Learning from the Germans
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‘An ambitious and engrossing investigation of the moral legacies which stubbornly refuse to pass’ Brendan Simms
As the western world struggles with its legacies of racism and colonialism, what can we learn from the past in order to move forward?
Susan Neiman’s Learning from the Germans delivers an urgently needed perspective on how a country can come to terms with its historical wrongdoings. Neiman, who grew up as a white girl in the American South during the civil rights movement, is a Jewish woman who has spent much of her adult life in Berlin. In clear and gripping prose, she uses this unique perspective to combine philosophical reflection, personal history and conversations with both Americans and Germans who are grappling with the evils of their own national histories.
Through focusing on the particularities of those histories, she provides examples for other nations, whether they are facing resurgent nationalism, ongoing debates over reparations or controversies surrounding historical monuments and the contested memories they evoke. It is necessary reading for all those confronting their own troubled pasts.
Eloquent, moving and searching -- Michael Ignatieff Neiman's commentary is thoughtful and perceptive, her comparison timely. This is an exceptional piece of historical and political philosophy. * Publisher's Weekly * An ambitious and engrossing investigation of the moral legacies of two pasts - German and American - which stubbornly refuse to pass -- Brendan Simms 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 with-or away from--the 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 rear-view mirror. This compelling, discerning book is as necessary and provocative as its title. -- Todd Gitlin 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 Minnow Susan Neiman relates hard truths from which others shrink. Her audacious work is a refreshing change from those, afraid to offend, who leave unsaid things that seem self-evident. * The Guardian * Growing up in the American south during the civil rights era, and spending much of her adult life in and around Berlin as a Jewish woman, Neiman has a keen ear for discomforts and awkwardnesses and the tics of guilt and avoidance -- Anne McElvoy * The Observer * Ambitious and detailed, [Neiman's book] ranges from the initial reluctance of German citizens to begin the process of truth and reconciliation to small-town Mississippi, and the shooting of nine African American American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina...[Neiman] has lived in a succession of places in which the past lies heavy on the present. And, perhaps even more crucially, she has done so with an outsider's perspective and the distance to ask difficult questions. * The Guardian * 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 * The New York Times *
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