Ernst Kantorowicz, son of a wealthy German Jewish liqueur manufacturing family, aesthete, intellectual, confirmed bachelor, active bisexual, and groundbreaking medievalist, is a contentious figure, even within Robert E. Lerner’s Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life. Ambitious, self-confident, and privileged, Kantorowicz often presents like the definition of entitlement, but he twice put his coveted status on the line by publicly lecturing against the Nazis as a professor in Germany and again by refusing to sign the University of California’s loyalty oath during McCarthyism. Lerner’s chronological approach to Kantorowicz’s life illustrates his movement from the far right of German politics to the left of US politics while also developing the man behind the famous—and notoriously divergent—scholarly works Kaiser Friedrich der Zweite and The King’s Two Bodies.
In his youth, Kantorowicz was a German nationalist and part of the George Circle, young men devoted to poet prophet Stefan George, whose works inspired the Nazi Party. Even later in life, he gravitated toward elitism. Lerner delves into Kantorowicz’s ambiguities, assembling a picture of the man that includes both truncated explanations of his major works and vivid anecdotes of his life as excerpted from interviews and letters. Lerner doesn’t shy away from depicting or commenting on Kantorowicz’s many flaws; neither does Lerner manufacture excuses for him. Rather, Lerner’s accessible, conversational tone and deft use of quotation bring Kantorowicz to life, showing the man behind the scholar and the development of a brilliant mind over a lifetime. Throughout, Kantorowicz’s voice is sharply present. Lerner admits that, posthumously, motivations are impossible to discern, but his discernment is a gift in this unflinching treatment of Kantorowicz’s legacy.
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