‘The God of the Germans’, wrote Jung in a notorious essay of 1936 which was said to lend support to Nazi anti-Semitism, ‘is not the Christian God but Wotan.’ Leo Abse agrees. The leitmotiv of his profoundly disturbing and compulsively readable book is that a destructive aggressiveness, a Wagnerian megalomania, lurks at the root of the German psyche. Since 1945, the Germans have been struggling to repress these elements, but (as every psychologist knows) whatever is repressed tends to resurface sooner or later with a vengeance.
It is clear that a lifetime’s thought has gone into this book. Leo Abse had a German Jewish grandmother from Königsberg, and was brought up in a family in which German was spoken and German books were read. As a young man, he absorbed German socialist ideas and literature; as