Count Harry Kessler (1868–1937), the son of a German banker and an Irish beauty, was a diplomat and publisher who moved easily between the worlds of art, politics, and society. He lived in Berlin, but traveled throughout Europe, always with a keen eye to the political climate of the times. Kessler’s work as a publisher of rare limited-edition art books brought him in contact with the great artists of his era. His work as a diplomat and his canny timing ensured his presence at the world-changing political events of the day. And always, in strongly wrought prose and with enormous prescience and lucidity, he recorded in his diaries the world that he witnessed.
Kessler’s diaries encompass an extraordinary variety of people: Einstein engaging him in long discussions on his theories, Josephine Baker dancing naked in a friend’s drawing room, Lloyd George at the farcical Genoa conference in 1922, and “the endless SA goose-stepping parade” in Berlin at Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933. There were dinners with Max Reinhardt, Georg Grosz, Virginia Woolf, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide, lunches with Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Erik Satie, and others encapsulated in this time frame. Fascinated by the cynical spirit of doomed Berlin, his diaries record at first hand the agonizing collapse and death of Weimar Germany and the arrival of the Nazis.