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Ludwig (Cohn) Emil


LUDWIG (Cohn), EMIL (1881–1948), German biographer and author. The son of Hermann *Cohn, a famous ophthalmologist, Ludwig was born in Breslau. After 1907 he spent most of his life in Switzerland. He began his literary career as a playwright and novelist, but became internationally popular through his colorful biographies, which were translated into many languages. His vast output included Goethe (3 vols., 1920), Napoleon (1925), Bismarck (1921), Wilhelm ii (1926), Lincoln (1930), Michelangelo (1930), Hindenburg (1935), Cleopatra (1937), Roosevelt (1938), Simon Bolivar (1939), and Stalin (1945). He also wrote shorter essays on Rembrandt, Beethoven, and Balzac, and character studies of three eminent German Jews, Sigmund *Freud, Ferdinand *Lassalle, and Walther *Rathenau. Like Lytton Strachey in England, Stefan Zweig in Germany, and André Maurois in France, Ludwig regarded a biography as a work of art. He did not pretend to compete with the scholars on whose research he based his presentation of historical figures and his personal views often cast doubt on the objective truth of his writing. Nevertheless, he always showed keen insight into the personalities of his subjects and into the historical and social conditions in which they lived, and his work was distinguished by a dynamic literary style. Among Ludwig's other books were one on Jesus, Der Menschensohn (1928), Drei Diktatoren (1939), and a study of the abdication of King Edward viii (1939). He also wrote some geographical books, including Der Nil (1935, The Nile, 1936), and Am Mittelmeer (1923, On Mediterranean Shores, 1929). Ludwig was baptized in 1902, but 20 years later, after the assassination of Walter Rathenau, he publicly renounced Christianity. During his American exile he became one of the most decided enemies of the Third Reich, publishing several critical works, such as How to Treat the Germans (1943) and The Moral Conquest of Germany (1945).


N. Hansen, Der Fall Emil Ludwig (1930). add. bibliography: C. Gradmann, Historische Belletristik. Populäre historische Biographienin der Weimarer Republik (1993); H.J. Perrey, "Der Fall Emil Ludwig. Ein Bericht über eine historiographische Kontroverse der ausgehenden Weimarer Republik," in: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 43 (1992), 169–81; S. Ullrich, "Im Dienste der Weimarer Republik. Emil Ludwig als Historiker und Publizist," in: Zeitschrift fuer Geschichtswissenschaft, 49 (2001), 119–40.

[Sol Liptzin]

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