In This Review

Five Germanys I Have Known
Five Germanys I Have Known
By Fritz Stern
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006, 560 pp.

This fascinating volume by Stern -- who, in addition to being one of the great historians of modern Germany and a public intellectual unashamed of being a liberal, has been the provost of Columbia University and a key adviser to Richard Holbrooke when the latter was ambassador to Germany -- is both a rich memoir and a penetrating history of Stern's "five Germanys." The first -- imperial Germany -- was where Stern was born, in 1926, to a distinguished Jewish doctor and a remarkable mother. The second was Weimar, followed by the Nazi Reich -- which he and his parents left in 1938 -- the Federal Republic, and, finally, today's unified Germany. Stern has a most impressive memory, a vast amount of accumulated notes, or both, and his book is an important contribution to our understanding of the many transformations of modern German history and of postwar U.S.-European relations. Meanwhile, his impressions of key actors, from the politicians Helmut Schmidt and Ralf Dahrendorf to the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the deeply anti-German Margaret Thatcher, are sharp and vivid. Stern covers an immense stretch of cultural and intellectual ground and is unapologetically fierce in his judgments -- to the education, fascination, and occasional irritation of the reader.