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Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann (1875–1955) was born in Lübeck, Germany. His father was the heir to a wealthy merchant family; his mother’s ancestry was German, Brazilian, and Portuguese. Mann, a poor student with little patience for school, was slated to go into the family business, but his father’s early death led to its liquidation, and the family moved to Munich, where Thomas and his elder brother Heinrich both began their literary careers. Published in 1901, Thomas’s first novel, Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, became a great success, and in 1905, Mann married Katia Pringsheim, the daughter of prominent German Jewish intellectuals and a member of one of Germany’s richest families. The two had six children, among them the novelist Klaus, the historian Golo, the scholar Michael, and the journalist and political activist Erika. Mann’s second novel, Royal Highness, was followed by a number of shorter works, including, in 1912, the novella Death in Venice, which confirmed his reputation as a major contemporary writer. During World War I, Mann ardently supported the German cause, leading to a rupture with Heinrich, a vocal antinationalist. In 1918, with the war effectively lost for Germany, Mann published Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, in which he connects his defense of Germany to his dispute with his brother. In the years after the war, the brothers reconciled, while Thomas’s political leanings gradually shifted left. In 1924, Mann published The Magic Mountain; five years later, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Upon Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, he fled to Switzerland. The outbreak of World War II took him to California, where he gave broadcasts in opposition to the Nazis and completed his last major works, the tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers and the novel Doctor Faustus. Mann left the United States in 1952 and spent his last years in Switzerland, where he is buried.