In This Review

Germany: Memories of a Nation
Germany: Memories of a Nation
By Neil MacGregor
Knopf, 2015, 656 pp

The history of Germany has been told many times, often most memorably by sophisticated, engaging Brits. MacGregor’s new book, a companion to a BBC series and a London exhibition, is no exception to that tradition. Its basic theme, namely, that the German past is uniquely complex, fragmented, and self-critical, is hardly new. Yet MacGregor’s presentation differs from others because it adorns each section of the book with photos and descriptions of physical objects—a technique taken from his recent bestseller, A History of the World in 100 Objects. These items range from the obvious, such as Martin Luther’s Bible, to the obscure, such as a crude handcart that refugees used to flee East Prussia during World War II. In each case, they help lend visceral texture and immediacy to the evolution of the German spirit. To be sure, this approach has its flaws: politicians remain distant, thinkers and poets are shortchanged, and composers are almost absent. But the book makes for a satisfying read nonetheless.