Can a 2,000-year-old civilization be defined by its last 150 years, asks Ozment (ancient and modern history, Harvard U.) as he attempts to bypass the Nazi/Hitler monopoly on German history. He surveys and interprets the formative history of Germans as far back as relevant information can reasonably be found to try to explain how they have survived both their enemies and themselves over the long centuries. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
It takes erudition and verve to attempt a history that covers the life of a controversial people over two millennia. Harvard historian Ozment has plenty of both, yet the result is oddly unsatisfactory. Ozment (The Burgermeister's Daughter, etc.) quickly and wisely dismisses any notion that a history of Germany must be focused on the Third Reich. Instead, the travails of political disunity serve as his narrative anchor. Neither the ancient Germanic tribes nor their medieval and early modern successors could forge any long-lasting unity. Only under Bismarck did a unified political entity emerge, and it soon succumbed to visions of grandeur that resulted in two world wars and a Holocaust, renewed territorial losses and political divisions. Ozment's focus on disunity provides narrative coherence to a long, contentious and complex history, but the costs are huge. Particularly the early chapters read like "one damned thing after another" as a succession of tribal leaders, princes, kings and emperors march across the pages. So many important issues that might grasp a reader's interest are left out. There is nary a mention of economics, legal and social practices among the Germanic tribes, of women and working life. When discussing the Nazi worldview, the author has an unfortunate tendency to equate Jews and Christians as Nazi targets. It is certainly true that the Nazis were deeply anti-Christian, but the Jews were singled out for total physical annihilation. Ultimately, Ozment does not provide a history of the German people, but a tale of their rulers and a few leading intellectuals. 8 pages of b&w photos, maps not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.