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Description - Life Unworthy of Life by James Glass

In this path-breaking work of intellectual and cultural history, James M. Glass provides a provocative new answer to the questions about the Holocaust that bedevil us to this day: How and why did so many ordinary Germans participate in the Final Solution? And how did they come to regard Jews as less than human and deserving" of extermination?Glass argues that the answers lie in the rise of a particular ethos of public health and sanitation that emerged from the German medical establishment and filtered down to the common people. Building his argument on a trove of documentary evidence, including the records of the German medical community and of other professional groups, he traces the development in the years following World War I of theories of racial hygiene that singled out the Jews as an infectious disease, and that determined them as life unworthy of life" in the words of Nazi propogandists and German scientists.Looked at from a broader perspective, Glass writes, the actions and beliefs of the German people show what today would be regarded as insane, became, for World War II German society, normal politics. Murdering millions of innocent people was not seen as a vicious criminal conspiracy, but as a therapy essential to the culture's well-being.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780465098460
ISBN-10: 0465098460
Format: Paperback
(210mm x 140mm x 19mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Basic Books
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 2-Apr-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Book Reviews - Life Unworthy of Life by James Glass

US Kirkus Review » Glass, an expert in the interplay of politics and the psychology of illusion, takes on the darkest example of that phenomenon, the Holocaust. Like Daniel Goldhagen in his controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners (1996), Glass (Government/Univ. of Maryland) eschews the conventional wisdom that the majority of Germans under Hitler were merely indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Rather, he argues fairly convincingly, Nazi Germany, including the world of medicine, was permeated by "a culture-wide phobia against touching Jewish flesh . . . [and] a firm belief in the absolute necessity of maintaining racial purity." Within German medical science, there was a shift from a paradigm based on objective use of evidence to one in which the paramount value was a desire to preserve this racial purity. This underlay a pseudoscientific discourse in which the Jews were depicted as disease carriers and, along with the Gypsies, as "life unworthy of life." Glass outlines in considerable detail the ways in which the pre-Nazi German medical profession was implicated in eugenic theories that contained a considerable body of anti-Semitic propaganda, and the post-1933 medical and scientific establishment's close and enthusiastic support of the Nazis. Glass draws effectively on previous researchers' work on the infamous T-4 euthanasia program, which extended racial purity to the extermination even of German children, and later adults, who were handicapped, and the writings of such previous students of Nazi medical "science" as Robert Jay Lifton and Gotz Aly. For much of the book, he is engaged in a spirited polemic against other theorizers of the Holocaust (particularly Lifton, Zygmunt Bauman, Hans Mommsen, and Hannah Arendt) that may leave nonspecialists feeling they have wandered into a private argument. Despite that shortcoming and an occasional loss of focus, Glass makes a compelling case, a bit more understated than Goldhagen's and more effective as a result. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - James Glass

James M. Glass is professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. The author of several other books, including Psychosis and Power, Private Terror/Public Life, and Delusion: Internal Dimensions of Political Life, Glass is well-respected for his knowledge on the interplay of politics and psychology. He lives in Silver Springs, Maryland.