Can great books help us become happier and better people? Over the past 15 years, the writer Alain de Botton has sought to show how Proust, Montaigne and Seneca, among others, can change your life. He has been widely mocked for his efforts, but in the lead books essay in the new issue of Prospect, the novelist John Banville defends de Botton’s project. Reviewing a new series of books—Life Lessons from great thinkers: Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, Byron, Kierkegaard and Hobbes—Banville argues that “every time we read a halfway serious book we are, whether we acknowledge it or not, helping ourselves to the fruits of the author’s hard work, his thoughts and discoveries, and in the process adding to our store of wisdom, making a small adjustment to our life’s course.” It is time, says Banville, to give bibliotherapy its due.
Richard J Evans, in his review of Frederick Taylor’s The Downfall of Money: Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class, takes on the received wisdom about the collapse of German democracy in the interwar period. Historians have commonly argued that the hyperinflation experienced by the Weimar Republic in 1923 was partly responsible for Hitler’s rise to power. According to this view, the Nazis were able to appeal to the German middle classes by promising to rescue them from years of financial chaos and poverty. Not so, argues Evans: