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Thomas Laqueur: My Dead Fathers, 7 September 2006

... granite tombstone in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, an Elysium of the burgher dead: ‘Walter Laqueur MD’ is inscribed in Jugendstil characters, the same lettering in which ‘Dr Laqueur’ appears on the plaque that was once outside his radiology office and is now on my gate in Berkeley. There were also two pictures ...


Thomas Laqueur: Memories in German, 4 December 2003

... mountain accent – she should simply answer ‘yes.’ Beckley and Bluefield abounded with Toni Laqueur malapropisms; but she fitted in. My father was clueless. He somehow translated my high school graduation as Abitur, an occasion for much ceremony and for a punch bowl of champagne and alcohol-soaked fruit. This did not go down well with my high school ...

Simply Doing It

Thomas Laqueur, 22 February 1996

The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain 1650-1950 
by Roy Porter and Lesley Hall.
Yale, 414 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 300 06221 4
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... The Facts of Life is symptomatic of the tensions to be found in its sources: it is an elusive book, offering vistas of liberation and oppression. In all but their barest outline the facts of life are not really facts, and ‘sexual knowledge’ does not, by and large, come to be known; while ‘creation’ is so protean a notion here as to encompass everything from 18th-century advice on married love, to 19th-century soirées where women told men about their sexual lives, to 20th-century anti-venereal disease campaigns ...

Something Fine and Powerful

Thomas Laqueur: Pearl Harbor Redux, 25 August 2011

Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq 
by John Dower.
Norton/The New Press, 596 pp., £22, October 2010, 978 0 393 06150 5
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... In June 2001, John Dower, a historian of Japan, wrote a comment piece in the New York Times about the blockbuster movie Pearl Harbor. The problem with it, he thought, was not its predictable romantic digressions or historical errors but its moral obtuseness. Like earlier films on the subject, it was ‘a paean to patriotic ardour and an imagined American innocence … sanitised to an attractive level of virtual violence ...

Closing Time

Thomas Laqueur, 18 August 1994

How We Die 
by Sherwin Nuland.
Chatto, 278 pp., £15.99, May 1994, 0 7011 6169 8
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... of us, he insists, is a ‘messy business’. Contrary to what Sir William Osler or Dr Lewis Thomas might lead us to believe, death is ‘glutted with mental suffering and physical distress’. There was, he claims, ‘a nice Victorian reticence in denying the probability of a miserable prelude to mortality’ and he will disabuse us of our ...

Lectures about Heaven

Thomas Laqueur: Forgiving Germany, 7 June 2007

Five Germanys I Have Known 
by Fritz Stern.
Farrar, Straus, 560 pp., £11.25, July 2007, 978 0 374 53086 0
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... far from what would in Britain be called ‘Victorian’. Not surprising, perhaps, given how much Thomas Carlyle took from German literature and philosophy; how important Goethe was for George Eliot; how much Matthew Arnold admired German education. It is also telling how compatible a veneration for Kultur was with the Victorian values of service and civic ...

Lynched for Drinking from a White Man’s Well

Thomas Laqueur, 11 October 2018

... of rape of a white woman, and many more on the excuse of some supposed contact with one. ‘Thomas Miles, Sr … lynched in Shreveport, Louisiana for allegedly writing a note to a white woman’; ‘David Walker, his wife and five children lynched in Hickman, Kentucky, in 1908 after Mr Walker was accused of using inappropriate language with a white ...

The Old Country

Thomas Laqueur: The troublesome marriage of Poles and Jews, 4 June 1998

Heshel's Kingdom 
by Dan Jacobson.
Hamish Hamilton, 242 pp., £15.99, February 1998, 0 241 13927 9
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Shtetl: The History of a Small Town and an Extinguished World 
by Eva Hoffman.
Secker, 269 pp., £15.99, January 1998, 0 436 20482 7
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... Melamed, who died well before his grandson’s – our author’s – birth, has something of the Thomas Hardy character about him: ‘existlessness’ is his lot. He survives in a picture, a travel document, an address book, a case for a pair of glasses and the glasses themselves, through which Jacobson sees the world as blurred and vertiginous. ‘So this ...

The Pocahontas Exception

Thomas Laqueur: America’s Ancestor Obsession, 30 March 2023

A Nation of Descendants: Politics and the Practice of Genealogy in US History 
by Francesca Morgan.
North Carolina, 301 pp., £27.95, October 2021, 978 1 4696 6478 1
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... reverse the cultural elision that existed in the long shadow of the Statute of Merton. The case of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is exemplary but not singular. DNA evidence – blood – played a central role (an instance of the political instrumentality of genealogical methods) but it followed on a claim about the foundational principles that determined ...

Nothing Becomes Something

Thomas Laqueur: Pathography, 22 September 2016

When Breath Becomes Air 
by Paul Kalanithi.
Bodley Head, 228 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 84792 367 7
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... really turn to the church? At moments like this I wanted to demand that he be more like his hero Thomas Browne. (Kalanithi is buried with a copy of Religio Medici.) The great attraction of Browne’s text is that it – like Montaigne’s Essays – reveals worlds within the writer himself. ‘There are many pieces in this one Fabricke of Man,’ Browne said ...

The Past’s Past

Thomas Laqueur, 19 September 1996

Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History 
by Jay Winter.
Cambridge, 310 pp., £12.95, September 1996, 0 521 49682 9
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... We understand explicitly, as Nietzsche remarked in the Genealogy of Morals, what earlier generations felt in their bones: ‘Only that which does not cease to hurt remains in memory.’ Remembering and mourning demand that the past is somehow kept present; they demand recollection as the pain of immediate loss diminishes. And yet we – that is, we moderns – are also acutely aware of just how utterly past the past is, how historical it is, how even the worst horrors lose their sting ...

Unquiet Bodies

Thomas Laqueur: Burying the 20th Century, 6 April 2006

Retroactive Justice: Prehistory of Post-Communism 
by István Rév.
Stanford, 340 pp., £19.95, January 2005, 0 8047 3644 8
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... I should say at the outset that I know István Rév; that I have walked with him through the cemeteries of Budapest and have seen in his company some of the graves he writes about. He is a remarkable man, the product of a culture and a time in which one either drowned or saved oneself through erudition, wit, irony and an unremitting conversation with history ...

In and Out of the Panthéon

Thomas Laqueur: Funerals, politics and memory in France, 20 September 2001

Funerals, Politics and Memory in Modern France 1789-1996 
by Avner Ben-Amos.
Oxford, 425 pp., £55, October 2000, 0 19 820328 4
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Monumental Intolerance: Jean Baffier, a Nationalist Sculptor in Fin-de-Siècle France 
by Neil McWilliam.
Pennsylvania State, 326 pp., £58.95, November 2000, 0 271 01965 4
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... As Lévi-Strauss might have said, ‘the dead are good to think with.’ But the thoughts they give rise to are seldom as reassuring as one might hope. The dead, and memories of the dead, as both these books suggest, are disruptive, unruly and unpredictable. In his erudite study, Avner Ben-Amos has three cracks at analysing the way French society from the Revolution to the present has tried to come to terms with its most illustrious bodies ...

Some Damn Foolish Thing

Thomas Laqueur: Wrong Turn in Sarajevo, 5 December 2013

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 
by Christopher Clark.
Allen Lane, 697 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 0 7139 9942 6
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... Fifty years ago, Barbara Tuchman’s bestseller The Guns of August taught a generation of Americans about the origins of the First World War: the war, she wrote, was unnecessary, meaningless and stupid, begun by overwhelmed, misguided and occasionally mendacious statesmen and diplomats who stumbled into a catastrophe whose horrors they couldn’t begin to imagine – ‘home before the leaves fall,’ they thought ...

Devoted to Terror

Thomas Laqueur: How the Camps Were Run, 24 September 2015

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps 
by Nikolaus Wachsmann.
Little Brown, 865 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 316 72967 3
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... cent died within weeks. Typhus raged among the 53,000 liberated at Bergen-Belsen. My cousin Renata Laqueur, who was liberated while on a train headed perhaps to Theresienstadt, survived the louse-borne disease; her sister did not (Wachsmann quotes several times from her diary). The liberators, in short, found unspeakable human misery but in those early months ...

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