Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fritz Stern on Jurgen Osterhammel

In his essay/review on Jurgen Osterhammel’s The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (“How We Got to Where We Are,” The New York Review of Books, 5/7/15), Fritz Stern quotes Osterhammel’s quoting of Joseph Schumpeter’s line about Max Weber “his mastery of immense armies of concrete facts” to describe the author of the work under review.  Stern terms Osterhammel’s tome “an instant classic” and makes you almost want to pick up or at least order the 1,167 pages translation. Besides mentioning names like Schumpeter and Weber, he places Osterhammel in the company of historians like Eric Hobsbawm who “as we have become more more conscious of living in a globalized world…have tried to explore and explain how it came about.” But the very erudition Stern brings to his subject  would also seem to mirror the perspicacity that apparently resides in the work itself. Stern opens the essay with the following quote from George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims For Revolution, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Reading Stern’s review is a little going to Urbino and touring the Ducal Palace. The citations that he brings in to access a colleague’s work are like the great works of art that one finds in a tour of a Renaissance village. Stern seduces you with intellect, stunning you with the breadth of his knowledge and the knowledge of others until finally you’re ready to surrender and open up your mind and heart to a book you hadn’t previously had the time or necessarily the desire to read. But then again isn’t there something about the name Jurgen Osterhammel that beckons?

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