and accessible review of overyears of German intellectual history In the process, it explains the devastating effects of World War II, which transformed a vibrant and brilliantly artistic culture into a vehicle of warfare and destruction, and it shows how the German culture advanced in the war’s aftermath This is a work of love, in the double sense of trying to be thorough regarding accomplishments of people of german origin, and in the call for a deeper look to the german contribution to the present world that's hidden behind a historical curtain caused by recent events.Is Watson successful in this undertaking? I think he is, even considering the compromise of breadth and deepness over the different subjects that is always a characteristic of these books I kept wanting to knowabout this or that character/subject, and I will, as Watson enticed me And that's the main point of the book: let you know how little you know, and then acting accordingly. Intellectually thrilling: how else can one sum up this book? Watson’s subject is no less grand than to explain how German influences have, in countless ways, laid the foundation of, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, many of the “concepts and categories” that underlie the prevailing intellectual assumptions in the modern, Western world The wide spectrum of information he writes about could teeter on the brink of devolving into semantic clutter or, worse, a rhetorical “book of lists.” Instead, Watson writes with such an engaging fluidity to elevate his subject to somethingthan a mere history of ideas; it approaches the level of a compelling novel.Watson defines “German” in the expansive sense of where and when German language and influence was most pervasive Most of the first half of the book is a sweeping overview of the age “between doubt and Darwin.” The “advent of religious doubt” began with Newton, Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler However, it accelerated with the birth of historicism and “modern scholarship” in Germany in the mid18th century This would have a profound impact on the emerging German ideals of Bildung—“in essence it refers to the inner development of the individual, a process of fulfillment though education and knowledge, in effect a secular search for perfection, representing progress and refinement both in knowledge and in moral terms.” This idea was formalized and consolidated with Wilhelm von Humboldt’s—the brother of thecelebrated Alexander—creation of the University in Berlin, which would become the model for all modern universities and scholarship.Another key idea, first posited by Johann Gottfried von Herder, was Kultur, which “refers essentially to intellectual, artistic and religious facts” that bind people The nonGerman conception of culture grew to include politics, economics and history Watson defines the distinction to better understand how Germans viewed themselves, but uses the latter to make his arguments What followed is an astounding scope of achievement that includes art history, philosophy, music, literature, geology, chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, industrialization, and business Throughout his narrative, Watson also places the discoveries and influence in geographical and temporal context with chapters on Vienna, Berlin and Munich and the roles each city played as centers of various activities and trends.Watson’s argument thankfully does not get bogged down in historical events; his is based on the “whys” behind the “how and when” of history We learn about the changing attitudes of elites during World War I Although the primacy of German intellectual influences lasted until 1933, the decline began after the World War I when “Germans were banned from international science conferences…not offered visiting fellowships, and their research was not incorporated into leading journals.” Artistic and literary influence, however, continued to flourish right up until the Nazi takeover of power Then, as Watson paraphrases Steven Remy, “scholarship…rejected ‘objectivity’ [and] denied that scholarship served intangible notions of truth for truth’s sake, insisting that German scholarship must serve the ‘Volk’” The Nazi era stunted German scholarship in a way that took decades to begin to recover Even good science like linking cancer to tobacco and diet was set back and had to be relearned Post World War II Germany has continued to be tainted by the Nazi experience, even now,than 70 years after its demise.This is the primary reason Watson chose to write this book In an incredibly wellargued introduction that outlines his thesis, he laments how in modern day Great Britain what little understanding of Germany exists is mired in the twelve year history of the Third Reich The rich history and influence on the world of what happened in the two centuries prior to the war and the recovery and establishment of a strong democratic tradition are largely ignored He then takesthan 700 pages to lay out the case of how German thinking has changed the world forever His case is not blinded by a misplaced chauvinism It is possible to read just the introduction and conclusion to permanently change one’s view of The German Genius, but one would sadly miss the interesting journey that connects them. Why do we read and write, you and I? Partly it's because we want to better ourselves This is what people do or what the kind of people you and I want to know do, anyway we learn new instruments and languages, we travel, we try new things (Or we like to think we do.)But why do we do this? The answer may seem selfevident: who doesn't want to be better, whatever that means? Who doesn't want to belike the people they admire, andliked by them? Or maybe you feel you have an inner drive: if you didn't try all these new things, you'd go crazy.But have you ever stopped to think about the context for this behaviour? Whether people everywhere do it, and always have?That is the concern of the first half of Peter Watson's The German Genius or, as I like to think of it: After God, Aargh, modernity! Or, evenfacetiously: Why we blog.Watson tells us that the drive for selfimprovement originated largely in preunified Germany, born out of the speculative philosophy of such titans as Kant and Hegel that arose to fill the growing hole left by declining Christianity and its message of Do this, because I say so.Why in Germany? Religion in Germany had beeninward anyway, as a result of Luther's protestantism returning religion to the people from the control of the church (see the novel Q, ostensibly but not really written by a former AC Milan footballer named Luther Blissett) Plus, it was the German Wilhelm von Humboldt who essentially invented the modern university, with the idea that scholars should conduct original research, and, owing to the support of Friedrich Wilhelm III, there were faruniversities, and muchliteracy, in Germany than places like France or Great Britain.Kant, Hegel et al posited that in the absence of an afterlife or divinity, the purpose of life must be to better oneself, a concept that came to be known as bildung Also, by bettering oneself, one also bettered those around oneself in one's community.Thus, the next 100 years or so gave rise to such cultural colossi as Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Wagner, whose music differed from that of Handel and Bach in expressing inner concepts related to the life of man, rather than religious ones, plus Goethe, creator of the Bildungsroman, in which improvement (in the eyes of God or of man) comes only through effort on the part of the individual.Thanks, Germany!But then come modernity and alienation, and the second half of Watson's book, which addresses the question of whether German idealism had to lead to authoritarianism.As Watson makes clear (borrowing on the work of others, as he's quick to point out the whole book heavily does), the idea of evolution did not originate with Darwin Bildung is itself evolution applied to one's own character, for example But Darwin accounted for evolution scientifically, realising it comes from overpopulation and struggle to survive and reproduce Thus (broadly) was born the age of science.Over the next generation or so, we have the dawn of organic chemistry and the age of cellular and molecular biology, so many of the discoveries coming from German universities and institutes We mechanise and urbanise We have massproduction.Then comes the FrancoPrussian war and German unification.Scientification continues Education becomes less humanistic Alongside this we have Nietzsche, telling us nothing matters any.Then World War I, partly a war of nowstruggling German kultur vs British mercantilism and mere civility We have mechanised, indiscriminate killing on a scale never seen before Germany and kultur are dealt a terrible blow, although nobody really wins.Then Weimar and the rise of lowbrow culture, followed by Einstein's relativity, Pauli's uncertainty, Godel's revelation that there are things that can never be known, atonalism in music, expressionism in art, cultural pessimism and economic plight.Then National Socialists, with their incoherent but powerful message that everything had gone wrong and a return to classical culture was needed, and their racism, their belief that others were responsible for the way things were and that these were people who could never be truly cultured, as only true Germans could.And what came next, which you already know.And then the aftermath: a slow coming to terms, Heidegger and reassessment, Habermas and what now in the age of ongoing alienation and environmental profligacy.I haven't done justice to The German Genius there, obviously It's 365,000 words, and an awful lot of concepts that were entirely new to me It's a lot to get your head around.At times it reads like an encyclopaedia, and could perhaps have done with being a bit trimmer But part of its point is that there is so muchto Germany that the Nazis, despite what British TV schedulers might think, hence there's a lot of chronicling of German achievement even when it's not essential to the narrative.TGG is monumental in every sense, and probably the most informative and enlightening book I've ever read I'd read it again, if only it wasn't so big Bloody overachieving Germans, nicking all the sunloungers I went for a long trip to Germany in 2013 and wanted to get a bit of backstory on the place (asides from what we're all told about all that unpleasantness in the early part of last century) This isn't a book about redemption, or about citing Germany's previous contributions to industry, medicine, and the arts Watson could attempt to dissect Germany's troubled legacy, or how the nation is viewed, but such a discussion would be outside the book's focus (and would be arguably as long and detailed a read as the book is) What it instead does is sets Germany's importance in contributing towards civilisation as a whole in a variety of areas The book starts somewhere in the formation of the first modern universities waaay back in the day, and continues through until nearly modern times This is an excellent read, wellwritten, cogent and making great points all over the place For me it was an excellent background into the industrial and scientific formation of modern Germany, something that is often overlooked However, don't think it helps to namedrop any choice bits once you get to Germany I met a girl from the town that Zeiss, this awesome lensmaker was from, and she didn't know a thing about it 10/10 book for the read, 1/10 for any tidbits to impress tidy German girls with.