… a comprehensive, well-documented and, above all, thoughtful account of the scientists who served Hitler -- or, at least, Germany -- during the Third Reich. John Cornwell
Cornwell's devastating bestseller Hitler's Pope is a tough act to follow. Here, the author again claims the moral high ground to critique the ethical and political choices of scientists in Hitler's Germany and to caution that science under the Western democracies in the Cold War and the war on terrorism also wielded and continues to wield the "Janus-faced power for good and evil." Today's best writers on the Hitler era have outgrown the kind of marginalizing polemic Cornwell employs here. His analysis of Nazi science, while built on sound research and often thoughtful critique, sinks to the sensationalism of "Faustian bargains," "scientific prostitutions" and Arendt's "banality of evil." Unsavory concepts are qualified as "pseudo-science," "half-baked," or simply "science" in quotation marks so that the undiscerning reader won't mistake them for the real thing. All the hot-button issues are on display here: racial hygiene; eugenics; the Nazi purge of academia and Germany's forfeiture of its greatest physicists to the Allies because they were Jewish; and human experimentation on concentration camp inmates. The author also details the science of war in Germany, from rockets and secret codes to radar and the atomic bomb, and how the Allies plundered the country's military technology and expertise after the fall of the Third Reich. Cornwell is a gifted writer with a fascinating story to tell, which he ably and engagingly accomplishes despite the hyperbole. But in his pursuit of comfort in right over wrong, the author forfeits objectivity and perhaps a greater understanding of the sources and the whys of the Nazi phenomenon. Despite this,, the author's articulate though subtly lurid repackaging of Nazi-era crimes and curiosities should guarantee much attention and brisk sales with general readers. Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Bob Lescher. (On sale Oct. 13) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Cornwell, author of the provocative Hitler's Pope, has turned his attention to the German scientific establishment in the Nazi period and to the moral issues raised by the eagerness of prominent scientists to serve the German cause in World War I and under Hitler. Given the prominence of German science in a multitude of fields, it is a fascinating subject. Unfortunately, this is not a satisfactory book. Cornwell mixes chapters about different branches of science or pseudoscience, like "racial hygiene" with chapters about the applications of science (poison gas, rockets) and portraits of individual scientists, such as Fritz Haber, the gas maniac and a converted Jew, and Werner Heisenberg, whose mystery (did he deliberately sideline the development of nuclear weapons?) is not dispelled here any more than in Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen. Digressions into postwar relations between Western and German scientists are similarly unoriginal. The result is too much and too superficial. Moral issues are not examined in depth, and Cornwell offers only a glimpse of the diversity of scientists' motives for cooperating with a murderous regime. Only a fraction were true Nazi believers; others were cynics and opportunists, and many behaved as people who simply put their country above all other considerations. Cornwell's look at Western science in the Cold War raises comparisons, but they are too cursory to be more than disturbing.
A common question raised in the many histories of the Third Reich is, Why did the German people comply, despite the regime's obvious brutality? This question is perhaps even more baffling when applied to Germany's scientific community. Early in the 20th century, German science was as advanced as any in the world. Hitler co-opted Germany's genius, purging Jewish scientists and leaving them with no option but flight. The remaining scientists almost universally acquiesced to Hitler's agenda-often in word only, but some embraced the Nazi cause wholeheartedly. Cornwell, an historian and author of the controversial Hitler's Pope, focuses more on the effects than the causes of scientific racism. His book is a broad survey of Nazi science, in all fields, with details on some of its more heinous aspects. There are no bombshell revelations; for example, it comes as no surprise that Hitler twisted Darwinian theory to suit his purposes. Even if we acknowledge that the scientists were under enormous pressure, the vexing issue of why they behaved as they did remains unresolved. Therein, Cornell might argue, lies the problem, for science in the service of government contains an inherent conflict of interest. For academic and larger public library collections in the history and sociology of science. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY Albany Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A timely study of the world’s first great scientific-military-industrial complex. Ideally, observes Cornwell (History/Cambridge Univ.; Hitler’s Pope, 2001, etc.), science is about the free exchange of ideas and information for the social good. Such qualities marked German science throughout the Enlightenment and into the 20th century. But even before the rise of the Nazi regime, German scientists were busy developing theories to prove the supposed superiority of their peopleand, of course, perfecting plenty of death-dealing technologies. When Hitler came to power and pressed science and industry into the service of the state, many of those scientists, "notably doctors and anthropologists," obligedpromulgating, among other things, a nationwide anti-smoking campaign in the bargain. Many other scientists fled, including some of the nation’s best physicists and chemists. To counter the brain drain, Cornwell writes, the renowned scientist Max Planck called on Hitler to plead "that certain Jewish scientists were worth nurturing for the benefit of the state"which Hitler rejected, saying, "A Jew is a Jew." Germany’s loss was the Allies’ gain in such critical areas as cryptography and, of course, the development of nuclear weaponry, which, Cornwell observes, Hitler was not much interested in anyway, in keeping with what Albert Speer remarked was his "antimodern" stance "in decisions on armaments." Anti-modern in most other aspects of science, Hitler nonetheless kept legions of scientists busy, forging strong links among the Reich’s death and labor camps and Germany’s universities, research facilities, and hospitals. Cornwell’s account is mainly straightforward, and he rightlypoints out how pseudo-science came to dominate pure science as the Third Reich evolved. Ever the controversialist, he closes with a rhetorical likening of modern politicized and militarized science to that practiced under Hitler’s regimesave that, he writes, scientists in those days could emigrate, whereas today "in the globalized domains of science and technology there are no oases of irresponsible purity into which a scientist can retreat." A lucid survey synthesizing a broad range of historical research. Author tour. Agent: Bob Lescher