Max Weber: A Biography
April 2011, Polity
The tremendous influence exerted by Max Weber was due not only to the power of his ideas but also to the fact that behind his theories one perceived a man with a marked character and a tragic destiny. However, for nearly 80 years, our understanding of the life of Max Weber was dominated by the biography published in 1926 by his widow, Marianne Weber. The lack of a great Weber biography was one of the strangest and most glaring gaps in the literature of the social sciences. For various reasons the task was difficult; time and again, attempts to write a new biography of Max Weber ended in failure.
When Joachim Radkau’s biography appeared in Germany in 2005 it caused a sensation. Based on an abundance of previously unknown sources and richly embedded in the German history of the time, this is the first fully comprehensive biography of Max Weber ever to appear. Radkau brings out, in a way that no one has ever done before, the intimate interrelations between Weber’s thought and his life experience. He presents detailed revelations about the great enigmas of Weber’s life: his suffering and erotic experiences, his fears and his desires, his creative power and his methods of work as well as his religious experience and his relation to nature and to death. By understanding the great drama of his life, we discover a new Max Weber, until now unknown in many respects, and, at the same time, we gain a new appreciation of his work.
Joachim Radkau, born in 1943, is Professor of Modern History at the Bielefeld University, Germany. His interest in Max Weber dates back nearly forty years when he worked together with the German-American historian George W. F. Hallgarten (Washington), a refugee who left Germany in 1933 and who, as a student, listened to Weber’s last lecture in summer 1920. Radkau’s main works include Die deutsche Emigration in den USA (1971); Deutsche Industrie und Politik (together with G. W. F. Hallgarten, 1974), Aufstieg und Krise der deutschen Atomwirtschaft (1983), Technik in Deutschland (1989), Das Zeitalter der Nervosität (1998), Natur und Macht: Eine Weltgeschichte der Umwelt (2000).
Joachim Radkau, born in 1943, is Professor of Modern History at the Bielefeld University, Germany. He has published numerous books on social history, cultural history and the history of technology, including Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment.
- This is the first major biography of Max Weber to appear in more than 80 years.
- Radkau was able to make use of previously unavailable source material, including the extensive correspondence of Max Weber and that of his wife, Marianne Weber.
- Drawing on this new source material, Radkau is able to paint a picture of Max Weber the man, and of his tortured personal and private life, which had previously been completely hidden from view.
- This book has been a huge success in Germany, where it was on the bestseller list. It will quickly establish itself as the most thorough and authoritative account of the life of Max Weber – probably the most important and influential figure in the history of the social sciences.
The Journal of The Review of Politics
"No serious sociologist can be without a copy of this heavy tome. Artfully translated by Patrick Camiller, the study is hypnotic reading, beautifully written, lively, stimulating, and wonderfully well organized. No review could do justice to the plethora of new insights into Weber that emerge in this study, which will keep specialists happy in controversy for years to come."
Canadian Journal of Sociology
"Radkau has provided a comprehensive, authoritative, balanced and nuanced view of the man we have come to know as the conflicted, driven, enigmatic genius of 10th-century modernity."
"This absorbing and meticulously researched biography ... recounts a complex, moving story."
Book of the week in the Times Higher Education
"Radkau's exceptional book brings out the relations between Weber's thought and his life experience. There are sensational revelations about Weber's suffering and eroticism, his fears and desires, and his great creative power."
Lancashire Evening Post
"The reader is in for an exciting time, but also an agreeable one, since Radkau has an easy, relaxed style, and has been fluently and serviceably translated."
Times Literary Supplement
"Radkau's biography takes great advantage of the archive documentation and of the family correspondence made available by Guenther Roth's enormous 2001 effort."
The Philosophers' Magazine
"Joachim Radkau is the first biographer to bring the great social thinker Max Weber to life. He reveals what others tried to conceal: the emotional turmoil suffered by the champion of rationality."
"In this remarkable and engaging study, Joachim Radkau investigates the life, loves, and intellectual passions of one of the early twentieth century’s most engaging thinkers. Capturing both the tumultuous times and the singular accomplishments of Max Weber, the author has written a spirited and penetrating account of the creative life that is perhaps unrivaled in its provocative originality. Based on impeccable documentation, the result is a striking portrait of the eros of the intellect, of scientific work in relation to personality. Radkau's impressive achievement is certain to provoke a passionate response of its own."
Lawrence A. Scaff, Wayne State University
"A minor social-scientific scoop ... By any standards, this is an important work."
Peter Thomas, New Left Review
"Despite the immense Weber industry, until now we had no biographical account of this quality."
Hans Joas, Merkur
"An amazing, breath-taking book."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
"A brilliant achievement."
"I read every sentence of Radkau’s Weber ... A must-read."
Michael Greven, Neue Politische Literatur