Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man
by Thomas Mann, translated from the German by Walter D. Morris, introduction by Mark Lilla
When the Great War broke out in August 1914, Thomas Mann, like so many people on both sides of the conflict, was exhilarated. Finally, the era of decadence that he had anatomized in Death in Venice had come to an end; finally, there was a cause worth fighting and even dying for, or, at least when it came to Mann himself, writing about. Mann dropped the short story he was working on in order to compose a full-throated paean to the German cause. Soon after, his elder brother and lifelong rival, the novelist Heinrich Mann, responded with a no less withering denunciation. Thomas took it as an almost unforgivable stab in the back.
The bitter dispute between the brothers would swell into the strange, tortured literary monument that is Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, a book that is as blind as it is troubled and full of curious insight. Mann worked on it and added to it throughout the war years, publishing it only when German defeat was inevitable, and these reflections are in a sense a first draft for his later explorations of German destiny in The Magic Mountain and Doktor Faustus. His effort to hold on to a notion of common good that lies beyond politics in the face of growing and inconceivable political disaster is all the more thought-provoking for being fatally flawed.
Without the impassioned patriotic document it is impossible to see Mann's artistic and political development in the right perspective.
At long last, a magnificent full translation of Mann's untimely masterpiece . . . an obviously complex and profound work.
Nationalist, patriotic, conservative, and spiritually autobiographical . . . it is a strange, enormously, clever (also foolish) and (in an alarming sense) fascinating piece, of sustained, often anguished and sometimes contorted eloquence.
—D. J. Enright, Times Literary Supplement
Reflections helps us to understand the problem that has not gone away: the dilemma of the intellectual (the writer, the artist) in politics.
—Walter Laqueur, The New York Times Book Review