Author: Robert E. Lerner

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 978-0-691-17282-8

When one thinks of Medieval times, apart from the standard knights in shining armor and their faithful steeds, the image often tends to come to mind of a large banqueting hall lined with tables at which numerous lords and ladies of the time, in all their sumptuous finery, feast and regale themselves with tales of valor and nobility. Small wonder it is, then, that so many Medieval scholars have a fine sense of humor. Such is certainly true both of the remarkable and influential leading historian of the twentieth century, Ernst Kantorowicz, as well as of his latest and, one might say, keenest biographer, Robert E. Lerner. Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life is lovingly and painstakingly grounded in numerous interviews with Kantorowicz’s friends and acquaintances, as well as in a lively correspondence that Kantorowicz kept up with graduate students and fellow academics, which letters were, in many cases, not accessed by previous biographers. The intimacy of such first-hand knowledge has empowered Lerner to write a lively and authoritative text, which should endear Kantorowicz to many historians of the present day.

Not only do Lerner and Kantorowicz have a keen sense of wit, but they also herald from the same circles, both having come to tread the boards of Princeton University in their time, with Lerner being a former member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Kantorowicz having become a central personality at the selfsame Institute during the 1950’s. Who better, then, than the former to write a “gripping intellectual biography” (in the author’s own words) of the man who has been described as “[h]istorian, Stefan George disciple, Germanophile, and bon vivant” (Richard Wolin, Graduate Center, City University of New York).

The deep-seated sense of empathy that Lerner has for his subject shows itself in the extent of the research that he undertook for Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life, research that took several decades of intensive investigatory work, and that he has only now, as professor emeritus, finally had the time

to bring to fruition. Consequently, the book is well researched in all respects, with extensive footnotes, and a detailed index, as well as numerous black-and-white photographs. The only fault that Lerner’s critics seem yet to have found with the extremely informative study lies in his assessment of Germany’s most renowned poet and cult figure Stefan George’s character as being, comparatively speaking, beyond reproach as far as his relationship with his protégées went. However, he expertly indicates the personal bravery of Kantorowicz, both as a soldier on the battlefront in his youth and as a staunch defender of the just and the fair in his later academic career, as can be seen in his refusal to declare that he was not a member of the Communist Party, despite his defiance leading to his firing from a prestigious post at the University of California, Berkeley, at the height of the McCarthyism era.

In short, Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life is a deeply informed and profoundly considered work that should take its place proudly among the other biographies of notable figures brought out by Princeton University Press.