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

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The  New York Times Book Review  Editor's Choice . 
Times Literary Supplement  Book of the Year . 
Choice  Outstanding title. 
Winner of Phi Beta Kappa's 2012  Christian Gauss Book Award .

"A model of popular intellectual history . . . . In every way,  
A Most Dangerous Book is a most brilliant achievement."--Washington Post   

The riveting story of the Germania and its incarnations and exploitations through the ages.
The pope wanted it, Montesquieu used it, and the Nazis pilfered an Italian noble's villa to get 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 would extol it as "a bible," nor that Heinrich Himmler, the engineer of the Holocaust, would vow to resurrect Germany on its grounds. But the Germania inspired--and polarized--readers long before the rise of the Third Reich. In this elegant and captivating history, Christopher B. Krebs, a professor of classics at Harvard University, traces the wide-ranging influence of the Germania over a five-hundred-year span, showing us how an ancient text rose to take its place among the most dangerous books in the world. 14 black-and-white illustrations

303 pages, Hardcover

First published April 1, 2011

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About the author

Christopher B. Krebs

5 books8 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 73 reviews
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
385 reviews326 followers
May 22, 2021
For my own part, I agree with those who think the tribes of Germania are free from all taint of inter-marriages with foreign nations, and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed ethnicity, like none but themselves

This is an excerpt from Germania written by one of Rome’s greatest historians, Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56 CE – 120 CE). Tacitus wrote Germania in 98 CE, to describe the Germanic Tribes. The Germane were a group the Romans always had great difficulty conquering. This review’s opening quotation from Germania is a typical excerpt that appealed to the likes of the German National Socialists such as Heinrich Himmler when trying to develop a narrative regarding what it meant to be “German”.

BUT……. this isn’t a review of Germania. I did download it as well, to see what all the fuss was about. This review is about A Most Dangerous Book by Christopher Krebs.

Krebs takes the reader on a journey from the creation of the ‘lost’ manuscript to the discovery of the which contains portions of the original manuscript and can be found in a Rome Museum – I must see it when I return. Some of Himmler’s goons were sent to Italy, to look for the Codex Aesinas just as the Allies were overrunning the Axis troops towards the end of WWII. They didn’t find it. In some ways this piece of work was very much a Holy Grail for the Nazis.

From my understanding, the Germanic people, were never just one people. They were numerous tribes, loosely associated with the region of modern-day Germany (and beyond). In fact, the different tribes were often fighting with one another. However, there were times they were sufficiently organised to defeat the Romans in battle – such as when led by the famous Arminius, who banded together disparate tribes to clobber the Roman’s in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. But even during this time they weren’t totally unified.

In fact, Tacitus did say the Germanic people were far from a single entity. But it seems the one-eyed Himmler’s of this word only seemed to see what they wanted. Perhaps we can draw analogies today regarding our polarised populous who seems to derive totally different conclusions from the same political events or reporting. We only see what we want to see.

It’s worth mentioning, the work of Germania was largely ignored during the Middle Ages and only came to prominence during the period of the German Renaissance – they came to the party a bit late compared to the Italians. German ‘Humanists’ were perhaps the first to try and form a collective from this heterogenous group of tribes. Krebs spent much of this book discussing the period of the Humanists from the late 1400s. I did find this part a bit dense, it was interesting, but there was a lot of it. To be honest, I really wanted to learn more about the impact of Tacitus’ work on Nazism.

So back to the Nazis. Parts of Tacitus’ text fuelled overt racism such as this. He referred to the ‘purity’ of the Germanic people. This is cheap fodder for the Hitler Youth.

The purity of German blood is the perquisite for the survival of the German people

This is a Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour (1935).

I did laugh when reading a quote attributed to a brunette wife of a high-ranking member of the SS who was reported as saying “the current leadership of Hitler, Himmler, her Husband and Dr Goebbels would need to forfeit their positions…..if the ideal German was to be blond, willowy and blue-eyed. In fact, (my words) you could throw Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess and any number of the bloated Nazi leadership into the bucket of non-Aryan looking Aryans. Bit of a joke really.

Krebs says Hitler didn’t share the same enthusiasm as some of his acolytes regarding this Germanic myth. In fact, during a dinner party Hitler was reported to say “…….at the time when our forefathers were producing stone troughs and clay pitchers…...the Greeks were building the Acropolis. Well, I reckon that’s one of the few quotable quotes I’ve seen from him.

The author makes the point the Nazis were trying to create a ‘National and Popular Book…...just like the Bible, to raise the National Spirit’. I’d like to make the point we should think about this in today’s context. With the increase in populism and the consequent move towards Isolationist thinking and even Nationalism, this could be a not so small step towards this pernicious, malignant way of thinking of the 1930s in Pre-war Germany. Humans have an ability to make the same mistakes, we don’t seem to learn from history.

Even though the German Humanists may have had different views on Tacitus’ Germania and how it applied to the German people, I will leave this passage from one German Educator at the time:

Friedrich Kohlrausch as recent as 1816 stated:

The Romans justly considered the German people as an ancient, pure and unmixed original people. It resembled only itself; and like identical field plants that spring from a pure seed……so not differ one from another through degeneration, so also, amongst the thousands stemming from the simple German race, there was but one firm and identical form of body.

Dangerous stuff indeed.

It’s worth noting, Tacitus never travelled to the region inhabited by the Germanic Tribes. He may have just been warning the Roman people of some of the qualities of these formidable foes who lived East of the River Rhine. Who knows?

A fascinating book. Really a 5-star effort, but I wanted a bit more regarding the impact of Tacitus’ Germania on the Nazis and their doctrine; rather than the German Humanist period from around 1480 to modernity – as that large chunk of this book lost me a bit.

4 Stars

Oh, one last thing. This book also provided me with reason to think a great deal about what it means to be Indigenous and how we decide if a group of people are, in fact – Indigenous.

I do love this quote from 1501 by the German Humanist Conrad Celtis, he said:

They are indigenous: They do not draw their beginnings from another people but were issued under their sky.

Momentous words indeed.
306 reviews13 followers
September 24, 2014
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 read, misread, mis-appropriated, and used to justtify horrors. Krebs demonstrates that beginning shortly after the rediscovery of this work of Tacitus, it was used to answer the awkward question, Who are the Germans? As different answers became desirable, the text was adjusted to meet the needs of the new agenda.

Non-classicists should realize that classical texts, because they come from manuscript traditions, can only ever be approximations of what the original author wrote. Every scholarly edition of such a text includes a listing of alternate and disputed readings, whether from different manuscripts, or based on the informed guess of an editor. Some changes made by an editor are clearly responsible and smooth out errors introduced in the manuscript tradition. But others can push an agenda, maybe innocently, maybe not. Tacitus suggests that the tribes he describes practiced human sacrifice. The few words with which this idea was raised were quietly dropped by editors who sought to ennoble their supposed ancestors.

Similarly, names in the text could be altered to suggest greater antiquity and purity for the German race and language, in an era where hierarchic rankings of races were unblushingly used to justify all sorts of foul activity.

Other reviewers have also castigated Krebs's style. This is unwarranted. A sample passage describing the work practice of the loathesome Houston Stewart Chamberlain shows that Krebs has spent profitably his time with magister Tacitus:
He worked on what would become The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century from February 1896 to the fall of 1898, with a frenzy befitting the work's scope, for eight hours a day. After an appeal for God's guidance in the morning, some time was spent leafing through volumes of his well-stocked library in search of suitable quotations (with little regard for their contexts), which he then arranged in sweeping arguments abounding in inconsistencies aided by inaccuracies. Throughout he displayed the kind of logic he used in a letter to his aunt, in which he suggested that having lost a fortune speculating, he now enjoyed other investors' heightened confidence.

This work offers, I think, a fine model for making classical scholarship relevant to a broader audience.
Profile Image for Matthew.
16 reviews
May 4, 2016
It shouldn't be a surprise that a book entirely focused on the history of a particular written document (and in particular, one written by one of Rome's most eloquent historians) would be as well-written and as grounded as this book is, but as the author himself points out, the book's history, for all its popularity (particularly in the century and a half preceding the Nazi regime), has been primarily one of gross mistranslation and pseudo-scholarly interpolation. I picked up this book because the topics were interesting to me (Tacitus, Nazism and historiography), but I was pleasantly surprised by what a treat it turned out to be to read.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews429 followers
December 1, 2014
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 de su escritura.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Siria.
1,796 reviews1,308 followers
February 10, 2017
Christopher Krebs' book takes a look at the way another has been used and misused over time: Tacitus' Germania, from the period of its composition during the first century CE to its apotheosis as a text naturalising Nazi claims to German racial superiority during the Third Reich. I thought it a useful and informative piece, which gives the general reader a sense of how and why scholars are interested in the history of a text's reception over time. I could see it being useful paired with Tacitus in an undergraduate history course, or the last chapter—on the ways in which the Germania was selectively edited, translated and framed for schoolchildren in 1930s and 40s Germany—used to hone in on the ways in which fascists regimes twist history to suit their own ends.

That said, A Most Dangerous Book felt padded at points (the process by which some early modern humanists Latinicised their surnames is rehearsed several times) and yet presumes a little too much at others (I think parts won't be very clear to you if you've not read the Germania first). Krebs was, I suspect, pushed by his publisher to make the book "sexier" by having the book open with Heinrich Himmler's search for the oldest-known manuscript of the Germania at the height of WWII, but that's not really what most of the book is about. It also has the unfortunate effect of making it seem like the book's main historical import is because it somehow sets Germans on a path that ends with a kind of race-based psychosis and genocide, which is just teleology-as-history and the Sonderweg thesis under another name.

There were also a number of points at which the prose was clunky or even difficult to parse—perhaps a function of the fact that Krebs is not a native English speaker, though a good editor should have caught most of them. But then there are some declarations which seem to point to a failure on Krebs' part to define the terms that he was using and to apply them consistently. For instance, when talking about Johann Friedrich Blumenbach as representative of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century racial pan-Germanism, Krebs writes:

“Blumenbach was not a racist. A monogenist, he believed in the unity of human kind; a clearsighted scientist, he saw through allegedly impermeable lines between races and vociferously spoke out against the supposedly innate intellectual deficits of “Negroes.” And yet he regarded the Caucasian race—eponymously named after Mount Caucasus, thought to be its original habitat—not only as the original form of humankind, but also as “the most handsome and becoming.” Elevating Caucasians to aesthetic superiority, Blumenbach implicitly suggested that degeneration was decline and difference deficiency. ” (259, Kindle ed.)

That's racism, sir. It doesn't matter if Blumenbach was the benevolent, paternalist kind of racist or if he critiqued stronger proponents of scientific racism: he was still racist.
Profile Image for Nooilforpacifists.
856 reviews37 followers
June 7, 2014
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 qualities.

As I say: Chinese whispers, and well beyond (if not the opposite of) Tacitus's intent. But the book misses a basic point. Yes, there was -- still is -- an arc of ascension in consciousness of the German peoples; yes German Unification shifted the global balance of power (1871, 1914, 1939) or prompted questions about the connection to globe (1990). But Krebs struggles to cram Tacitus's Germania into the each event. Some work better than others. Some don't work at all.

In the end, Krebs simply fails to prove the syllogism in his title: a 69 page book in Latin, written in 98 AD, didn't cause Prussian militarism, much less the Third Reich.
Profile Image for Biblio Curious.
233 reviews8,279 followers
September 5, 2019
This book traces this history of Tacitus' Germania from the ancient roots straight through to this darkest chapter in it's life. Pretty decent history of this Ancient Roman book, how it was taken out of context to eventually fit an agenda.

I'm coming away from this book with the impression that Germany has a long history of being excluded from Europe in some ways. I'm certainly curious to learn more about Germany's early history. There seems to have been some tensions with Ancient Rome?
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
990 reviews330 followers
July 25, 2020
Per one other reviewer, I don't know if many 1- and 2-star reviewers were expecting Dan Brown, or if they're just neo-Nazis or fellow travelers, or what, but they're wrong.

First, Krebs explains to the general history reader what classical historians have long known. Tacitus wrote Germania as intra-imperial propaganda, to shame allegedly unvirtuous slacker Romans, as his primary purpose.

Second, "Germania" refers to a region as much as anything. Not all peoples Tacitus references by name, let alone all in the area, were Germanic/Gothic speakers. There were still a fair chunk of Celts east of the Rhine. And Slavs and Balts within lands "controlled" by Germanic tribal groupings, who of course were not nation-states.

Third, even with those caveats, while Tacitus was a decent ethnographic historian *for his time,* he was no more than that.

But, that's just to background these issues, because modern Deutschentum saluters would prefer to ignore them. And Krebs focuses his book's latter part on how Nazis used Tacitus as part of their reines blut myth.
Profile Image for Will.
18 reviews
June 23, 2018
Gets *really* into the weeds of the correspondence of Renaissance antiquarians and speculating about what caused them to write coyly the things they wrote to one another, leaving me wondering who this is even for. It is just not a fascinating detective story!
Profile Image for Arthur Sperry.
381 reviews6 followers
March 13, 2021
This is a really excellent book that I enjoyed as a person who teaches Latin for a living. The Germania has always been fascinating, and the anecdotes in this work show how many have tried to "spin" its messages in various ways.
Profile Image for Alex Cotterill.
92 reviews
April 1, 2023
Read the chapter “Bible to National Socialism” (think it’s called that) as it was recommend by Classics lecturer after we studied Tacitus’ Germania.

Basically it’s how the NSDAP studied Tacitus’ work and used it as a propaganda tool as a method of creating the new Germany both int he public and political spheres but also through education - an aspect of „Gleichschaltung“.
19 reviews
January 24, 2021
While there are hearty portions of the books that may seem to be very detailed and drowned in semantics, the message remains very clear. Poor and shotty readings of history, especially under the guise of nation building, is dangerous.

In fewer than 30 pages Tacitus, someone who most likely never went north of the Alps, describes German people using (simplified if not false) terms that are still commonly used by politicians and regular people to this day.
Profile Image for Phillip Ramm.
162 reviews8 followers
February 17, 2017
Interesting book about the Roman historian Tacitus's Germania, in which he describes the
'unmixed" people of the area North of the Danube and East of the Rhine. The discovery in the 15th century of an old manuscript, and the subsequent willful (or not) misreadings of it became the basis somehow for the history of Aryan/German superiority and purity. This then grew into the concept of "volkisch" language, blood, and soil that culminated in the Nazi regime. These philosophies were often justified by references to Tactitus, whom, we find out early, had never even been to the areas in question.

Himmler wanted that manuscript...

It complements nicely another recent read, the more polemical Why The Germans? Why The Jews?, which is more about the German anti-Semitic mindset from mid-19th century on.
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,335 reviews1,154 followers
December 24, 2013
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 norms and social structure of the Germans, as well as how the Germans were strongly identified with their particular geographic area and had not changes. Krebs then show how Tacitus never visited Germany and was not very accurate in Germania. What we know as the Germans are actually a variety of tribes, they were not just east of the Rhine, but also west of it as well. They had moved around frequently and changed over time. . . . so it was not a very good study.

Then, the real story is told -- how this description of Germany came to serve an important role in the development of a "German" identity in the 17th through 19th century and ultimately served as a key text for Nazi theories of Aryan supremacy. With the passage of time, this short and inaccurate account of the Germans morphed into a nearly sacred text of German nationalism the led to racial content in the 19th century and to the crimes of the Nazis. It was so important to the Nazis that Himmler sent out teams to find original copies of Germania during the second world war.

The book is well written and engaging for a largely scholarly treatment of a story that is not well known. Unless one is a specicalist, it is difficult to study a book like Germania is detail. After reading this, however, it makes me want to rethink my assumptions about classics in more depth, since it is unclear to me how we can get much insight into the times of authors only removed from the present by a generation or so, much less nearly 2,000 years. This book, while well written, required much focus to finish. It was well worth the effort.
Profile Image for Steven Buechler.
477 reviews11 followers
July 4, 2011
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 supplied what would quicly become the standard epithets for the German ancestors: simple, brave, loyal, pure, just, and honorable. When (Henrich) Himmler read the Germania twenty years before . . . it struck a rare chord in his soul: "Thus" like our Germanic ancestors, "shall we be again," he confided to his diary. He was but one of many on a long list of readers, starting with the Italian humanist Giannantonio Campano, who in 1471 called upon his German audience to rise to what they had once been. Many centuries later Hitler himself was to consider "Germanic Revolution" as a title for Mein Kampf. Although the Fuehrer, who in 1936 would ask Mussolini for the return of the Codex Aesinas, ultimately decided against this title, it would have reflected (only too aptly, for Hitler) an important ideological component for the many National Socialists who demanded a "homecoming" to former shores. In order to reach this German neverland, they - as well as generations of Germanophiles before them - relied on Tacitus as their involuntary helmsman."
June 7, 2015
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 sure, Krebs does devote a substantial portion of his book to the Germania's recovery). Interestingly, Krebs’ title is deliberately misleading, or at least ambiguous. Is Tacitus’ Germania a most dangerous book? Is it most dangerous because—perhaps most importantly—it would eventually be used to justify National Socialist propaganda? Is it most dangerous because its authority was used to lend authority to claims of the superiority of the Germans “race”? No, and yes, Krebs seems to conclude by the very end: Tacitus “did not write a most dangerous book; his readers made it so” (250). No, Tacitus did not write a most dangerous book (because the dangers became dangers only through abuse and rampant infidelity to his text), but still yes, in a way: Tacitus’ readers who would use his book to justify their non-Tacitean ways made Tacitus’ book a most dangerous one.
Profile Image for Absinthe.
141 reviews28 followers
April 15, 2017
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 so that they have more familiar events to give themselves and idea of when and where such things occurred/what the political climate was at the time. I learned so much from this book. Every country has a different view of how history occurred, and so I believe this book helped me see of a lot of the history of WWII that most Americans don't know or care about; they certainly don't teach it.
Profile Image for AskHistorians.
918 reviews2,901 followers
September 12, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Andrew.
622 reviews10 followers
September 24, 2021
Krebs has written a most fascinating and compelling discussion of how one specific classical text (the 'Germania' by the Roman author Tacitus) has been used to construct and shape ideas about identity, race, politics, culture, language, society and nationality. In a detailed and deeply researched analysis of the reception of the first century C.E. monograph Krebs has revealed the power of classical reception as both a way to recast the ancient world for the modern, and as a way for the modern world to justify precepts as to to its structure and ideology based on a misappropriation of the ancient world. 'A Most Dangerous Book' also offers queries regarding the problem that one might call 'the German Question'; did the search for a German identity from at least the 15th Century CE, as navigated by the reception of the 'Germania', help foster the underpinning German nationalism that reached its apogee in the Third Reich?

There is no doubt that Krebs has produced a compelling dossier of historical information and analysis as to how the 'Germania' was used, or perhaps more appropriately, abused, by those wishing to find an answer to what constituted German identity since the rediscovering of the text in the 1400s. It is interesting to note how in each chapter he develops the reception narrative of Tacitus's work both in terms of the intellectual context of the relevant era as well as the socio-political background in what was, for the most part, a highly fragmented 'Germany'. Throughout this book Krebs makes highly pertinent observations as to how the 'Germania' was adapted and adopted by those struggling to find a way of connecting the ancient world to their contemporary world, and in the process also attempting to create a future. Each one of the intellectuals who embraced the 'Germania' are shown to have a desire to resolve some kind of existential crisis as to what being German meant. This is a challening and provocative point of discussion that Krebs does well to explore.

One line of thought that might be followed from 'A Most Dangerous Book' is that the 'Germania' had a direct input into the development of a nascent German nationalism that in turn became the extremist ideology of the Nazis. To Kreb's credit he doesn't allow this idea to remain unchallenged. This is particularly evident when in the latter chapters as well as the epilogue he discusses how the 'Germania' was not always seen as the absolute reflection of a German ideal by those who studied it. What is also important, and left unsaid by Krebs, is that the corpus of classical literature and the reception of ancient history has also led to similar revisionary approaches to national identity in other countries, other cultures. One only has to look at Mussolini's Italy, or the imperial literature of Great Britain in the 19th century to see how texts and history from ancient Rome or Greece were co-opted into nationalist arguments.

Thus it may be argued that whilst this book is highly valuable as a discussion of how one ancient text has helped inform the development of one country's identity, it's most important lesson is what it says about classical reception. The misuse of ancient history, the manipulation or misreading of Latin and Greek texts, whether conscious or not, creates new meanings that are not always either accurate nor helpful. Just as one might argue that the 'Germania' had a role in nascent German identity politics, so can texts about ancient Sparta underpin right wing extremism. it must also be noted that this doesn't just relate to political implications; the projection back onto the past of modern sexualities, or the adoption of ancient history as a means to validate modern sexual identities is just as problematic. At its heart 'A Most Dangerous Book' poses the question 'How is history misused and appropriated?', and this is a powerful provocation.

Krebs' prose is dense but still readable for those willing to engage with it. He has compiled a deep bibliography with copious footnotes, and this research has been integrated into his narrative with a mostly positive effect. There may be some minor errors here and there (one I picked up was the link between Hugo Boss and the SS) but one should look to the central discussion of the book as the overriding 'truth' of what has been written. 'A Most Dangerous Book' is a title that will appeal to classicists and those interested in German history alike, and deserves to be read by anyone interested in how literature and culture can form new, and at times troubling, connections year after year.
752 reviews2 followers
July 19, 2020
"In comparison with other Greek and Roman accounts of foreign people -- like the ones produced by the speedy general Caesar, who came, saw, and wrote digressions on the Gauls as well as the Germanen -- the Germania appears to be as a mosaic of Greek and Roman stereotypes, arranged by a writer who most likely never went north of the Alps. ... Later celebrated as an accurate reflection of authentic German people, the Germania was written by a Roman in Rome for Romans." (49)

"Sixteenth century historians had celebrated their original people, seventeenth-century linguists their original language; now, at a time when the Romantics emphasized the genius's originality, [Heinrich Wilhelm von] Gerstenberg and like-minded writers included an original mythology in their heritage." (174)

"Believing the German people's existence to be in danger, National Socialist doctrine specified that a woman's 'natural and most important vocation' was to be 'a spouse, a mother, and a housewife.' Women who had borne an exceptional number of children received the Honor Cross for the German Mother, or, in street parlance, 'the rabbit award.'" (220)
Profile Image for Erik.
12 reviews
December 13, 2017
A book that would be comic if the consequences weren't so tragic. The author demonstrates an impressive breadth of knowledge, adroitly tracing a story from its antiquarian genesis to its horrific culmination in the mid 20th century. Throughout much of the western history, Germans were dismissed culturally by the elite: academics, church leaders, and monarchies. Desperate for a praiseworthy identity, some put pen to paper attempting to parse out a German identity they could be proud of. Unfortunately, many did so by drawing from a selective reading of Tacitus's flawed, politically charged, and embellished account of barbarian tribes. Krebs tells the historical tale of this task, which does have some high points, like Grimm's efforts to catalog German folktales. Nevertheless, in the 19th century, German nationalism gained greater momentum as they filled their historical void with a patchwork of bad history, Scandinavian mythology, and moronic pseudo-science.
Profile Image for Steven Jaeger.
Author 3 books2 followers
August 19, 2022
The majority of this book talks about the long history of Germania's discovery and distribution. It is quite interesting and much more enjoyable than what I was anticipating. It is only the last two chapters where things become much less historical and much more opinionated. The Nazis are nearly impossible to read about without getting an unnecessary amount of vitriol. Since I am rather interested in that part of history, it is something I'm used to. Every author injects statements of opinion when writing about this topic so I was actually expecting more of that from this book than what I got, which made it all the more disappointing when it appeared. It was a rough ending to an otherwise good book. It was also interesting that he spent his time writing about Himmler and not Hitler, which I did appreciate. Realistically, this book is a 3.5 for me, but I would rather round down than up.
Profile Image for Alexandra Rizzi.
44 reviews39 followers
January 28, 2019
I came across this book rather accidentally and I'm glad I did. Being German myself it provided a glimpse behind the proverbial curtain of the Third Reich that I didn't know existed. I knew there were searches for the occult and other far-fetched ideas, but never did I realize that the ancient writings of a Roman observer had such a part in the devastating ideologies of the regime. These are the things they don't teach you in class. Well done.
Profile Image for Rob.
566 reviews9 followers
October 31, 2017
Most interesting to me was the early Roman Empire-era milieu in which Tacitus composed the book, and the rediscovery and transmission via scribe and incunabula press of the humanists who rediscovered the book. The finer points of the development of German nationalism based on the Germania held less interest for me.
Profile Image for Jackson Cyril.
836 reviews91 followers
April 14, 2018
A book which tries to understand the troubled history of posterity's relationship with Tacitus, from the bibliophilic enthusiasm of Renaissance humanists in search of "the manuscripts of one Cornelius Tacitus" to early German nationalists, with the relationship culminating in the Nazis' appropriation of the great Roman historian for their own twisted purposes.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
33 reviews13 followers
June 17, 2021
This was heavy but a very good and witty analysis. While the conclusion was apparent long before that conclusion, I feel it could have been expanded slightly more with more of a post colonial focus but that's something another researcher can take over if they wish, and this book is a brilliant groundwork for being able to spring straight into that kind of analysis.
Profile Image for Ed Olivares.
10 reviews
June 24, 2022
Well written and coherently assembled picture about how an ancient documents provided educators, politicians and rulers a way to bring a great number of loosely connected cities,duchys and states together into a country that was responsible for so much death and destruction in 2 world wars under a veil of honor, loyalty and racism.
Profile Image for Rachel Rose.
32 reviews
September 24, 2018
Really a history of the influence of the work. I thought it was going to be mostly about the works influence on the Third Reich. Great if you are interested in the Roman Empire.
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