Born in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century, Walter Mehring inherited both his fatherâs respect for the civilizing power of literature and his formidable library of thousands of books. Like his father, believed that books and reading were essential to progress, mutual understanding, and contentment. After having served in World War I, Mehring spent the years between the world wars as part of the exhilarating avant-garde coffeehouse culture of Europeâs capitals; he himself was a poet, cabaret lyricist, and founder of the Dadaist movement in Berlin. But with the rise of fascism, Europe became a dangerous place for free-thinking artists. Mehring never envisioned that the culture of books celebrated in his fatherâs library would be rejected by the sudden rise to prominence of the Nationalist Socialist Party. Soon, even his own books were burned by the Brownshirts and Mehring was forced to roam Europe as a literary fugitive. From a precarious exile in Vienna, he arranged for his fatherâs books to be smuggled out of Germany, but their fate would be worse than hisâwhile Mehring managed to slip out of Austria and avoid capture, his library was confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.
In The Lost Library: The Autobiography of a Culture, translated by Richard and Clara Winston and presented in paperback for the first time, Mehring takes the reader with him as he unpacks the crates of books in his mind, and in the process recalls what each book meant to him and his father. Writing with wit and insight, Mehring successfully compares the humanism of his fatherâs era with the chaos of Europe at war, using his fatherâs library as a metaphor for how the optimism of nineteenth-century progress gave way to the disorder and book-burning of the twentieth.Â
âIt is with love and not a little bitterness that the author touches on the various tomes of his fatherâs library [and through them] on the history of manâs ideas, on the magnificence of our cultural progress, . . . and on the eventual destruction of the beauty and ideals that man had been able to create. . . . Beautifully conceived and beautifully executed.ââThe Atlantic
âWhoever cares for books will love this book about books.ââNew York Times
âThe Lost Library cannot be read without profit.ââTimes Literary Supplement
About: Born in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century, Walter Mehring inherited both his fatherâs respect for the civilizing power of literature and his formidable library of thousands of books.
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