Neil MacGregor’s book is a real tour de force, to use an expression from south of the Rhine. Ex-director of the National Gallery in London and the British Museum, he has produced a unique and brilliant history of Germany, through close study of its monuments, landmarks, buildings, artworks and cultural artefacts.
I agree with (who wouldn’t?) R.J.W Evans of the New York Review of Books: it’s a ‘necklace of burnished cameos, witty and cunning, intricately constructed, but highly readable’. Each chapter offers an original and deep insight into the German universe and deserves to be digested slowly, with breaks between them to allow the ideas to settle.
For example, MacGregor looks at the fascinating collection of ‘emergency’ banknotes (called Notgeld) produced by each German town towards the end of WWI as the central bank faltered, through the hyper-inflationary period of the Weimar Republic and Nazi use of them for their propaganda.
The book’s excellent photos do much more than illustrate his themes, they give it another cultural dimension, as a brilliant artefact itself. It was published in conjunction with a BBC 4 Radio program and 2014 exhibition at the British museum.
As you can see, I was mightily impressed by this brief history of Germany. Apparently it’s also been translated into German and become a trending best-seller there! Finally, I also agree with Antony Beevor: ‘Anyone who wants to understand Germany should read this’.