Maia's Reviews > Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern

Germania by Simon Winder
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's review
Sep 16, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in September, 2010

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 Germany a lot of the time (and learning German--as impossible a language as it is) I was also completely puzzled and later disgusted by Winder's utter and unapologetic lack of interest in 1) the German language (even if he does excuse this by his so-called language obtuseness), 2) 'real' Germans and 'real' German's Germany, and 3) post-Nazi Germany (which is intrinsically connected to pre-Nazi Germany: the one by which he is ostensibly so fascinated). Both of these points--his lack of historical scholarism and his lack of knowledge/interest in 'true' Germanness--put the book at a disadvantage for me from the start, and I was skeptical throughout my reading of it.

That said, there ARE quite a few interesting tidbits within it and if you're at loose ends in a bookstore, say, you could do worse than reading them. However, the best reviews on these books are those by Bonnie B. Lee on Bookslut and Steve Kettmann in the San Francisco Chronicle (just found out he's posted it here, too): they both point out the obvious. That this a book written by a Brit in a self-apologetic style (you need to apologize if you're British and have an inexplicable fondness for Germany) and almost exclusively for Brits, for whom even today after 70+ years--and especially, one would think, after the 'economic miracle' that left Britain far behind--everything German leads to Hitler, Nazism, and the war 'they' (the Brits, with our help of course!) won. The truth is, in my way of thinking, that WW2 for the Brits isn't just about Nazism--it's also about the end of their empire, the passing of an imperial torch to the US, and finalization of a British way of life. To that end, Germany is always to blame, isn't it?

Bottom line, though: don't trust a book about Germany written by a nerdy Brit who doesn't speak a word of German, hasn't a single conversation with a real German, and doesn't even include philosophy or psychology in his exploration of what constitutes Germanness--impossible things to avoid, really, since both are not only 100% German products but entirely connected to what IS German. Furthermore, the "Personal History" subtitle of the book has got to be simply a publishing gimmick, because we never really get to understand just why this plump little British boy becomes so obsessed by a country and culture he's never had any connection to and we're given barely any 'personal' historical facts.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Maia Hey Abigail,
I don't think you're wrong at all. Definitely the "they're the 'ultimately evil' so we can't be" plays a role in this anti-German phobia that Brits have (we have that in the US too, attempting to demonize other cultures so that our sins--rampant racism, say--don't look so bad!). I just don't believe it's the only thing behind it. To start off, a great majority in Britain totally shut their eyes to most of the real evil by the Nazis (their treatment of Jews, a case in point) or even agreed with them, and only really reacted when it became clear that Hitler intended to go after the UK too! :) So it was more a case of defending themselves against Hitler than a true ideological 'we have to stop that evil' thing. The UK's an island so for thousand of years had the benefit of colonizing other lands, and treating other peoples like crap, while not fearing the same thing would happen to them--until Hitler.

Also, the US Marshall Plan channeled loads of money and brawn into post war Germany (while the UK lay in shutters) and allowed the pre Germany to re emerge, the parts of Germany that had been attempting to work hard and form a different sort of society. So that by the time the UK had to deal with Thatcher, Germany was far more advanced and quite rich. Not a cute thing to observe from an island about your worst enemy, is it? :)

message 2: by Gail (new)

Gail I found this book totally unreadable just like his previous book "The Man Who Saved Britain." I did not get too far in either one. Whatever he does in the publishing world, Winder should just stick with it and not bother writing any more books.

Maia agreed! :)

Ignatz80 Sorry, but it's much more to do with the war than the loss of the Empire, or the need to exculpate ourselves from any blame for our colonial crimes. You'll find similar levels of animosity towards Germany in the Netherlands and parts of Eastern Europe. It's a consequence of the war, not some deep-rooted post colonial psychosis.
There are many small minded people over here (as with most countries, including the US and Germany)and there is without doubt an element of anti-German sentiment in British society. But there are also many people in the UK who have a progressive and positive view of modern Germany.

Maia Ignatz80 wrote: "Sorry, but it's much more to do with the war than the loss of the Empire, or the need to exculpate ourselves from any blame for our colonial crimes. You'll find similar levels of animosity towards ..."

Have no idea who you are but I'd guess you're male, youngish and British. So sure, keep on saying it and believing it--I, as an American who spent sevwral years in the UK as a child, who now travels there 8 times a year (i've a British mother and a sister married to a Brit, plus lots of Brit relatives) don't believe a word of it. Not one.

I actually work with the Netherlands--have never, not once, found the same basic irrational anti German biases and German loathing I find in the UK. Same with Eastern Europe--especially when you consider how many thou of Eastern Europeans arrive in Germany every day to work and settle here for life. Virtually 80% of the people I know here in Frankfurt in different jobs, from my doc's nurse to my hairdresser, is from some part of Eastern Europe and not one of them has ever said the things I've heard Brits say.

Finally, if you truly believe the end of WW2 was not the end of the god-awful Brit Empire, you're delusional

Maia Abigail wrote: "Ignatz80 wrote: "Sorry, but it's much more to do with the war than the loss of the Empire, or the need to exculpate ourselves from any blame for our colonial crimes. You'll find similar levels of a..."

Great points. Totally agree.

Maia Abigail wrote: "You know what? I think I was reacting to tone - or perceived tone - above, and that's always a mistake, internet or no. So, to clarify: I do agree that it is the war, and I didn't intend, in my ini..."

Fascinating, Abigail. I've also read that book, which amazed, fascinated and horrified me at the same time.

I also agree with you about the problem with 'tone' in these so called 'conversations' on the Net--which is why I myself usually avoid them.

However, I stand by my belief that today, the Brit obsession wth Germans and Germany is irrational, unpleasant and based a lot on their own current state.

Ignatz80 Ouch! I think you might be reading a little too much into my post.

Firstly, I agree that British animosity towards Germans and Germany is irrational and unpleasant. We might differ on the origins of it (or rather on the importance of one cause versus another), but I don't doubt it's existence or how unpleasant it is. If you are thinking for one moment that I was suggesting that the war justifies negative attitudes towards Germany, then you're mistaken. When an English football fan sings "ten German bombers" at a football match, it's because he's a small minded idiot. He's using the war as an excuse.

Secondly, with regards to "tone", there was no intent to cause Abigail offence in my post, and reading it back I find it difficult to see how any was taken (apologies to Abigail if that is the case). I think the tone you've taken, both in your original review and in your replies to me (e.g. suggesting that I might be delusional for something I didn't say, see below), is a bit aggressive to be honest.

Thirdly, you say "Finally, if you truly believe the end of WW2 was not the end of the god-awful Brit Empire, you're delusional". At no point did I say that. And in case you're wondering, I'm no fan of, or apologist for, the British Empire.

Ignatz80 Hi Abigail, thanks for your reply and your understanding. :)

message 10: by Maia (new) - rated it 2 stars

Maia Hi Ignatz. Wonderful reply.
I second Abigail and I also agree with you that I was, both reading a probably unintentional and even nonexistent 'tone' and replying aggressively. I've re read the entire post and came to that conclusion myself, so I apologize for that. It's one of the things I hate about the Net, though simultaneously there's something so compulsive about these 'blind conversations', don't you think? :)

I apologize and take up all your points fully.

message 11: by Adam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Adam Dolphin I love that the very stick you beat the writer with - that he holds an irrational and generalised dislike of the Germans - you yourself harbour against the British. And if you think the Dutch like the Germans check out what happens when they play football (which is the primary occasion for English anti German sentiment to manifest).

message 12: by Heather (new)

Heather Can please you recommend something better? thanks!

message 13: by R (new) - rated it 1 star

R Helen I just want to point out that cumulative speakin g, the UK recieved 3297 million dollars and West Germany 1448 million dollars

message 14: by R (new) - rated it 1 star

R Helen So I fail to see how Britain could be jelous of the money recieved by Germany that supposedly made it so rich. Plus the West Germany and certainly East Germany that emerged after WW2 has very little to do with the pre-Germany (by which I suppose you mean pre-Nazi Germany). I think you need to check your history facts too.

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