A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich by Christopher B. Krebs | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich

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

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by Christopher B. Krebs
     
 

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“A model of popular intellectual history. . . . In every way, ?A Most Dangerous Book is a most brilliant achievement.”—Washington Post
When the Roman historian Tacitus wrote the Germania, a none-too-flattering little book about the ancient Germans, he could not have foreseen that centuries later the Nazis would extol it as “a bible”

Overview

“A model of popular intellectual history. . . . In every way, ?A Most Dangerous Book is a most brilliant achievement.”—Washington Post
When the Roman historian Tacitus wrote the Germania, a none-too-flattering little book about the ancient Germans, he could not have foreseen that centuries later the Nazis would extol it as “a bible” and 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, revealing how an ancient text rose to take its place among the most dangerous books in the world.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
“Fascinating. . . . [Krebs] has a light touch and a dry sense of humor.”
Slate
“Clever, learned. . . . [Krebs] synthesizes a great deal of classical scholarship and intellectual history into a concise, accessible story.”
Wall Street Journal
“It is an extraordinary tale, and Mr. Krebs . . . tells it with great verve and charm.”
London Review of Books
“A dramatic detective story.”
Cullen Murphy
…fascinating…Krebs…lays out the recovery of Germania, in 1455, like a detective story…he has a light touch and a dry sense of humor. And despite the title of his book, he does not hold Germania responsible for acts committed in its name. "Tacitus did not write a most dangerous book," he concludes. "His readers made it so."
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Harvard classics professor Krebs writes a scholarly but lucid account of the abuse of history. Written in 98 C.E. by the Roman official Tacitus, About the Origin and Mores of the Germanic Peoples was lost for centuries but resurfaced around 1500 as Germans were growing resentful of foreign domination—in this case from the Catholic Church in Rome. The rediscovered book launched a primitivist myth that captivated admirers over the next 500 years, from Martin Luther to Heinrich Himmler, who loved its portrayal of ancient Germans as freedom-loving warriors, uncultured but honorable, in contrast to decadent Romans. In fact, Tacitus probably never visited Germany, Krebs notes. Rather, using books and travelers' reports, he wrote for a Roman audience who shared his romantic view of northern barbarians. Enthusiastic German readers, culminating in the Nazis, ignored Tacitus's disparaging comments, misread passages to confirm their prejudices, and proclaimed that the ancient historian confirmed their national superiority. This is an inventive analysis of, and warning against, an irresistible human yearning to find written proof of one's ideology. Illus. (May)
Library Journal
In 98 C.E., Roman senator Cornelius Tacitus (56–117 C.E.) wrote the short Germania purporting to describe the fierce tribes beyond the Rhine who resisted Roman conquest. Nobody knows where Tacitus got his information or if he ever visited German territory. In the turmoil following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the book disappeared until 15th-century humanists turned up a single surviving manuscript in a monastery in what is now central Germany. From the moment of the book's discovery, it became the founding document of a hoped-for German nation. Krebs (classics, Harvard; contributor, The Cambridge Companion to Tacitus) shows an impressive mastery of five centuries of theories about Germanness that used and misused Tacitus's account of a brave and unlettered fighting people. This book's title suggests the world might have been better off if Germania had never turned up, but the text reveals that Krebs himself doesn't feel Tacitus's book is "dangerous" or the urtext of Nazi ideology or even an ethnography, but a stereotypical Roman view of the outsider. VERDICT Whoever pimped out this worthy academic monograph about the creation of a German past as if it were The Raiders of the Lost Ark did Krebs no favors. Recommended for serious readers on the merits of its scholarly contents.—Stewart Desmond, New York
Anthony Everitt
“A razor-sharp, eminently readable reminder of the potency of bad ideas. Christopher Krebs shows how intellectuals through the ages used and abused a Latin classic, Tacitus's Germania, and tells the unnerving story of its final transformation into a Nazi 'bible'. Fascinating stuff.”
Tim Rood
“A most exciting book! In Krebs’ hands, the story of the Germania manuscript becomes part thriller, part detective story.... A must-read for anyone interested in the pernicious power of the ideas of antiquity—and a timely reminder of the responsibilities placed on readers as well as writers.”
Christopher Pelling
“A fascinating story of how a book could be used and—especially—abused over two thousand years, as enemies saw it as presenting Germans as brutish and barbarian, while German nationalistic pride extracted a quite different message of a nation that was simple,
virtuous, and pure.... beautifully told by
Christopher Krebs.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393342925
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
08/27/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
735,357
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Christopher B. Krebs, a classics professor at Harvard University, has published widely on the Roman historians and their afterlives. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
cheesedb More than 1 year ago
I do not know whether this book's writing was inspired by the success of the far superior "Swerve", which detailed the rediscovery of the last, lost copy of the Epicurean saga. Perhaps the author already had written his own book and it was only the success of "Swerve" that convinced a publisher to print this pale imitation. Regardless, this book is annoyingly redundant and skips past what could be the most interesting aspects of its history in thrall to demonstrate the author's meticulous research. I could have done less with mentioning every person to lay hands on Tacitus' Germanicus and more fleshing out of particular characters involved in its history, such as the humanistic papal secretary who rediscovered it  (who also plays a pivotal and much more engagingly told part in the "Swerve") or even the Brothers Grimm. I love history, mysteries, and books so the premise of this book immediately grabbed my attention. Unfortunately it failed to live up to my expectations.I'm not convinced that Tacitus' tract was a most dangerous book, but this book is certainly a most boring one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an avid history fan, this book delivers a wonderful adventure of "history" through history. Definatly recommended for any history fan.