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Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man

Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man


By Thomas Mann
Translated from the German by Walter D. Morris
Introduction by Mark Lilla

"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

"At long last, a magnificent full translation of Mann’s untimely masterpiece . . . an obviously complex and profound work."—Choice

"Without the impassioned patriotic document it is impossible to see Mann’s artistic and political development in the right perspective."—Erich Heller

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 immediately picked up his pen to compose a paean to the German cause. Soon after, his elder brother and lifelong rival, the novelist Heinrich Mann, responded with a no less determined denunciation. Thomas took it as an unforgivable stab in the back.

The bitter dispute between the brothers would swell into the strange, tortured, brilliant, sometimes perverse literary performance that is Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, a book that Mann worked on and added to throughout the war and that bears an intimate relation to his postwar masterpiece The Magic Mountain. Wild and ungainly though Mann’s reflections can be, they nonetheless constitute, as Mark Lilla demonstrates in a new introduction, a key meditation on the freedom of the artist and the distance between literature and politics.

The NYRB Classics edition includes two additional essays by Mann: “Thoughts in Wartime” (1914), translated by Mark Lilla and Cosima Mattner; and “On the German Republic” (1922), translated by Lawrence Rainey.

592 pages
NYRB, 2021
Originally Published in 1918
5 x 8 inches
ISBN 9781681375311
Essays, Criticism

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