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Bertolt Brecht

A playwright, poet, and activist, Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) was known for his theory of the epic theater and his attempts to break down the division between high art and popular culture. He was also a committed Marxist who lived through two world wars and a global depression. Looking at Brecht’s life and works through his plays, stories, poems, and political essays, Philip Glahn illustrates how they trace a lifelong attempt to relate to the specific social, economic, and political circumstances of the early twentieth century.
Glahn reveals how Brecht upended the language and gestures of philosophers, beggars, bureaucrats, thieves, priests, and workers, using them as weapons in his work. Following Brecht through the Weimar Republic, Nazism, exile, and East German Socialism, Glahn argues that the writer’s own life became a production of history that illuminates an ongoing crisis of modern experience shaped by capitalism, nationalism, and visions of social utopia. Sharp, accessible, and full of pleasures, this concise biography will interest anyone who wishes to know about this pivotal modern dramatist.

240 pages | 30 halftones | 5 x 7 7/8 | © 2014

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters

Literature and Literary Criticism: Germanic Languages

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“Everything Brecht wrote—plays, dialogues, and poetry—was his attempt to clarify the inner contradictions not only of the capitalism and fascism of his times, but also of the communism that was always disappointing his deepest hopes. In a book that makes Brecht’s struggle to reveal these hidden contradictions its central theme, Glahn issues, by implication, a call to arms to today’s artists—who are faced with a world that seems to defy attempts to treat the global crisis with an art that is rarely more than notes on ‘local’ angst.”

Richard Foreman | BOMB

“Though Bertolt Brecht is classified as a biography, such a label obscures, in part, all of what Glahn has accomplished with it. More than just an exposition on events of Brecht’s life, the book is also a subtle, discerning intertwining of biographical moments, erudite commentary on Brecht’s artistic expressions, and elucidation of and engagement with Brecht’s philosophical concerns. . . . This is one of the best entry points into Brecht, biographically, historically, thematically and artistically. Glahn has demonstrated a singular ability to capture the essential elements of what Benjamin called the ‘complex phenomenon’ which is Brecht, in all his intricacies, in a penetrating and pithy fashion. It is a fantastic incursion into Brecht as a man, Brecht as a social and aesthetic thinker and Brecht as a revolutionary.” 

Anthony Squiers | Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

Table of Contents


1. Poet of Crisis, 1898-1923

2. ‘Mehr guten Sport’: Brecht in Berlin, 1924-8

3. Work, Class, and the Struggle with Marxism, 1929-33

4. Early Exile: ‘Singing about Dark Times’, 1933-41

5. U.S. Exile: The Dialectics of Alienation and ‘Culinary’ Art, 1941-7

6. Realpolitik: Theatre of Socialism, 1947-56


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