BERLIN is a city of fragments and ghosts, a laboratory of ideas, the fount of both the brightest and darkest designs of history's most bloody century. The once arrogant capital of Europe was devastated by Allied bombs, divided by a Wall, then reunited and reborn as one of the creative centres of the world. Today it resonates with the echo of lives lived, dreams realized and evils executed. No other city has repeatedly been so powerful, and fallen so low; few other cities have been so shaped and defined by individual imaginations.
Rory MacLean assembles a dazzlingly eclectic cast of Berliners over five centuries, from the wild medieval balladeer to the ambitious prostitute who refashioned herself as a royal princess, from the Scottish mercenary who fought for the Prussian Army to the fearful Communist Party functionary who helped to build the Wall. Alongside them we encounter Marlene Dietrich flaunting her sexuality in The Blue Angel, Goebbels concocting Nazi iconography, Hitler fantasising about the mega-city Germania and David Bowie recording 'Heroes'.
Through these vivid portraits, Rory MacLean masterfully evokes the seen and the unseen, in a richly varied, unexpected tour of Berlin's history. The result is a unique biography of one of the world's most volatile and creative cities.
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(a) wonderful book (THOMAS BRUSSIG FINANCIAL TIMES)
Berlin vies with London, currently, as the coolest city on the planet. MacLean's wonderfully knowledgable overview of the city's history helps explain the place's enduring fascination. (WILLIAM BOYD THE GUARDIAN)
"Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries" is an extraordinary work of history. To call it history is, in fact, reductive. There's some historical analysis, quite a lot of fiction, some philosophizing, lashings of wit and a fair dose of invective. It's a work of imagination, reflection, reverence, perplexity and criticism that reveals as much about the author's precocious mind as it does about the city he adores. The book's most profound feature, however, is its beautiful writing - phrases of transcendent rhythm force the reader to reverse and read again. Never mind that the logic is occasionally shaky and the facts sometimes slip, the prose is perfect. MacLean calls Berlin "the capital of reinvention." This explains why his biography of the city is not about the place per se, but about those who shaped it or were shaped by it: Berlin as a canvas on which people paint their dreams. (Gerard De Groot THE WASHINGTON POST, Book of the Year)
This grandly ambitious work has a noble intention: to re-create through art and imagination the whole historic presence of a great capital, from its beginnings to its present day...Maclean's book is a wonderful achievement, not justly to be summarised in the few hundred words of a review. but hauntingly representing, as in a tangled dream, 600 years of history. (Jan Morris THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
A brilliant new history of Berlin...What makes MacLean's history of Berlin stand out is that this is an intensely human document, a rich tapestry spanning five centuries and woven together through intimate portraits of 21 if its former inhabitants which collectively reveal the narrative of the city....This is how I love history to be told, through the people who live it...a fascinating book. ( THE OBSERVER)
The best history is biography: the story of the people who shaped and destroyed, entertained, beautified and murdered. Rory MacLean imagines Berlin through its inhabitants. ( THE TIMES)
Rory MacLean offers an entirely beguiling and original portrait of Berlin. His is a highly unusual history told in a variety of forms by 'vital anonymous players in history's grand drama' alongside some of the major thinkers, dreamers, artists, warmongers and idealists who have shaped this eternally enthralling metropolis....a perfect companion for those about to discover, or attempting to make sense of, their own Berlin. ( THE INDEPENDENT)
Rory MacLean's Berlin: Imagine a History is intelligent, entertaining and ambitious...MacLean has written a great book about Berliners. ( NEW STATESMAN)
MacLean's original and well-researched vignettes makes up a mosaic and kaleidoscope. MacLean is a highly visual writer, and his dialogue is crisp and believable. Rory MacLean deserves to win all the prizes going. (Robert Carver THE TABLET)
[MacLean] writes with the lyricism of Bruce Chatwin and the traveller's eye of Marco Polo. He engages with his readers as if he is talking to an intelligent friend. Read this book if you already know Berlin, or will do one day. ( THE OLDIE)
The strength of MacClean's book is that he reveals how Berlin has served all of us as a multi-faceted prism, of time, of history, or artistic enterprise. The author is a non-academic historian wearing his knowledge lightly, sharing his experiences deftly.... He is a journalist too, and his style is concise, pithy, anecdotal. The book is more a collage than it is a chronology, and is stronger for it. (Chris Moss NEW WELSH REVIEW, Winter 2014)
I loved it. It is such a beautiful way of understanding history, its stories are so vivaciously told, it is so heartfelt, so intelligent, and so talkative a book. So many of the characters do end up talking to each other, and the author is eavesdropping. It paints the past and the present, portrays Berlin as a portrait of someone you love. It is beautiful. ( Jay Griffiths)
Berlin takes the form of 23 portraits of individuals...the text sings. A compelling piece about the industrialist and Weimar foreign minister Walter Rathenau is full of auguries of the nightmares of the 30s and 40s. ( The Guardian)
An atmospheric view of Berlin as seen through its people. ( LONELY PLANET TRAVELLER MAGAZINE)
This ambitious work hauntingly uncovers 600 years of Berlin's history... MacLean shows how the city.. embodies "an essence of perpetual reinvention", propelled by inhabitants from Frederick the Great to Goebbels, Bach to Bowie. ( Daily Telegraph)
A wonderful impressionistic portrait of this beguiling city. ( CHOICE)
Berlin takes the form of 23 portraits of individuals...the text sings. A compelling piece about the industrialist and Weimar foreign minister Walter Rathenau is full of auguries of the nightmares of the 30s and 40s. ( THE GUARDIAN)
The intimate biography of one of the world's great cities - from medieval times to the twenty-first century
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