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The German Genius

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  706 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews


Paperback, 964 pages
Published 2011 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Dec 01, 2013 MT rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 30, 2012 Tobias rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an enormous book 850 pages of accounts of German intellectuals. Took me more than three months to read. But its enormous for a reason. Its a book with a huge agenda to bring to light the great German thinkers (from Goethe to Habermas) who lie at the heart of so much of modern thought and, partly because of the Nazis and partly because of Anglo-American-centrism have been unjustly overlooked. Having said that the book also charted where German thought began to go wrong at first very slowly b ...more
Greg Brozeit
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 most of 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 w ...more
It is characteristic of the Germans that the question “What is German?” never dies out among them.
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

The German Genius is a big sprawling unwieldy Teutonic book which tries to be two things at once.

The first part is an explanation of the German 'genius' in a variety of fields since 1750. In this task, our author reaches an impressive variety of fields, ranging from analytic philosophy to architecture to fertilizer production. His range is exhaustive, and c
Mar 15, 2012 Lydia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Somewhere along the line after writing the introduction and title, Watson forgot his mission to explain how Germany became a dominant economic European country after 1945. Chapter 1 starts with year 1747. Not to be deterred, I waded through 713 pages to get to post-WWII. I took note of priests, architects, musicians and scientists. The changes in thought leading up to 1938 are useful, and answered lots of questions for me. Watson is an English journalist with an academic bent hoping to educate a ...more
Apr 05, 2015 Ugh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 self-evident: who doesn't want to be "better", whatever that means? Who doesn't want to be more like the people they admire, and more liked by them? Or maybe you feel you have an inner
Manuel J.
Apr 10, 2014 Manuel J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 know more about this o
Sep 03, 2015 Karl-Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
... for all we have been told and thought, Germans have only one history, the third reich, reading this book makes Germany more exciting and much more valuable to the world... but if only we are ready to dump what they have said about the Germans and look further into the past and then look further into the future, can we see the genius.

The present moment counts...

Fantastic read. Peter Watson asks the question why is germany the villan rather than the saviour of civilization or rather most impor
Richard Thomas
Oct 24, 2014 Richard Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe
A fine book which does much to correct the Anglo Saxon stereotyping of Germany and the German people. It is filled with ideas, facts and interpretations which were if not new then newly presented. It is the sort of book that British europhobes should read, learn and inwardly digest if they had the intellectual honesty to do so.
You won't find over-much politics here. What you will find is German culture Uber alles. A huge, fascinating book.
Elliott Bignell
Jan 08, 2016 Elliott Bignell rated it it was amazing
This was perhaps the best reading surprise I have had in recent years. A work of startling erudition, it attempts and in my opinion succeeds in describing the spirit and achievements of an entire culture across its full breadth. And what a culture! Directed at the war-obsessed English-speaking readership, it does not dodge the question of how the world's perhaps most advanced culture of the time gave birth to Nazism but tries to trace the differences and proclivities that made this, of all place ...more
Sep 18, 2011 Coulter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing whirlwind tour of, well, German genius from the death of Bach in 1750 to the present: not only the artists, writers, historians, and philosophers that typically people the pages of cultural histories, but also scientists, engineers, businessmen, and doctors. If it has a fault, it's that Watson tries to cover as many people as possible, so occasionally it feels a bit like you're reading one encyclopedia entry after another. But that's more than outweighed by the overall arc of ...more
Apr 29, 2013 Dagmar rated it it was amazing
This book is something special. Really well written and conveying so much information in - relatively - few words. I am considering whether I should explore some of the people he describes in more detail.

While it was a joy to read, it was still more challenging to finish than perhaps a John Irving book of the same length...
Andrea Bartlett
Aug 10, 2013 Andrea Bartlett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book; exhaustively researched, loads of facts and information, and the author managed to make it into a fascinating read. Definitely would recommend it to any reader interested in history, philosophy, or the development of society in general.
Jan 05, 2015 Pedro rated it it was amazing
Impressive, it details all aspects that clearly shows how german genius and german wait of thinking changed the world.
Nov 06, 2011 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should have been titled "The Unchecked German Genius." Watson sets out to correct what he views as an error to define Germany simply by the thirteen years of the Third Reich. As he so well demonstrates in painstaking detail, Germans of the 19th Century led the world in nearly everything, from science to math to music, chemistry, industry and, most notably, philosophy. As he does so, he carefully lays out how that philosophy, culture and political view of itself very much provided the foundation ...more
Jul 18, 2012 Lucsly rated it it was amazing
An incredibly thorough study of German culture, science, art and philosophy and its influence on the West.

Watson not only offers an exhaustive history of seemingly unlimited German cultural and scientific achievements (and a very interesting analysis on what he thinks caused them) but also makes a very convincing argument on how much Germany has influenced the (modern) world.
Aside from that, it's a fascinating story of Bach, Kant, Marx, Goethe, Einstein, Gödel, Krupp, the Humboldt brothers, Lan
Jan 01, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Loved it... just loved reading it.
Aug 10, 2012 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I have ever read. Informative and full of the most philosophical and logical facts in tracing the rise of Germany's cultural achievements.
Saz Gee
Feb 13, 2014 Saz Gee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, Germany, I love you and this is why.
Apr 06, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is impossible to capture this comprehensive and so well balanced book on German intellectual and cultural history on a single page.

I will say this in summary: I agree! It, in a much more factual and researched manner than I could ever hope to encapsulate, confirmed my gut instincts and fuzzy ideas that I've held since I was introduced to Germans and German culture in the late 1990's.

Educated, cultured (in the best meaning of the word), inward, conflicted, successful in the modern world but ne
Aug 31, 2014 Austin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If this history does not qualify as magisterial, I'm not sure what would. This is a valiant effort to re-instill a sense of national greatness among the German people based on their legitimate intellectual accomplishments over the past several centuries.

I found this story to be very compelling. There truly has been something special about the way the Germans organized themselves academically to achieve such soaring accomplishments in every major field of intellectual endeavor. This dazzling quo
Nov 28, 2014 Jaap rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A very erudite and in-depth examination of the people from Germany that shaped the modern world, but who (due to the ravages of World War 2) have become mostly forgotten in the English-speaking world (and quite often in Germany itself too).

The book is a great deal more academic than I would've expected from the big stacks that were for sale at the airport book stall. Not that I think that is a bad thing but I fear this may remain one of those Great Bought-but-Unread works. Which is a shame, beca
Jun 21, 2012 Aya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: long-reads, kindle
Watson has a gift for producing vibrant, elucidated, quotes--from other people's arguments. About 1/10th of the way through his 900 page long volume (happily I'm reading this on my kindle...) I've already started to notice what may turn out to be this book's main flaw, rhetorical reliance on other authors. I'm not sure that this needs to be as much of a problem as it's feeling like. In theory there's nothing wrong with the book collecting and gathering a lot of research, it's a more histiography ...more
William  Shep
Jul 24, 2010 William Shep rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Britain’s Peter Watson is a former journalist who has written several provocative tomes on the history of ideas. His most recent work, The German Genius, is a massive survey of German history and culture from the Age of Bach to the present. His primary purpose is to address what he views as British and Americans ignorance regarding the enormous cultural impact that Germans have had on the world. He argues that British obsession with their heroic role in defeating Hitler, combined with the Americ ...more
Mar 07, 2015 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and I learned a lot about the German intellectual tradition than I knew before but not as compelling as Watson's other two books covering the whole intellectual history of humanity since the invention of fire. Lots of German thinkers whose work I didn't know and also good on how powerful the influence of Germany has been on modern universities world wide. Well written and researched but somehow maybe the subject matter didn't appeal to me as much as I would have liked.
Mar 27, 2011 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part of my fascination is language. All the profs say English is descendant of one kinda Deutsche or another; a word like Bildung comes along. It is not just a word: it is a concept, very important to understanding Germany. Which is important and really needs to use a lot of pp to tell you why. One word does not equal one word in another language. Several word/concepts like that. When you see italics, start paying attention.

Watson's basic tenet is this: from 1750 -1933 it was the Germans. They t
Vuk Trifkovic
Had extremely high expectations after reading the introduction. It tackles a very pressing and neglected topic. It promised breadth, depth and tremendous amount of insight. However, I had to give up after about one third in. Basically, as you progress the book slowly looses a common narrative plot and becomes an encyclopaedic overview giving accurate but still fairly basic information about figures. There's very little to connect the episodes, and the snapshots themselves are pretty formulaic.

Roger Wood
Thorough research, and a strong statistical approach to observations, help make this book compelling. At times it does read like "The Book of Lists" by the Wallenchinsky/Wallace family. The book requires the patience of Job, to sift through the author's volume of evidence to support his hypothesis that without the tireless innovation of the German speaking cultures, the modern world as we know it would be less enlightened. However, Peter Watson's ability to call out connections between German ac ...more
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Peter Watson was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, and was awarded scholarships in Italy and the United States.

After a stint as Deputy Editor of New Society magazine, he was for four years part of the Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team of investigative journalists. He wrote the daily Diary column of the London Times before becoming that paper’s New York correspondent. He returned t
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“From 1781, by which time Goethe had been in Weimer for six years, he confided to Charlotte that he no longer felt able to address her as "Sie," and must use the more intimate "du." This brought about a sea change. As one critic put it, Goethe's letters now became "prose poems of happy love with few parallels in any literature.” 1 likes
“Even by the end of the seventeenth century, fifty years before our starting point, there was no shortage of people in Europe who felt that the Christian religion had been gravely discredited. Protestants and Catholics had been killing each other in the hundreds of thousands, or millions, for holding opinions that no one could prove one way or the other. The observations of Kepler and Galileo transformed man’s view of the heavens, and the flood of discoveries from the New World promoted an interest in the diversity of customs and beliefs found on the other side of the Atlantic. It was obvious to many that God favored diversity over uniformity and that Christianity and Christian concepts—like the soul and a concentration on the afterlife—were not necessarily crucial elements since so many lived without them.” 0 likes
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