Readers of Literary Review, it can be assumed with confidence, will have heard of Kant, Mozart, Beethoven, Hegel, Goethe, Schiller, Wagner, Marx, Freud and Einstein. Most will also know something about Friedrich, Fichte, Clausewitz, Heine, Bruckner, the Webers (Carl Maria and Max), the Manns (Thomas and Heinrich), Schoenberg and Heidegger. But how about Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749–1817), Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855), August Kekulé (1829–1896), Robert Koch (1843–1910), Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915), or any of the other hundreds of names that appear in Peter Watson’s review of German intellectual achievement since the eighteenth century? I gave up counting the names appearing in the index when the score went into three figures – and I was still only on the letter ‘B’.
This is much more than a compendium, however. Watson has a clear thesis which he lays out at the start: between 1764, when Winckelmann published his History of the Art of Antiquity, and 1933, when (among other things) Erwin Schrödinger received the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Germans