Weimar Germany

September 17, 2009

Editor: Anthony McElligott

Edition: First

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 344

Price: £55.00 and £16.99

ISBN: 9780199280063 and 0070

The Short Oxford History of Germany, of which this book forms a part, promises "a concise, readable and authoritative point of entry for the history of Germany". But as the editor - introducing his chapter on the Weimar Republic's political culture - indicates, the book is for students with some previous knowledge. He writes: "It is not my intention to retread the familiar ground of the republic's political narrative told through its various parties and organisations. Instead, I aim to discuss its political culture", which he defines, essentially, as the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism. Other contributors cover foreign policy (Wolfgang Elz), the Army (William Mulligan), the economy (Harold James), cities (John Bingham), the politics of gender (Kathleen Canning), welfare (Young-Sun Hong), housing (Adelheid von Saldern), Jewry (Anthony Kauders) and culture (Karl Christian Fuhrer). All are established authorities, but some of their chapters, while raising important questions, read more like articles for a specialist journal than introductory guides.

Anthony McElligott's introduction explores the validity of Detlev Peukert's concept of "classical modernity" rather inconclusively, and his chapter on political culture may be too abstract for students. Events such as the Stinnes-Legien pact, or the views of Max Weber, Friedrich Naumann and Friedrich Meinecke are mentioned, but almost invariably with no explanation of who these individuals were. (The chronology at the end of the book is of limited help.) The chapters on cities and welfare prefer to discuss high-flown principles of public administration rather than the everyday realities of urban life or welfare needs. The chapter on Jewry, again, although it contains some telling facts about the size, wealth and geographical distribution of Germany's Jewish population, proceeds to focus on the contributions of selected Jewish thinkers.

The short chapter on culture, although interesting in what it says about local opera houses and theatres, virtually ignores literature, contemporary music and the visual arts, and the book contains nothing on education policy, a central aspect of Weimar's modernity.

The informative chapter on foreign policy, which raises important issues (such as the relationship between the projected Austro-German customs union of 1931 and Aristide Briand's vision of a united Europe), has only a single, almost useless, footnote reference. While the book contains some valuable contributions, they are, on the whole, not for the uninitiated.

Who is it for? Advanced students, perhaps working on specific aspects of the subject.

Presentation: A book with plenty of facts and ideas, though in style, terminology and grammar it is a rather disconcerting Anglo-American hybrid. The absence of illustrations (of Bauhaus architecture, say) is regrettable.

Would you recommend it? For advanced students, yes, but not for general undergraduate use.

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