Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich” as Want to Read:
A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  183 ratings  ·  44 reviews
The pope wanted it, Montesquieu used it, and the Nazis pilfered an Italian noble's villa to get it: the Germania, by the Roman historian Tacitus, took on a life of its own as both an object and an ideology. When Tacitus wrote a not-very-flattering little book about the ancient Germans in 98 CE, at the height of the Roman Empire, he could not have foreseen that the Nazis wo ...more
Hardcover, 303 pages
Published May 2nd 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published April 1st 2011)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Most Dangerous Book, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about A Most Dangerous Book

I, Claudius by Robert GravesThe First Man in Rome by Colleen McCulloughClaudius the God and His Wife Messalina by Robert GravesThe Twelve Caesars by SuetoniusPompeii by Robert   Harris
Best Books About Ancient Rome
234th out of 530 books — 813 voters
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. ShirerMein Kampf by Adolf HitlerThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankI Will Bear Witness by Victor KlempererBerlin Diary by William L. Shirer
Classics on Nazi Germany
19th out of 72 books — 45 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 706)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
David Bird
Those who have offered lower ratings should, I think, address their complaints to the marketing department at Norton, rather than to Prof. Krebs. If you are expecting Dan Brown, you will be disappointed. If you expect a learned exploration, with thorough command of primary sources in multiple languages across many periods, you will be quite gratified.

The dangerous books of the world are not those hidden away in some archive, guarded by monks or obscurity; they are the texts that are most widely
This book details the "Chinese whispers" of Tacitus's Germania. Although Tacitus wrote from Rome -- never having crossed the Danube -- for years, his short book was considered the authoritative ethnography of the German-speaking tribes. It was intended as scorn. But, beginning in the Renaissance and Reformation, it was invoked increasingly as the source-book for warrior qualities built into the German genetic code. And, soon it was employed to weed out those German-speakers not having such quali ...more
This book pairs excellently with The Swerve: How the World Became Modern as both deal with the revitalization and preservation of classical texts. I believe A Most Dangerous Book rather succinctly and effectively outlines the dangers of humanity's habit of seeing only what it wants to. The Serve touches on this to some extent, but mostly it shows much of the positivity that comes from sharing and re-evaluating old ideas. This book does a really great job at situating the reader in the timeline s ...more
Διόνυσος Ψευδάνωρ
My interest in Christopher Krebs’ A Most Dangerous Book was first aroused in part because of my interest in Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve . Both promise to deliver an account of the history of a famous book of antiquity: in Krebs’ book, Tacitus’s Germania, and in Greenblatt’s book, Lucretius’ De rerum natura. However, whereas Greenblatt focuses more on the truly remarkable story behind the recovery of Lucretius’ work, Krebs focuses more on the historical abuse of Tactitus’ work (though, to be ...more
Steven Buechler
A must read for anybody with the most remote interest in either culture or communications. This is the story of how a Roman pamphlet became one of the most misreferenced and misquoted documents of all time.

-Page 19
... Tacitus's text was taken to illuminate the life and mores of those ancient German days. The light of dawn is mellow, and most readers formed a positive impression. No sooner had the Germania been retrived from the murky library of a German monastrey in the fifteenth century than it
This is another one of those studies of how the "classics" have come to have modern influence, sometimes for reasons that differ greatly from the author's time or intentions. The focus here is on a short work by Tacitus named Germania, which is presented as a study of Germany and the people who live there. It is a descriptive - ethnographic -- portrait of the people east of the Rhine and thus never conquered by the Romans.

Krebs, the author, starts off by discussing how Tacitus described the norm
Adam Clarehugh
I recently finished Christopher Krebs ‘A Most Dangerous Book’ the blurb of which states that it is about the roman writer Tacitus on how his book the Germania has been abuse throughout the ages.

I found this book to be a real slog to read. So much so that I almost gave up on reading it. Originally, I was attracted to the book by its novel premise unfortunately I don’t feel it delivered on it.

Instead of focusing on placing the book in the context of events e.g. such and such was twisting the Germa
Del libro pero también, e incluso más, de sus interpretadores y de sus intenciones.-

Género. Ensayo.

Lo que nos cuenta. Monografía sobre la “Germania” de Tácito, su texto, el contenido y las diferentes interpretaciones (que van de lo correcto a lo literal, pasando por lo imaginativo, lo falso y hasta por lo torticero) que de la obra se han hecho a lo largo del tiempo por parte de ciertos individuos y grupos, con un vistazo a las consecuencias de las mismas hasta incluso más de 1.800 años después d
Bill Rogers
Pity the poor author whose book endures a thousand years after his death. Those who read it in that most alien of worlds, the future, are bound to misinterpret and are very likely to misuse everything it said. And then the author catches the blame.

So it was with Tacitus, Roman Senator and author, a man about whom we know very little. (Appropriately, as Mr. Krebs points out, since his name means "Silent one.") Tacitus is known for a history he wrote, most chapters of which we still have. He also
An interesting premise that never really took off. This started off so dull that it made me want to go back and re-rate The Swerve higher. Both books puddle around a lot in medieval monasteries before they get to the actual text, but The Swerve does a lot nicer job building suspense and ambiance and character.

I heard about Tacitus's Germania in some other history book, probably a Dan Carlin Hardcore History podcast, and was caught up in the idea of the young German nation casting about for a na
I listened to this book, and that was probably not the optimal way to enjoy the book. This book provides a short history of the influence of Tacitus' Germania on German nationalism and the Nazis (especially Himmler). The book ends somewhat abruptly with the collapse of the Germany in WWII. I would have appreciated more discussion on the actual merits of the Germania versus its influence--the author states without providing much detail that many academics believe the Germania is not really an acc ...more
Brent Venton
I imagine that this book will only appeal to a combo Classics enthusiast, WWII nut and amateur literary analyst - not exactly a broad scope of appeal. Still, I am exactly all the above and so I enjoyed the book. I was surprised at the depth of research presented here as Krebs explains the evolving reception of the Germania in Germany through its early Renaissance rediscovery to the present day.

The reconstruction of the manuscript's movements and gradual re-discovery is painstaking; too painstaki
A well written take on an interesting thesis: that Tacitus' Germania, written in Roman times and preserved in only a single text, played a (major) role in shaping and framing German identity after its 16th-century rediscovery. In a way, it's a tough assignment -- while the author succeeds in showing that the Germania was highly influential, providing numerous direct and indirect references through the decades, I wanted more discussion of other influences or sources to help prove the negative (e. ...more
LeeAnn Heringer
Every time I tried to describe this book to someone, I would start with "history is not only written by the victors, but it is constantly being rewritten and reinterpreted for political expedience." And everyone would nod their heads vigorously and say, but, of course. But this book takes you through a single example -- a short history of the Germanic tribes by a Roman senator / historian in 78 AD. The senator never left Rome, never went to what is now Germany, just researched other writings abo ...more
Colleen Clark
Before I even started Krebs' book I read the Tacitus "Germania." It's brief - only 40 pp in my Penguin translation - and unexceptional.

So what's the fuss? I can't do better than quote from Krebs himself. "What made this precious that Himmler tried to steal it [from a villa in Italy]?
The Germania was taught in schools, amply quoted in Nazi articles, and a source of enthusiams for countless National Socialists....The Only comprehensive account from ancient times of the Germanic pe
Chuck Lowry
If you like this sort of thing--and I do--this is a very solid and informative book. The first part, regarding the rediscovery of the ms. and the work of the humanists, was very good and immediately reminded me of The Swerve. The middle part, four hundred years of German history, dragged pretty slowly. I'm afraid that I am one of those folks who divide German history into two parts: pre-history to mid-19th century (boring) and mid-19th century-1945 (horrifying). The last forty pages, about the N ...more
A tedious and boring book at times about the most dangerous book. Still a very thorough examination/coverage of how a book can be interpreted to suit one's purpose. People with agendas searching for something that really was never there. Tacitus would have been shocked to see his book so poorly translated and twisted through the ages to fit so many various policital and social agendas-pan Germanism, eugenics, Nazism, etc... The book was never considered in the context of its time. Ironic too how ...more
Mike Clinton
This was an interesting geneaology of the classical Roman author Tacitus's work that depicted the Germanic tribes beyond Rome's borders. It examines the work in its own cultural context and as part of Tacitus's oeuvre, then traces the (mis)readings and (mis)uses of it by a range of scholars, nationalists, and ultimately Nazis since its Renaissance rediscovery. These often invoked the work to justify their own positions and aspirations in the political and cultural developments of their own days, ...more
Tacitus' Germania certainly has made an enormous contribution to the finding of a united "German" identity out of the colourful and variable mix of people and cultures that have settled the German territory since Roman times, with or without adopting a flavor of the German language. Therefore tracing both the genesis and the survival of this text through the centuries is a worthwhile exercise and an interesting topic to read for anybody dealing with "German"-ness. That is why I thought this book ...more
Provides an interesting history of Tacitus's Germania from contextualizing its writing to how it was sought after in Renaissance Italy to how it was eventually used for propaganda purposes.
Great book both on the origins of Tacitus's 'Germania,' and also the legend that followed it as far as a defense of german or aryan purity both in Roman times right up through the Third Reich. Manuscripts abound in different parts of Europe and they were touched by even aspects of Stephen Greenblatt's recent 'The Swerve.'

Engrossing reading. I think Mr. Krebs sums up the whole story well at the end of his book with this line: 'Tacitius did not write a most dangerous book; his readers made it so.
A fascinating look at Tacitus' Germania and its Nachleben, if I may apply the term, particularly its use and abuse by the Nazis.
How come an ancient text helped form and found the German nation? Why was Himmler interested in a text he could not read?
I found this to be a thrilling book, from the gripping opening to the sinister close (what makes books dangerous ...?)
Wide-ranging and well-written.
I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in history.

07/04 I came across an interesting interview with the author:

Margaret Sankey
Krebs foillows Tacitus' _Germania_ from its writing in the expansionist days of the Roman Empire, through hibernation in medieval monasteries, rediscovery by Renaissance humanists, leveraged by Protestant Germans as a counter-weight to "Rome", made Enlightenment dinner party chitchat by Frederick the Great as political theory, embraced by 19th century nationalists as proof of a "volk", and finally coming to the demented mind of Himmler as the handbook for "re-Nordization" by racial purity, blood ...more
Fascinating look at how words can be used and distorted throughout centuries to support ideologies. What I loved too, being a word and book geek, is seeing how the various names of ancient German gods/progenitors became reshaped into modern languages' words for the country or its citizens, and how amazing it is that a 33-page book written in the time of Roman Emperor Nero even survives nearly 2000 years, let alone influences thousands of people and in a real sense eventually contributes to the d ...more
Freyja Vanadis
The first third of this book is slow but it picks up steam after Mr. Krebs is done talking about the Italians who write about Tacitus and his Germania book. I was starting to get worried that the book wouldn't be about anything else, but fortunately he started writing about the history of Germany basically from the Renaissance to the Second World War, and I found it fascinating.
Fascinating, engagingly written history of Tacitus' Germania, its rediscovery in the 15th Century and how a mythology developed about German history, culture, language and "racial purity" that led to its underpinning of the Nazi myth of Aryan supremacy. I always enjoy a book that makes me look up the definition of a word every few pages.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
As for Tacitean brevity, Krebs can pull it off. The opening scene with SS officers smashing through a villa in search of the German ancestors is maybe more compelling than the rest of the book, but if you work on, teach, or enjoy reading Tacitus's *Germania*, the history Krebs lays out will stop you from reading naively.

A well written book on an interesting subject. I would not however recommend this book to my high school counterparts as it can be wordy and involves historical details some people didn't know existed. I would however recommend it to lovers of obscure history or someone with time on their hands.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 23 24 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change
  • A Short History of Christianity
  • The Things That Nobody Knows: 501 Mysteries of Life, the Universe and Everything
  • The Story of Music
  • Atheism for Dummies
  • The Science Class You Wish You Had
  • The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture
  • Masters of the Word: How Media Shaped History
  • The Parthenon Enigma
  • What are the Seven Wonders of the World?: And 100 Other Great Cultural Lists--Fully Explicated
  • The Roman Triumph
  • Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order 1940-1944
  • Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years
  • The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800
  • The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine
  • The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century
  • God and the Multiverse: Humanity's Expanding View of the Cosmos
  • The Oxford History of the Roman World
Christopher B. Krebs is a classics professor at Harvard University whose academic publications include extensive work on the ancient historians and a recent contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
More about Christopher B. Krebs...

Share This Book