Magazine December 22, 2019, Issue

Thomas Mann in America

The base of a sculpture celebrating famous German authors at the Bebelplatz square in Berlin (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)
Thomas Mann’s War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters, by Tobias Boes (Cornell University Press, 376 pp., $34.95)

Thomas Mann, from the beginning of his career, took himself very seriously. Although his writing is difficult, he appealed to Germans familiar with their nation’s classics and was by 1929, when awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, a very popular writer. Moreover, emulating Goethe, he was not partisan. Seriousness meant standing above the fray, giving a hearing to both sides, which is one of the sources of Mann’s irony. This lack of partisanship led to a squabble with his brother Heinrich (the author of The Blue Angel), who, influenced by Émile Zola’s role in the Dreyfus affair, believed that writers

This article appears as “Mann in America” in the December 22, 2019, print edition of National Review.

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