Charles Maier

Charles Maier is Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard. His most recent book is The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust and German National Identity.


Charles Maier, 18 November 1993

With the collapse of Communism and the disorientation of the Marxist Left, a poignant revaluation has overtaken the history of the European Resistance in World War Two. The gradual disappearance of the survivors would in itself have led to a dissipation of the Resistance’s sacred aura; but politics as well as demography is now at work. Of course, the history of the Resistance has always been especially vulnerable: for four decades in Italy it served to legitimate the vision of a Left that could embrace Communists and non-Communists alike; in France it justified the creation of the Gaullist Republic; in Yugoslavia it helped for forty years to hold together a precarious nationhood; in the Soviet bloc it furnished credentials for the Communist Parties that monopolised power after Hitler’s armies had been cleared out. In the early post-war years a source of pride and solace, the Resistance has by now become a troublesome, sometimes tiresome legacy.

Certainly not the saddest for historians, according to Geoffrey Hawthorn’s wonderfully playful and intelligent book: rather, the most instructive. Hawthorn is intrigued by the philosophical standing of counter-factuals – hypothetical ‘other worlds’ – and their usefulness for historians and social scientists. Some historians resist the legitimacy of invoking counter-factual stories. They stringently insist that we can research and speculate only about what we believe actually occurred; anything else is merely fanciful. Call them factualists.’

Many Americans celebrate national holidays by mobbing megastores at dawn, pushing aside the slow-footed and grabbing the $39 computers, while TV crews film the spectacle and warn the indolent...

Read more reviews

Was it unavoidable?

Christoph Bertram, 18 September 1997

It is a rare experience to witness the collapse of a modern state, not to mention of an empire; but those who were alive and conscious in 1989 can claim to have been present at just such an...

Read more reviews

Germans and the German Past

J.P. Stern, 21 December 1989

The ‘white years’ of German history – the period between the end of the war and Adenauer’s first government of 1949 – were notable for two blank spaces in the...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences