cover image Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity

Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity

Robert Beachey. Knopf, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-307-27210-2

History professor Beachy’s purpose, “to historicize the invention of the homosexual and place this sexual identity firmly within the German milieu in which it appeared,” is achieved in this erudite work that traces the emergence of gay identity and sexual orientation to German—specifically Berlin—culture at the turn of the 20th century. Beachy relates the contributions of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, “arguably the first man in modern history to acknowledge openly his sexual attraction to other men”; Richard von Kraft-Ebbing, a leading sexologist in the late 19th century; and Karl Kertbeny, who is credited with coining the neologism Homosexualität (homosexuality) in the mid-19th century. Particular attention is paid to the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, whose “true genius” was “combining almost seamlessly his science and activism.” Beachy also covers the activities of Berlin- based organizations such as the Scientific- Humanitarian Committee, the world’s first homosexual rights organization. This lucidly written narrative includes enough spice (accounts of scandals, secret identities, and crimes) to draw in a general readership. However, Beachy’s deeply researched, carefully structured book is foremost an impressive piece of scholarship. (Nov.)