To: Charlton Price
Date: 9 November 2005
Thanks for alerting me to this obit. Otherwise I would have missed it,
as it was in back of the business section of the Times. I’ve now clipped
it. My son printed out your email, but for some reason the print was so
small that I can barely read it.
He was also one of my favorite profs at Princeton. I too took his course
in modern European history, and I wondered why I was majoring in English
rather than history. I recall, as I’m sure you do, that one of the
fascinating things about his superb lectures was that he smoked
throughout and we were all focused on whether he would allow the
cigarette to burn down so far as to smite the fingers in which he held
it, or whether he would extinguish it in time. This distracted somewhat
from my note-taking. A prof smoking while lecturing! Imagine how
politically incorrect that would be today.
In 1965-66 I had a sabbatical year at Stanford, allegedly studying
economics to improve my Foreign Service capabilities, won in a
competition, and I was allowed to take any courses I wanted, since it
was not a degree program. In the first days I was delighted to learn
that Craig was now at Stanford (along with Raubitshek of philosophy) and
I signed up to take his course in German history. I went by his office
and found that he had office hours from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursdays. So the
next Thursday I showed up and he greeted me warmly (I had been in his
precept at Princeton, and I had tried with his encouragement for a
Rhodes Scholarship--though I failed at that). I asked him why he had
left Princeton for Stanford. He asked if I had noted how many hours he
had to be in his office every week. He said he also had few advisees to
advise—mostly a few graduate students. And no precepts. In fact no
classes—the classes were taught by graduate student assistants. All he
had to do for his course was lecture twice a week. In sum his work load
as a teacher had been cut to bare bones, and he could devote himself to
scholarship and writing. He didn’t mention that he had probably doubled
his salary. Now I understood what a demanding job a professorship was at
Princeton, and how much we undergraduates benefited from that. My class
was indeed taught by a graduate student more than ten years younger than
me. I had studied in a German School in grades 2 through 4 in Greece as
a kid, knew German and a good deal of German history. I kept quiet, but
the graduate student told me at one point that I should be teaching the
class instead of him.
Craig was most gracious to my wife and me and had us over for a private
dinner several times (he admitted he missed Princeton), but after that
year I lost touch with him. But I read his principal books that year,
and remember them as superb.
I am struck by the fact that at 91 he was only 15 years older than I am.
He has left a wonderful legacy with is books on Germany. I hope they are
still being used in courses on that subject. One time, instead of
lecturing, he had the students in his course watch the film, “The
Triumph of the Will.” It told us more about the Hitler period than any
five lectures. Craig must have had a strong body. All those cigarettes,
and he lived to be 91!
From: Robert V. Keeley
Date: Wed, 09 Nov 2005 21:49:44 -0500
Subject: Gordon Craig Obituary--NYTimes 11-9-05
Gordon A. Craig, Historian Who Was an Expert on Germany, Dies at 91
By WOLFGANG SAXON
*Gordon A. Craig, a leading interpreter of modern Germany to the
English-speaking world, died on Oct. 30 in Portola Valley, Calif. He was
The cause was heart failure, according to Stanford University, where he
taught from 1961 until retiring in 1979.
Professor Craig reached a wide audience as one of the most distinguished
political and cultural observers of Germany in the United States and
beyond. He was noted for his sympathetic approach, leavening criticism
with deeper understanding of a country that he encountered at its worst,
visiting as a young man in the 1930's.
After retiring from teaching, he continued to write influential books
and regular commentary on the European scene in The New York Review of
He emerged as an authority with the publication in 1955 of his classic
text, "The Politics of the Prussian Army, 1640-1945" (Clarendon).
Telford Taylor, reviewing the volume for The New York Times, described
it as "a powerful study of the role of the German officers' corps in
shaping the foreign and domestic policies of the Prussian Kingdom and,
after 1871, of the German Reich."
Professor Craig covered the roots of Germany's emergence as the fulcrum
of 20th-century Europe in books including "From Bismarck to Adenauer:
Aspects of German Statecraft" (Harper; rev. ed., 1965); "The Battle of
Königgrätz: Prussia's Victory Over Austria , 1866" (Lippincott, 1964),
and "Military Policy and National Security" (Praeger, 1966).
His most important summary of his epic subject came in two comprehensive
studies: "Germany, 1866-1945" (Oxford University Press, 1978), ending
with the country's surrender in ruin, and "The Germans" (Putnam, 1982),
a broad cultural survey.
Writing in The Times Book Review, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called
"Germany" a "work of great erudition, packed with detail, and of a wide
range, dealing with all aspects of government and social life." It
presented the period under review as a distinct and violent chapter of
German history that pointed up the "ramshackle construction" of
Bismarck's Second Reich.
Also in the Book Review, another noted historian of Germany, Fritz Stern
of Columbia, called the "The Germans" an "elegant and enticing work."
Its separate chapters, he wrote, dwell on "some of the often neglected
fundamental facets of German life and culture" as the author "searches
for the deeper sources of German conduct."
The book reminded the reviewer, Professor Stern wrote, "that for two
centuries or more, Germans have had a difficult time defining their
relations to the West," a condition that changed only after the "total
defeat and degradation" of 1945.
"It is impossible," Professor Stern wrote, "to convey fully the richness
of the book."
Born in Glasgow, Gordon Alexander Craig came to the United States in
1927 and graduated in 1936 from Princeton, where he also received his
M.A. in 1939 and Ph.D. in history two years later.
He spent a year at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar in the late 1930's,
started his academic year at Princeton as an instructor in 1941 and rose
to professor of history in 1950.
After joining the Stanford faculty, he also held a visiting
professorship at the Free University of Berlin in the 1960's. He had
been a thorough reader of German literature since his student days to
deepen his understanding of the country, considering novelists to be
material witnesses to their time and surroundings.
That notion was reflected in "Theodor Fontane: Literature and History in
the Bismarck Reich" (Oxford, 1999). He also wrote "The Politics of the
Unpolitical: German Writers and the Problem of Power, 1770-1871"
(Oxford, 1995) and a compilation of magazine articles, "Politics and
Culture in Modern Germany: Essays From the New York Review of Books"
He was a co-editor of an important historical text in two volumes, "The
Diplomats, 1919-1939" and "The Diplomats, 1939-1979," published by
Princeton University Press in 1953 and 1994, and a co-editor of "Makers
of Modern Strategy, From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age" (Princeton, 1986).
In World War II, as an analyst for the Office of Strategic Services,
Professor Craig had written a pamphlet for the military, "Know Your
Enemy." The tenor of his writings after that was that of an
understanding critic devoid of hostility, and he gained wide popularity
and an appreciative readership in Germany.
As a historian he had a clear, informative style and a sharp analytical
sense. His dissection of the Prussian Army's political aspects refuted
the pretense that the army was a purely apolitical institution. At the
same time, he disputed the argument that militarism and a penchant for
authoritarian government were bred into the German national character.
At Stanford he was regarded as a mainstay of its history department,
having been recruited with a group of established historians and other
scholars to lift the national standing of the university. He was
chairman of the department from 1972 to 1975 and again from 1978 to 1979
and strengthened both its undergraduate and graduate teaching.
Dr. Craig is survived by his wife of 66 years, Phyllis Halcomb Craig;
three daughters, Deborah Preston of Los Altos Hills, Calif., Susan Craig
of Pasadena, Calif., and Martha Craig of Peoria, Ill; a son, Charles, of
South Pasadena, Calif.; a sister, Jean Clarke of Ontario; eight
grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.