In his groundbreaking 500-year history entitled Germany: A Nation in its Time (Liveright, 2020), Helmut Walser Smith challenges traditional perceptions of Germany’s conflicted past, revealing a nation far more thematically complicated than many twentieth-century historians have imagined. Smith’s dramatic narrative begins with the earliest glimmers of a nation in the 1500s, when visionary mapmakers and adventuresome travelers struggled to delineate and define this embryonic nation. Contrary to widespread perception, the people who first described Germany were largely pacific in temperament, and the pernicious ideology of German nationalism would only enter into the nation’s history centuries later. Tracing the significant tension between the idea of the nation and the ideology of its nationalism, Smith shows a nation constantly reinventing itself and explains how radical nationalism ultimately turned Germany into a genocidal nation. Richly illustrated, with original maps created by the author, the book is a sweeping account that does nothing less than redefine our understanding of Germany from the age of the Reformation to the Berlin Republic.
Michael E. O’Sullivan is Professor of History at Marist College where he teaches courses about Modern Europe. He published Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965 with University of Toronto Press in 2018. It was recently awarded the Waterloo Centre for German Studies Book Prize for 2018.