Bringing together the Lawrence Stone Lectures delivered at Princeton in 2015, this demanding but stimulating and entertaining book is a tribute to the efficiency of German publishing and the sophistication of the German reading public. It cannot happen often that a translation appears before the English-language original. Yet this book, with the title Von Zeit und Macht, was published by the enterprising DVA Verlag in the autumn of 2018 and promptly soared up bestseller lists, propelled by a blast of laudatory reviews. Although an event earnestly to be hoped for, it seems unlikely that its English incarnation will enjoy quite the same commercial success or will soon be rubbing shoulders with Blowing the Bloody Doors Off (Sir Michael Caine’s autobiography) or Listening to Animals.
The opening pages require intense concentration. Once readers have digested the lapidary first sentence – ‘As gravity bends light, so power bends time’ – they will be grappling with the theories of François Hartog, Henri Bergson, Maurice Halbwachs, Emile Durkheim, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Le Goff, Marc Bloch, Reinhart Koselleck, Friedrich Schlegel, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Hans Robert Jauss, not to mention the intimidating philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Hegel. It comes as a morale booster, to this reviewer at least, to discover later that Bismarck’s best efforts to understand the last of these ended in failure.
Fortunately, this Franco-German team of philosophers depart at the end of the introduction, leaving the field open to Clark’s accessible analysis and lucid exposition. Before readers follow, however, they must make a mental note of the concept of ‘historicity’, helpfully defined by Clark as ‘a set of assumptions about how