Fascinating . . . [William Faulkner] observed about the society in whose midst he lived: 'The past is never dead. It’s not even past' . . . The history wars shape far more than how we remember the past. They shape the societies we bequeath to future generations. Susan Neiman’s book is an important and welcome weapon in that battle.” Deborah E. Lipstadt, The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)
"Richly rewarding, consistently stimulating and beautifully written . . . [Learning from the Germans] provides the crucial facets of any successful attempt to work off a nation’s criminal past . . . This disturbing but hopeful and insightful book wrestles with the questions of who we are as human beings and what values we have as a nation." Roger Bishop, BookPage (starred review)
"[Learning from the Germans] presents an insightful comparative analysis of post-WWII German sentiments about Nazi atrocities alongside southern American attitudes about the Civil War and slavery, suggesting how Americans might better come to terms with their country’s history . . . [Neiman's] commentary is thoughtful and perceptive, her comparison timely. This exceptional piece of historical and political philosophy provides a meaningful way of looking at the Civil War’s legacy." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A pointed demonstration of how Germany offers lessons for attending to polarizing issues of the past and present . . . [Learning from the Germans] serves as an important lesson for those who seek to face up to the past wrongs in this country. A timely, urgent call to revisit the past with an eye to correction and remedy." Kirkus Reviews
"We’ve been given a gift in Susan Neiman’s Learning from the Germans . . . Neiman would have us take up the rare and righteous work of remembering rightly. And in our day . . . this work is especially needful." David Dark, Chapter 16
“Combining big thoughts and startling snapshot particulars, Learning from the Germans is an enthralling moral meditation on mass social sin and its expiation as practiced in post–Third Reich Germany and the postapartheid American South. Susan Neiman, a citizen-philosopher who has never shied from difficult topics, has mustered her stylish pen, formidable intelligence, and unique experience as a southern Jewish expat in Germany to produce a nuanced work of conscience with urgent relevance today.” Diane McWhorter, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
“Learning from the Germans asks a deep question: As Americans struggle, once again, with the legacy of slavery, what can they learn from the German attempt to come to terms with the Holocaust? Susan Neiman’s eloquent, moving, and searching answer is clear. It is time for Americans to listen and to learn from the anguish and truth-seeking of the German confrontation with evil.” Michael Ignatieff, author of The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World and president and rector of Central European University
"Susan Neiman’s Learning from the Germans puts discussion of the horror of American anti-black racism into instructive, fascinating, and disturbing dialogue with rumination on the record of Nazism in Germany. This is a moving, deep, important book." Randall Kennedy, Professor, Harvard Law School
"Susan Neiman has devised a genre that’s encompassing enough to address the problem of evil: investigative philosophy. She tests moral concepts against lived realities, revealing actual human beings wrestling withor away fromthe unforgiving past: Germans who implant memorial plaques in the street, who work to integrate immigrants, and who think Germany was not defeated but liberated in 1945; and in Mississippi, citizens who insist that humanity drives better when it takes the time to gaze into the rearview mirror. This compelling, discerning book is as necessary and provocative as its title." Todd Gitlin, author of Occupy Nation and Chair of Communications at Columbia University
"The United States has much to learn from twentieth-century German history. As a learned and passionate guide, Susan Neiman draws on her long-term immersion in German history and her knowledge of American (especially Southern) racism to address vital questions: Does Germany's reckoning with Nazism offer lessons for the United States? How should a nation’s history be told to new generations? Should monuments to Confederate leaders be removed? Should there be reparations for slavery and other historical injustices? Packed with stories about individuals and communities dealing with the legacy of racial violence, Learning from the Germans identifies constructive steps for addressing the past and the present to make a different future." Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University
Central to understanding this latest book from Neiman (director, Einstein Forum; Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age) is analyzing history and historical memory. The author closely looks at how East and West Germany have confronted their participation with the past. The road to this new-found awareness has not been smooth. Philosopher Neiman, who currently resides in Berlin, is a Jewish woman born and raised in the American South. With this work, she presents a different perspective on how Germany has acknowledged its Nazi past and suggests the same could possibly be done in the United States. Neiman visits Mississippi, Georgia, and other states to examine what slavery, the U.S. Civil War, and the legacy of Jim Crow wrought on the American people. In doing so, the author discusses ways in which these conversations raise awareness of the dangers of not confronting the past. VERDICT A fascinating book that assists readers in gaining a deeper understanding of the past in order to move forward. Highly recommended for all history readers and teachers. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/19.]—Amy Lewontin, Northeastern Univ. Lib., Boston
A pointed demonstration of how Germany offers lessons for attending to polarizing issues of the past and present.
"It cannot be too much to expect the U.S. Congress to do in the twenty-first century what the German parliament did in 1952," writes Einstein Forum director Neiman (Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age, 2015, etc.), in favor of legislation that would create a commission to investigate the possibility of reparations for the pains suffered by African Americans under slavery and by other populations, such as Native Americans in the way of so-called Manifest Destiny. In recognizing the necessity of making real amends for the crimes of the Third Reich, Germany has paid just such reparations in many ways—even though, as the author notes, most Germans opposed such payments in the years immediately following World War II, just as it seems that most white Americans oppose reparations today. The issues extend: Germany bans expressions in support of Nazism even though extreme right-wingers have been recently emboldened by the widespread controversy over immigration, another topic familiar to Americans today. Even with such outbursts, Germany holds a lead over the U.S. in dealing with errors of the past. Where the wartime generation tried to brush aside the legacy of Nazism, the present one exemplifies "how far Germany has come in taking responsibility for its criminal history." While direct equations between, say, the American secessionists and the Nazis are problematic, there are plenty of points in common. Interestingly, it took the unification of Germany to arrive at full acknowledgment of past wrongs: The East took one view, the West another, each accusing the other of complicity. Today, Neiman writes, quoting a German scholar, "Germany is one of the safest countries for Jews in the world." Neiman's account is long and at times plodding, but her examination of how that situation came about serves as an important lesson for those who seek to face up to the past wrongs in this country.
A timely, urgent call to revisit the past with an eye to correction and remedy.