Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern
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Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern

3.31 of 5 stars 3.31  ·  rating details  ·  461 ratings  ·  92 reviews
Winder describes Germany's past afresh, taking in the story from the shaggy world of the ancient forests right through to the Nazis' catastrophic rise in the 1930s, in an accessible and startlingly vivid account of a tortured but also brilliant country.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 1st 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux
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Steve Kettmann
A disappointing effort, overall. Here is my review for the San Francisco Chronicle:

In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History
By Simon Winder
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 454 pages; $25)

At first glance one assumes that Simon Winder has in mind with "Germania" something like an updating of the late great Gordon Craig of Stanford's "The Germans," a classic study by the onetime dean of American historians of Germany. Actually, not at all.

Winder, who "works in publishing" in Britain,...more
One of the things I love about this website is the fact that you encounter all sorts of genres and books you may never have encountered before and titles which endear, charm or intrigue...yep Dan, you know who you are. Then there is that encounter with the opinions through reading others reviews of books you have read or are in the process of reading and this is often a wonder too as you read someone who has encountered the book and experienced it in a quite different way and it perhaps enables...more
The thesis of this book is that the Nazis manipulated and warped German traditions and culture in a way that has obscured the centuries that preceded them. Moreover, the horrors of that outrageous time command an inordinate amount of attention in history because of their outrageousness and world-altering effects. Therefore, it takes concentrated effort to engage with the rich but somewhat neglected history (at least within popular, mainstream history) of Central Europe from the time of the fall...more
I have so many issues with this book that I don't know where to begin--but I'm glad I didn't buy it, only borrowed it.

First off, let me say that as someone brought up by a historian dad who's always had an intense interest in Germany (though he himself is Italian) I found the lack of historical accurateness or academia here quite baffling--even non-historians writing historical books usually tend to rely on history! Also, as someone now married to a German and for the past 2 years living in Germ...more
David Cheshire
On one level this is an amusing travel book around the Germany of the scores of tiny medieval city-states whose dottiness charm and fascinate the author; the reader must simply follow on behind in awe of his weird and obsessive learning. But there are also some mind-blowing bits of more modern historical insight. Building an insignificant naval base in the 1850's but then calling it 'Wilhelmshaven' left the nationalistic Germans with no choice but to build a navy to go in it; hence followed Angl...more
Dan Sumption
So many reviewers of this book get caught up with the fact that the author claims not to be able to speak German. OF COURSE HE CAN SPEAK GERMAN, albeit not as well as he would like to, he is just being terribly, _terribly_ British about it.

This is a very quirky, very personal, utterly British, history of and travel guide to Germany. And I loved it. It's full of fascinating information, and endearing prejudices: I chuckled at his repeated Basil Fawlty-like assurances that he is not, under any cir...more
I appreciate the need to bring unfamiliar material to a new audience and judging by the way Germania has been marketed, Winder has done us all a service by charting a German history that reintroduces us all to Frederick the Great, the Roman city of Trier, Thomas Mann, marzipan and the Thirty Years War - our memories having been clouded by twentieth century totalitarian regimes from Right and Left.

But I would have appreciated a less frivolous account. Too often, Winder lapses into Henry Blofeld...more
Alex G.
An excellent book which teaches a lot while keeping a light-heatred, humouristic style and approach. Through anecdotes and personal experience, Simon Winder gives us an in-depth analysis of the course of German history - or should I say the history of the region of modern Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary... and all the rest of Central and Eastern Europe which got involved in the successive empires. The book not only replaces Germany in its rightful cultural and historical context, but it also a...more
James (JD) Dittes
I admit that I'm a sucker for "subjective" history books--as long as they're not about my own country. Winder is very opinionated--particularly about German food and just about every Land north of Hesse--yet he brings such insights into art, history and architecture that the reader cannot help but learn more about German history. One admirable trait of this book is its effort to describe the lunacy and interelations of the hundreds of German kingdoms and duchies that made up the Holy 'Roman Empi...more
David Bales
Very interesting, funny, poignant and brilliant book on German history, from the Dark Ages to 1933; Winder is a British "Germano-phile", which is actually kind of rare. He journeys all over the sprawling, central European mass of Germania, a region not fixed onto the boundaries of the modern country and explores the great figures of German history, like Charlemagne, who was mostly French, or Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who was kind of, well, Belgian, if such a thing really existed. He looks in...more
Historically informed travel writing - where people talk about places they've visited and tell you about their history - is one of my favourite genres, and this is what I hoped I'd be getting here. Instead I got a reverse of sorts, a history of Germany informed by countless visits to its highways and byways. I did come away with a clear sense that there are places I'd love to visit - Ravensburg and Bamberg, for example - but found the history just a bit too casual for my liking. Also although th...more
Diane Duane
A fabulous read. One of those books you keep reading bits from to other people. Winder is insanely peripatetic and hopelessly in love with his subject.
Right from the beginning, Simon Winder acknowledges the elephant that’s in the room of any history of Germany: “Germany is shunned for a very good reason — the enormity of its actions is part of the last century.”
But he immediately follows that with a reason for writing about Germany regardless:
“I want to get round the Fuhrer and try to reclaim a bit of Europe which is in many ways Britain’s weird twin, and which for almost all of its history has been no less attractive and no more or less admir...more
I expected a humorous portrayal of modern Germany alongside historical context, but when a sense of humor appeared it was more weird and offensive than anything, like in one instance the author wrote that unattractive people spend a lot of time looking at maps. Maybe a stereotype I've so far never encountered? (Or just personal bias because I consider myself not unattractive and also interested in maps, but there are plenty of other occasions when he makes sweeping and seemingly random generaliz...more
Janice  Durante
I've often thought it unfortunate that so many people refuse to consider visiting Germany. Simon Winder's lively, quirky valentine to the country could change a few people's minds -- if only they'd give him a chance. I know what you're thinking: The food's bad, the climate's so-so, the language impossible, the history dark. Yes, there's some truth in all of that, but ... there's so much more. For those of us who love to wander medieval lanes, enter ancient castles, and experience another culture...more
I've recently moved to Germany, and wanted to read some German history that was not about Nazis or the Cold War. In one sense this book failed - this book is often, if indirectly, about the Third Reich, the way the Nazis misused previous German history, the way that it overpowers previous events so that everything is read as leading to fascism or tragically failing to stop it.

It took me a while to get into it. Its a combination of travelogue/history - the author starts each section with a descr...more
I quite liked this, and think the mixed nature of reviews here have to do with the highly charged subject matter. The SF chronicle review rightly notes the unorthodox nature of Winder's theory that WWI would have been better with the UK remaining neutral and a German victory. But overall I think the thesis holds up -- that German history is not like that of the other Western European powers, but rather a tangled and mostly forgotten linchpin for the chaotic character of European history, from Ro...more
This is one of those books that you're sad to finish because it was so much fun to read--an amazing thing to say about a history book! But the author has a tongue-in-cheek approach to a serious history. He sets the tone early when he talks about his first trip to a German town when he was a child, when he and his sisters were "wandering through the streets yelling 'Dummkopf' and 'Achtung' at each other and whistling the "Great Escape" music in a way that probably didn't promote post-war healing....more
Katie D'Angelo
I found this book pretty interesting but a bit difficult to read. It tends to wander from topic to topic but by the end I was left thinking about some interesting facts about Germany and it's history that I did not know before. It's an entertaining read, albeit a big long, and I find that I now want to go back to visit some other cities in Germany that I previously have not been to. Do not read this looking for a historic account of Germany's history, read it more for learning a bit of German hi...more
I had high hopes for this book that were cruelly dashed. After almost almost half way through this book, I gave up on it. The author is far too self absorbed and genuine insights too rare, and for someone who spends a fair amount of time in a foreign country, Winders willful refusal to learn the language and willingness to engage in superficial stereotypes of the most insulting sort made me leave the book to gather dust for several months. Perhaps he meant the book as a satire and I don't get th...more
British author Simon Winder is simply obsessed with Germany! This obsession translates beautifully in "Germania", and it's clear that Winder knows his stuff. So not only did I learn SO MUCH from reading this book, but I had great fun doing so. Winder even had me laughing out loud on several occasions, especially whenever he was describing something as "babyish" - which for some reason made me laugh every single time. Highly recommended.
I would never have thought of German history as being amusing or light hearted and Simon Winder doesn't think it is, either, but as we flit about the German countryside, looking in on a castle here, a cathedral there, and working our way from Hermann the German through Charlemagne (it's 1200 years since he died and I'm going to see Aachen in May) and the Holy Roman Emperors and the push to Christianize and settle the eastern "tribal" areas I am actually feeling a sense of the development of the...more
Genug ist genug!

I have reached page 98 of this, often puerile, disorganised ramble through Germany and its history, and I will go no further.

A highly entertaining travelogue from Schloss to Schloss documenting Germany's history over many hundred years from a contemporary point of view.
David Dinaburg
I will occasionally take a Saturday afternoon to walk the twenty-odd blocks to Times Square and let the crowd subsume me; it is a useful diagnostic in determining the half-life remaining of one’s tenure in Manhattan. Once you cannot maintain a feeling of Zen after purposefully thrusting yourself into the heart of the beast, it might be time to start seriously inquiring about sedans and suburban property values.

It’s mostly awful in Times Square: oozing with tourists, their heads buried in maps;...more
This is the best book ever written, better than the Bible, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Mahabharata, and the collected works of Shakespeare and Ronald Firbank put together. You might be shocked to discover how little I am exaggerating. It is filled with humor and is an ever-twinkling kaleidoscope of information and experience about the German-speaking lands from early times, stopping at the dawn of Nazi era. In fact, through all the truly hilarious anecdotes, the theme that becomes crystal clear...more
A book about the disaster that was Germany – when and when it wasn't one country, just pieces of lands, lord estates, and territories trying to make it through the 15-20th centuries. The author brings up the Holocaust, but tries to stay on the edge of it and end the book in 1933 – when all the decent Germans left to make way for the terrible disaster that lay ahead (authors words, not mine). It's also a great book for travel recommendations. There was a battle of territory, religion, rights... a...more
André van Dijk

Het klinkt als begin van een goeie mop: loopt een Engelsman in Duitsland, hij kijkt vol verbazing om zich heen en vertelt vervolgens de Duitse geschiedenis aan de hand van zijn persoonlijke indrukken. De clou is een verrassend soepel geschiedenisboek.

De Britse auteur Simon Winder is verknocht aan Duitsland. Aan het historische Duitsland, dat wil zeggen het Duitstalige gebied in Midden-Europa dat vanaf de Romeinse tijd tot ruwweg 1933 heeft bestaan uit tientallen kleine...more
I've never found European History all that interesting, it always seems to dwell on France and Italy (which are a bit dull really), and apart from the obvious 20th century madness, I've not known much about Germany. Simon Winder corrects this omission with Germania – as a Germanophile it is difficult not to be pulled into Winder's enthusiasm for the German collection of states, principalities and dukedoms.

While no book about German history can avoid the Nazi's, Winder, rightly in my view, decid...more
This is German history 102, not 101. The author clearly assumes that the reader has some basic understanding of the German people and, mostly, sets about telling you why you have it all wrong, all the while sprinkling the text with a few fascinating historical nuggets. For example, he makes a clever argument that there is no "German" people, that our understanding of same is based upon a misunderstanding of an ancient Roman text written by Tacitus, that we are still living under the influence of...more
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SIMON WINDER has spent far too much time in Germany, denying himself a lot of sunshine and fresh fruit just to write this book. He is the author of the highly praised The Man Who Saved Britain (FSG, 2006) and works in publishing in London.
More about Simon Winder...
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