Odyssey of a Barbarian

Odyssey of a Barbarian: The Biography of George Sylvester Viereck by Elmer Gertz, from Prometheus Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Elmer Gertz Odyssey of a Barbarian from Prometheus Books

“It is time that a new look is taken at George Sylvester Viereck,once a most famous figure in the literary, journalistic, and political life of America, and now under a cloud. Viereck was a friend of the giants of the twentieth century, such as Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Nikola Tesla, Frank Harris, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Colonel Edward M. House. He was the only spokesman for the last German Emperor and a Hohenzollern himself through his controversial father, the illegitimate son of a famed Berlin actress and a scion of the royal house. Viereck’s father became a Socialist member of the German Reichtag. As a mere boy, George Sylvester Viereck, an emigre from his native Germany, wrote poetry that was acclaimed as showing the genius of a young Goethe. He edited several controversial magazines, including The Fatherland during the first World War when it was a miracle that he escaped prison or lynching. He was the coauthor of a series of highly original novels about the Wandering Jew, commencing with My First 2000 Years. He was the first popularizer of psychoanalysis, with the blessing of its father, Freud. He was imprisoned for five years during the second World War, because of technical defects in his registration as a foreign agent. In prison he wrote some of his most moving poetry, here reproduced. He is the father of Peter Viereck, the Pulitzer Prize poet, who encouraged Gertz in the writing of this book.

This lively definitive life of Viereck is written by Elmer Gertz, himself a man of considerable parts. As a lawyer, he got the thrill killer Nathan Leopold paroled from prison, a result of which the vulnerable Viereck was surprisingly skeptical. Gertz helped get the death sentences of Jack Ruby, Paul Crump and William Witherspoon set aside. He was the successful plaintiff in a landmark libel case involving the John Birch Society, in which the U.S. Supreme Court revolutionized the law of libel.

His first book, published in 1931, was a still esteemed life of Frank Harris. His latest book, recently published, is Henry Miller: Years of Trial and Triumph, the correspondence of himself and Miller, whom he represented in the famous Tropic of Cancer litigation.

Viereck and Gertz were close friends for many years, despite their strong differences, often almost violently expressed. They exchanged hundreds of fascinating letters, many of which are woven into this delightful study. The book deals objectively with Viereck, a feat impossible for most students of the much hated man. It will excite even those who have never heard of Viereck.” — back cover