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On the Natural History of Destruction

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  1,293 Ratings  ·  102 Reviews
W.G. Sebald completed this extraordinary and important -- and already controversial -- book before his untimely death in December 2001.

On the Natural History of Destruction
is W.G. Sebald’s harrowing and precise investigation of one of the least examined “silences” of our time. In it, the acclaimed novelist examines the devastation of German cities by Allied bombardment,
ebook, 224 pages
Published February 11th 2003 by Random House (first published 1999)
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This book contains four essays, the final three (which I did not read) dealing with three writers I do not know: Alfred Andersch, Jean Améry, Peter Weiss. The opening essay, which anchors the book (and is 48% of the book) deals with the interesting topic of the German cultural amnesia regarding the devastation they suffered from the allied bombing of German cities. The essay is clear and contains some interesting points. Sebald believes that contemporary Germans suffer from a sort of cognitive d ...more
M. Sarki
The first time through much of the book was wasted on me as I am not familiar with the writers Sebald was criticizing. But the first section was pretty amazing. I had no idea really how bad it all was during WWII. I am glad I read the book. Sebald was a very gifted writer whose sentences are quite accessible for all.

I did decide to go back and read everything and I am glad I did. Just allowing oneself to go with the flow of his writing is a joy in itself. This is a book I am sure I will revisit
Un Sebald insolito per me, più per forma che per contenuto, trattandosi sostanzialmente sempre di memoria e malinconia.

La forma, dicevo: per me insolita perché qui ha veste di lezioni/conferenze, non di narrazione – inoltre, in appendice, un pamphlet polemico, anche questo insolito, perché la polemica non si addice al Sebald che ho conosciuto finora.
Mentre molto gli si addice l’ironia, che in questo ultimo breve saggio raggiunge vette alpestri: l’ir
Justin Evans
May 17, 2014 Justin Evans rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Had this been reviewed more fairly by my fellow Goodreaders, I probably would have gone up to 3 stars, but instead I find myself thrown into a position of aggression. Had this been written by, e.g., Peter Weiss, not only would it not have x hundred ratings; it wouldn't even have been published. Thankfully for lovers of mildly diverting amateur history and effective literary polemic (i.e., probably not you), it was written by Sebald, and so is not only published, but published in cheap paper-back ...more
Aleksandr Voinov
Sep 03, 2012 Aleksandr Voinov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research
I was wary when I started this - I bought this a few weeks ago based on the strength of a recommendation from somebody I normally trust, unaware that it was a series of four lectures. And normally that means I'll be bored to tears. (Bad flashbacks ensued from two semesters of studying German literature, an altogether stultifying experience thanks to the toothless and ossified lecturers at my university).

The first lecture, on collective memory regarding the air raids and aftermath, takes about 5
On the Natural History of Destruction is perhaps the the work of Sebald's that I've enjoyed the least thusfar. This means it was still fucking transcendent.

The reason I didn't enjoy it as much is a fairly simple one. I just haven't read most of the authors he references in his long essays about, among Peter Weiss, Alfred Andersch, or the various Trümmerlitteratur authors. I did enjoy the essay on Jean Améry... it's a wonderful meditation on an author, who, like Sebald, embodies the spirit of int
Erik Graff
Feb 08, 2012 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: WWII fans
Recommended to Erik by: Michael Bobick
Shelves: history
This book was loaned me by a friendly coworker. It was the first explicit account I'd ever read of the allied bombing of Germany during World War II. Since then I've followed up with further studies of allied bombing strategies against the Germans and Japanese, their intentions and their actual accomplishments.

In addition to describing the devastation imposed upon urban centers, the author meditates upon the subsequent virtual silence of most German-speaking writers as regards these events.
Oct 19, 2010 Tyler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Lit-Crit; Fans of Essays; War Fiends
Recommended to Tyler by: Author's Reputation
Shelves: non-fiction
You would think the massive air raids on Germany in World War II, the most dramatic experience the German people have ever gone through, would be a subject Germans couldn't stop talking about. The exact opposite is the case. But why? Sebald goes to the bottom of this phenomenon in the four essays that make up this book. He comes up with a thorough, convincing and riveting explanation.

German authors are largely to blame. The first essay traces this out. The second names a famous German author as
Friederike Knabe
This posthumous volume of Sebald's non-fiction writing is a major contribution to German literary criticism and politico-cultural analysis. Accompanying his reflections on the traumatic impact of the air war against German cities are essays studying the very diverse reactions of three `witnesses' of that time as reflected in their post-war literary works. In AIR WAR AND LITERATURE, originally presented as the Zurich Lectures, Sebald delves deeply into some very uncomfortable questions. The air w ...more
May 30, 2008 Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This series of essays marks Sebald's attempt to understand post-war German literature, particularly as it comments on (or, in his contention, fails properly to describe) the Allied destruction of German cities. Sebald's Zürich lectures, titled "Air War and Literature," occupy the bulk of the book.

Sebald argues that post-war Germany continually succumbs to a self-imposed amnesia, evident in architecture, art, and literature. The Zürich essay is at once observational and polemical, and sometimes
Oct 27, 2007 Nat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readpartof
Sebald investigates what he sees as a remarkable absence in German literature of any account of the devastating Allied bombing of German cities. He thinks the absence must be attributible to a collective repression of a traumatic experience. He investigates the few examples of postwar literature that describe the bombing of cities and finds only one or two examples that he thinks avoid cliche and obvious psychological coping mechanisms.

The book is a mix of history (the most interesting bits) an
Paulo Fehlauer
Jan 03, 2012 Paulo Fehlauer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, memory
It's interesting to see Sebald's literary style applied to a historical essay. In this book, Sebald offers a very sharp analysis on Germany's recent history (and, as in all of his work, on the construction of a national, collective, memory). And it's also very interesting to notice how connected all of his works are, and how, in the end, all of his books are one, in a certain way.

P.S.: Another interesting book on the same subject is Andreas Huyssen's analysis on what he called 'urban palimpsests
Feb 21, 2015 Lysergius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So why did German intellectuals and writers refuse to talk about the destruction of their country by the allies? The destruction of every major city and all the cultural artefacts contained therein. Not sure that Sebald actually answers the questions but he points the reader at other sources. Thought provoking.
Aug 27, 2007 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Title is misleading. It's really a meditation on the collective psyche of 1950s Germany...which, as you can imagine, was pretty fucked up.

Non ho sicuramente le competenze storiche, né tantomeno quelle letterarie, per commentare questo saggio di W.G. Sebald, in realtà più che un saggio la raccolta parziale di alcune conferenze tenute dall'autore sul tema "Guerra aerea e letteratura" e un'analisi critica sulla figura e sulla produzione letteraria dello scrittore tedesco Alfred Andersch, per cui mi limiterò ad alcune riflessioni personali.
Sebald era nato nel maggio del 1944, afferma per cui di appartenere «al novero di col
This is the first Sebald non-fiction I’ve read and while the subject is important and parts of it were interesting it didn’t particularly engage me. The book is a collection of essays on different writers but all focusing on Sebald’s main question why German writers have failed to come to terms with the destruction the air war wreaked on Germany and the “the sense of unparalleled national humiliation felt by millions in the last years of the war.”

However, the inadequate and inhibited nature of
Mar 10, 2011 Denis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The late Sebald is an extraordinary writer. His intelligence, capacity of understanding and compassion, writing style, and huge knowledge make for illuminating reading - and this book, a collection of essays that deal with the German catastrophe of Nazism (and how it impacted the generations after WWII) through the eyes of literature, is an essential book for anyone interested by the subject. Among other things, Sebald relates the horrific bombings that destroyed most of Germany (in details that ...more
Jul 20, 2007 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many people misread this book as a lamentation of unacknowledged German suffering in the Second World War. It is that, of course, but it is also much more. Sebald himself laments the ways that Germans themselves--independent of outside interference--have come to commemorate their own victimization. They "look and look away at the same time", indirectly confronting that legacy. From this vantage point of undressed historical wounds, a portrait of Germany's human catastrophes emerges that seems as ...more
Apr 20, 2014 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I put off reading Sebalds "non-fiction" essays and lectures for a while because I didn't want to break the spell he has cast me into- a dream of a memory where personal narrative meets with historical and architectural facts. I was right to have put it off. As an avid Sebald admirer I appreciate this work because it is all very specific to his core exploration into the widespread amnesia and avoidance of German writers and intellectuals after the second world war to acknowledge and attempt in so ...more
Oct 13, 2012 Matimate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2012
How could be this book controversial? It pushed on themes which were long time taboo and not discussed openly. The suffering of civilians under heavy bombardment followed by touching the biography and works of Alfred Andersch and Peter Weiss.

The part about the reflection of the RAF bombardment in contemporary German literature was skillfully touching the national postraumatic stress glued together with sense of guild to national amnesia about horrid impact of the bombardment of the civilian targ
Roger Kirkbride
Apr 07, 2010 Roger Kirkbride rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was sent this book by a friend & read it straight after Slaughterhouse5 as I thought that they would give different perspecctives of teh Dresden bombings. I didn't really know what to expect from W.G. Sebald but litarary critiscism wasn't it; I've never been a reader of the genre & it has never appealed to me.
This book does not give an account of the bombing of German cities in the second world war; nor does it offer a perspective of waging war on civilians through weapons of mass dist
"My first view of Cologne [after 18 hours of bombings] cried out for a more eloquent piece than I could ever have written." There have been many thousands of books written about the Nazis, Camps, and total deaths in WWII but very few speak about the Germans who perished. More specifically the 600,000 civilians, and vast destruction of German homes and cities.

The first ~100 pages do the atrocities justice. "Fire rising two thousand metres into the sky", and other incredible depictions of German
Partha Banerjee
Jun 29, 2012 Partha Banerjee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
W G Sebald's last book deals with a question that still haunts Germany today albeit in the unconscious. What was the cost of the progress that post-war Germany achieved ? The nature of that Faustian bargain that was almost necessary at the time is anaylsed here. Germany chose to simply relegate the profound sense of loss that the war caused into the dustbin of the unconscious and move on with restoring the country. But just because it was necessary to do that doesent mean that it was right. An e ...more
Dec 06, 2010 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Literary criticism about the inability of German writers to write with authority about the air bombings in WWII Germany. Sebald is concerned about the interplay of memory and history, the role of writers in times of crisis, and their moral and ethical obligations to bear witness to destruction. I wrote some notes on sections of the book which can be accessed at the following links:
William Reichard
Jan 21, 2012 William Reichard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable and controversial study of the destruction of several German cities by Allied firebombing during WWII, Sebald argues that Germany, as a whole, has been unwilling and/or unable to reckon with the realities of this destruction, and builds his thesis around post-war German literature. The first section of the book is the best because it is the most expansive, while the rest of the book deals with the work of specific authors.
Jan 16, 2012 Brigette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sebald was a remarkable writer, and seems one of the most honest and clear-eyed of post-war German authors. Much of this book describes the firebombing of German cities by allied forces, what that looked like, and its aftermath. He does it in a way that takes an honest look at the suffering experienced by ordinary Germans and how that affected post-war German culture. And he does this without in any way asking for pity. Not an easy book, but an important one I think.
Jun 09, 2012 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this. It was in keeping with Sebald’s high standards of excellence. And while the last three essays in the book all have aspects by which they can be recommended, the first essay is really a powerhouse. The account of the bombing of Hamburg is in itself so shocking and disturbing that the reader is likely to stumble through the rest of the book in a daze.
Pedro Varanda
Nov 10, 2015 Pedro Varanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Os livros de Sebald são sempre uma surpresa pela originalidade da perspectiva. Aquilo que aparenta ser um livro de critica literária a escritores do pós-guerra alemão, na verdade é um texto muito critico ao "direito" ao esquecimento e amnésia colectiva que praticamente todos os homens da cultura alemã do pós-guerra adeririam. Foi um grande escritor este senhor. Recomendo.
Sep 12, 2007 Pete rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every word this man wrote was so perfectly, so carefully selected. His evocation of the horror of WWII firebombing, of the millions of psychologically devastated victims in Germany raise in all its starkness the complexity of acknowledging the German costs of the Nazi regime. The essay on Jean Amery is especially sharp.
Anne Sanow
Feb 06, 2008 Anne Sanow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is amazing. Sebald manages to present a meditation on the German experience of WWII that is direct, sympathetic, questioning, implicating, complicated, and very, very personal. Often he takes a sharp turn from the philosophical to the personal that you almost can't believe he pulls off, but does.
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Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald was a German writer and academic. His works are largely concerned with the themes of memory and loss of memory (both personal and collective) and decay (of civilizations, traditions or physical objects). They are, in particular, attempts to reconcile himself with, and deal in literary terms with, the trauma of the Second World War and its effect on the German peopl ...more
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“I spent my childhood and youth on the outskirts of the Alps, in a region that was largely spared the immediate effects of the so-called hostilities. At the end of the war I was just one year old, so I can hardly have any impressions of that period of destruction based on personal experience. Yet to this day, when I see photographs or documentary films dating from the war I feel as if I were its child, so to speak, as if those horrors I did not experience cast a shadow over me … I see pictures merging before my mind’s eye—paths through the fields, river meadows, and mountain pastures mingling with images of destruction—and oddly enough, it is the latter, not the now entirely unreal idylls of my early childhood, that make me feel rather as if I were coming home…” 3 likes
“As far as I know, the question of whether and how it could be strategically or morally justified was never the subject of open debate in Germany after 1945, no doubt mainly because a nation which had murdered and worked to death millions of people in its camps could hardly call on the victorious powers to explain the military and political logic that dictated the destruction of the German cities.” 3 likes
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