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A Mighty Fortress

A New History of the German People


Steven Ozment (View Bio)
Hardcover: HarperCollins, 2004; Paperback: HarperCollins, 2005.

A Mighty Fortress

"As a distinguished scholar of Reformation Germany, Professor Ozment is well qualified to assess the long stretches of German history that modernists largely ignore...It is a formidable undertaking...brimming with ideas that will intrigue some and irritate others. " — London Times Literary Supplement

"The aim of this sweeping new history of Germany is to examine the whole of the German experience instead of dwelling on the dark aberration of the Third Reich. Ozment has authored several important works on German history, but this new book may stand as his chief legacy. In a concise and readable manner, he surveys 2000 years of German civilization, from ancient and barbarian times to the present, highlighting key political and cultural personalities along the way to add life to what could have been just a dry overview.... Both provocative and accessible, this work will have wide appeal." — Library Journal

"Steven Ozment's masterful narrative is a much-needed gift that explains how we are all prisoners of a complex ancient and modern history that is as tangled as it is fascinating. Few historians know Germany's origins as well as Ozment; but none grasps so well as he the 2,000-year evolution of the German Volk from northern tribesmen to the world's most terrified friend, foe, and often themselves as well." — Victor Davis Hanson, author of RIPPLES OF BATTLE and CARNAGE AND CULTURE

"Steven Ozment's elegant book restores nuance and perspective to a history that is often overshadowed by a relatively recent pathological episode from which Germany has fully recovered. General readers, students, and specialists alike will discover something fresh and insightful on virtually every page of a book that is a triumph of intellectual clarity and compression." — Michael Burleigh, author of THE THIRD REICH

"Ozment's survey of German history packs a vast amount of information into a comparatively few number of pages, and it hits on all the expected high points: Charlemagne's empire, the Reformation, Frederick the Great's enlightened regime, the Bismarckian union of duchies, principalities, and free states to form modern Germany, while giving plenty of weight to the darker episodes, particularly the 12-year rule of Hitler.... A well-told overview.... A useful and welcome survey." — Kirkus Reviews

"Ozment's survey makes an honest attempt to restore the balance between the twelve years of the Third Reich and some 2,000 years of recorded history.... A masterly synthesis.... The great strength of this book is its readability. One is treated as a grown-up: indeed, reading Ozment gives one an inkling of what it might be like to participate in his seminar at Harvard. It fizzes with bold hypotheses and subtle allusions, conveying a vivid sense of events unfolding, of history as what he likes to call 'work in progress.'... Ozment has a gift for characterization. He evokes Luther, not an easy man to like, by depicting him through the eyes of colorful contemporaries such as Frederick the Wise, Dürer, and Cranach. Similarly, his nuanced portrait of Bismarck does justice to the man behind the iron chancellor's mask.... A MIGHTY FORTRESS is a heroic feat of scholarship." — The New Criterion

"Many literate and intelligent people would name fascism and its antecedents the salient forces in German history. Steven Ozment would like to remedy this. Although he opens and closes his own book A MIGHTY FORTRESS: A New History of the German People, with considerations of the 'mesmerizing' potency of Nazism as history, he would make Lutheranism the crux of German identity.... Ozment...retain[s] his flair for primary documentation.... He also, in his customary way, makes very smart use of letters and diaries. But this book is ultimately about big ideas.... His book fully comprehends the many horrible vicissitudes of Germany's history. But he refuses to write as if they were inevitable." — New York Sun

"In this sympathetic history of Germany, Steven Ozment insists that the country's record of 'civility and creativity' is far greater than that of its 'inhumanity and destructiveness'. One cannot judge a 2,000-year-old civilisation on the basis of one short-lived period. Ozment is right to make the point. Yet he concedes that there might indeed be something innately disciplined and darkly efficient in the German character. The vaunted perfectionism of today's German workplace may have its grotesque mirror image in the Nazis' Ordnungsliebe (passion for order).... [A] lucid analysis.... Lively and provocative." — Sunday Times (London)

"A MIGHTY FORTRESS is a monumental work of synthesis portraying the whole course of German history. Ozment's book is very learned and up-to-date. It is fascinating, illuminating, and provocative." — Norman F. Cantor, author of IN THE WAKE OF PILGRIMAGE and THE CIVILIZATION OF THE MIDDLE AGES

"The formidable Steven Ozment...surveys Germany's past and present.... [An] important effort.... Ozment sees in Luther, whom he much admires, an outlook that defines Germans: Luther claimed that the Christian was the 'free lord of all' though the salvation effected by Christ's generous grace. Through that very fact, though, the Christian, now liberated from the need to earn salvation through works, could also become the 'free subject of all.' Redeemed humankind was simultaneously just and sinful, free and yet under obligation to serve. Ozment secularizes this religious belief and sees Germans (not just Lutherans or even Christians generally) as characterized by a high degree of confidence and a possibility balanced by a need for discipline and service stemming from deep knowledge of the uncertainty and instability of the world. In some form or another, awareness of this tension colors all of German history.... Ozment's history overall is a judicious account that will help readers understand Germany as a contemporary nation rather than as a menacing phantom of the past." — Chicago Tribune

"Like a moth to a flame, those who write general histories of Germany are drawn to the era of National Socialism. Some see the Nazis as an aberration; others find the seeds of totalitarianism as far back as the age of Luther. In this readable and absorbing survey of the Germans over the past two millennia, Ozment, who is McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History at Harvard, thankfully avoids that trap. He refuses to allow a 12-year period of fascism to define a people or their history. Instead, he convincingly asserts that both liberal democracy and totalitarianism were novel experiments for Germans and the triumph of neither was preordained by German history. While some may be disappointed that Ozment devotes little space to the Nazi era, his analyses of the 'barbarian' and Merovingian periods are fascinating and offer original perspectives on aspects of German history that are often given short shrift. This is an enjoyable and well-done work that is ideal for the general reader." — Booklist

"It took Steven Ozment much courage to rewrite German history from antiquity to the present day — and beyond, if one includes his cautiously optimistic views on Germany's future.... That Mr. Ozment succeeds in telling, in just over 400 pages, a captivating although complex German story speaks for the author's narrative talent and his ability to provoke the reader's mind with his unconventional findings.... [He] attempts to bring a bit of balance to a postwar, moralizing historiography... that was long disposed...to circle around a magnetic Nazi pole.... Instead, Mr. Ozment chooses a chronological approach to history, reading it from past to present, not from present to past, explaining developments not from their outcome, but from their formative steps. In this more objective, non-ideological approach, neither Nazism or the Holocaust was predetermined in German history.... A MIGHTY FORTRESS is a highly stimulating book and a pleasure to read, combining serious scholarship with verve and good storytelling. Above all, it sheds new light on a highly controversial, always fascinating subject that always merits revisiting." — The Washington Times

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