Frederick's Reviews > Diaries, 1918-1939

Diaries, 1918-1939 by Thomas Mann
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's review
Jul 09, 2008

bookshelves: mann-thomas
Read in January, 2009

I got a copy of this tonight for ten dollars. My copy is the Harry N. Abrams hardcover edition published in 1982. I've just spent about an hour and a half looking though it. Thomas Mann is one of my heroes. He was a man of erudition, dignity and imagination.
When a diary has an index, a chief pleasure is looking at the names and seeing what the author said about a particular person. Mann knew Einstein, had dinner with FDR and Eleanor at the White House, had a party thrown for him by Jack Warner in Hollywood and was greeted in New York, Chicago, Boston and Salt Lake City as if he were a statesman. A lot of this was arranged by Alfred A. Knopf, the publisher, himself.
Mann was an ultimate example of the lionized intellectual. His anti-Nazi stance made him, indeed, a political figure. This diary ends on December 31st, 1939. Mann writes from Princeton, New Jersey. Hitler has invaded Poland in September. Mann is appalled at the devastation he knows Hitler is about to inflict on Europe.
This diary shows an outspoken humanitarian author, exiled from the country of his birth, touring the world and encountering world leaders, international authors and his fellow German exiles.
Mann lived until 1955, and I imagine there exists a book of his later diaries. But this particular diary, from 1918 through 1939, interests me because that is an era I've studied. The movies, music and history of that time loom large in my mind. To think of Mann going to the movies (which he did a lot in America), playing bocce (which he did in Kansas City, if the caption to the picture showing him doing it is correct) and being interviewed in front of large audiences in almost every major American city, is a little disorienting. He is the 20th century's great 19th-century European. He is too urbane to betray much discomfort, but one gets a sense of a man who finds his good fortune a little perverse.

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