Walther Rathenau


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Weimar's Fallen Statesman

Shulamit Volkov

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From the prizewinning Jewish Lives series, a figure of great intellectual power who ran the German state, however briefly, during one of its most tumultuous periods, and whose life was "the essence of German Jewish history."

This deeply informed biography of Walther Rathenau (1867–1922) tells of a man who—both thoroughly German and unabashedly Jewish—rose to leadership in the German War-Ministry Department during the First World War, and later to the exalted position of foreign minister in the early days of the Weimar Republic. His achievement was unprecedented—no Jew in Germany had ever attained such high political rank. But Rathenau’s success was marked by tragedy: within months he was assassinated by right-wing extremists seeking to destroy the newly formed Republic.

Drawing on Rathenau’s papers and on a depth of knowledge of both modern German and German-Jewish history, Shulamit Volkov creates a finely drawn portrait of this complex man who struggled with his Jewish identity yet treasured his “otherness.” Volkov also places Rathenau in the dual context of Imperial and Weimar Germany and of Berlin’s financial and intellectual elite. Above all, she illuminates the complex social and psychological milieu of German Jewry in the period before Hitler’s rise to power.

About Jewish Lives: 

Jewish Lives is a prizewinning series of interpretative biography designed to explore the many facets of Jewish identity. Individual volumes illuminate the imprint of Jewish figures upon literature, religion, philosophy, politics, cultural and economic life, and the arts and sciences. Subjects are paired with authors to elicit lively, deeply informed books that explore the range and depth of the Jewish experience from antiquity to the present.

In 2014, the Jewish Book Council named Jewish Lives the winner of its Jewish Book of the Year Award, the first series ever to receive this award.

More praise for Jewish Lives:

"Excellent." –New York Times

"Exemplary." –Wall Street Journal

"Distinguished." –New Yorker

"Superb." –The Guardian

Shulamit Volkov is professor emerita of modern European history, Tel Aviv University. Her most recent book is Germans, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials in Emancipation. She lives in Herzliya, Israel.

"In this remarkable biography, Shulamit Volkov offers a subtle analysis of Walther Rathenau's complex and often ambiguous personality. She describes admirably how Rathenau's always-reaffirmed Jewishness increasingly became a target for the antisemitic elites of Imperial Germany and, notwithstanding his outstanding services to Germany, an object of fanatical hatred for the extreme Right under Weimar, which led to his assassination. Shulamit Volkov's book is history at its best."—Saul Friedlander, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Nazi Germany and the Jews

"Volkov’s scholarship illuminates many sides of Rathenau’s personality. Her discussion of Rathenau’s Jewishness is informed, often moving, and absorbing as both personal and social history."—A. J. Sherman, Associate Fellow, St. Antony’s College, Oxford

"Her portrait of the man and his age is riveting and disturbing. . . . Volkov tracks Rathenau’s most important relationships, samples his essays, and speculates moderately about his private life."—Ron Slate

"An illuminating, thoroughly researched and sympathetic account of this intriguing, enigmatic life."—Ian Brunskill, Wall Street Journal

"Incisive and probing."—Martin Rubin, Washington Times

"This is by far the best and most sophisticated life of Rathenau in English."—Richard J. Evans, London Review of Books

"This is by far the best and most sophisticated life of Rathenau in English."—Richard J. Evans, London Review of Books

"Volkov tells the story of [Rathenau’s] extraordinary life with great verve."—Robert Gerwarth, Irish Times
"Concise and revelatory."—Sam Kerbel, The Forward Arty Semite Blog
ISBN: 9780300144314
Publication Date: January 24, 2012
256 pages, 5 3/4 x 8 1/4
9 b/w illus.
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