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Germany: A Nation in Its Time

Before, During, and After Nationalism, 1500-2000


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The first major history of Germany in a generation, a work that presents a five-hundred-year narrative that challenges our traditional perceptions of Germany’s conflicted past.

For nearly a century, conventional historians have depicted Germany as a rabidly nationalist land, born in a sea of aggression, its nineteenth-century ascent accompanied by militarism and brought to a murderous apex in the Third Reich. Not so, asserts Helmut Walser Smith, who, beginning in 1500, reveals pacific conceptions of the nation and allows us to see the Nazis’ extreme form of nationalism not as the dark culmination point of German history but as an essential episode in Germany’s centuries-long history of continually conceiving the nation in radically different ways. Whether chronicling the Thirty Years War, the German Enlightenment, the Weimar Republic, the Holocaust or the era of Angela Merkel, Smith has created a new standard for the twenty-first-century.


“Drawing on cartography, literature, travel narratives, and the history of politics, warfare, science, religion, and art, Helmut Walser Smith constructs a magisterial account of the German nation as a history of constant transformation and reinvention. Beautifully written and richly textured, it is essential reading for everyone interested in Germany's past, present, and future.” — Sir Christopher Clark, University of Cambridge

“Helmut Walser Smith's Germany is an encompassing history of German efforts to define their nation in all its stunning contradictions through five centuries — pastoral, productive, exalted, for a time murderous, for longer civic, always complex.” — Charles Maier, Harvard University

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