Book excerpt

The Pity of It All

A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933

Amos Elon

Picador

From The Pity of It All:

Barely twenty-four years old, Heinrich Heine arrived in Berlin in the summer of 1821 to study law at the university and attend Hegel's seminar on aesthetics. Slight, pale, with dreamy blue eyes and long, wavy blond hair, he was an enormously gifted writer, widely known for the lyricism of his poetry and the scathing wit of his prose. No other author has ever been so German and so Jewish or so ambivalent and ironic about being both; Heine would leave an indelible mark on German culture. During these university days, he wore velvet jackets, dandyish Byronic collars, and a fashionable wide-rimmed felt hat known as a Bolivar. Older by two or three years than most of his peers, he was allergic to the alcohol, nicotine, and "patriotic" politics they indulged in so boisterously. His distaste for alcohol persisted; he is said to have claimed that the Jewish contribution to the new German patriotism was "the small glass" of beer.
Amos Elon is the author of eight widely praised books including Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild, and the New York Times bestseller Israelis: Founders and Sons. He was a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books. He passed away in 2009.