Peter Gay

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Peter Gay
Gay in 2007
Gay in 2007
BornPeter Joachim Fröhlich
(1923-06-20)June 20, 1923
Berlin, Germany
DiedMay 12, 2015(2015-05-12) (aged 91)
New York, New York, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Denver (BA)
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
Notable awardsHeineken Prizes
Award for Scholarly Distinction
(m. 1959; died 2006)

Peter Joachim Gay ( Fröhlich; June 20, 1923 – May 12, 2015) was a German-American historian, educator, and author. He was a Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and former director of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers (1997–2003). He received the American Historical Association's (AHA) Award for Scholarly Distinction in 2004. He authored over 25 books, including The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, a two-volume award winner; Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (1968), a bestseller; and the widely translated Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988).[1]

Gay was born in Berlin in 1923 and emigrated, via Cuba, to the United States in 1941.[2] From 1948 to 1955 he was a political science professor at Columbia University, and then a history professor from 1955 to 1969. He left Columbia in 1969 to join Yale University's History Department as Professor of Comparative and Intellectual European History and was named Sterling Professor of History in 1984.[3]

Gay was the interim editor of The American Scholar after the death of Hiram Haydn in 1973 and served on that magazine's editorial board for many years.[4] Sander L. Gilman, a literary historian at Emory University, called Gay "one of the major American historians of European thought, period".[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Born Peter Joachim Fröhlich to a Jewish family in Berlin,[5] he was educated as a child at Berlin's Goethe-Gymnasium. He and his family fled Nazi Germany in 1939, when he was 15 years old.[6] Their original ticket was on the MS St. Louis, whose passengers were eventually turned away and forced to return to Europe, but they fortuitously changed their booking to the SS Iberia, which left two weeks earlier.[7] Gay arrived in the United States in 1941, took American citizenship in 1946, and changed his name from Fröhlich (German for "happy") to Gay (an English calque).

Gay was educated at the University of Denver, where he received his B.A. in 1946, and at Columbia University, where he received his M.A. in 1947 and his Ph.D. in 1951. Gay taught political science at Columbia between 1948–1955 and history from 1955 to 1969. He taught at Yale University from 1969 until his retirement in 1993.



According to the American Historical Association's Award Citation, Gay's range of "scholarly achievements is truly remarkable". The New York Times described him in 2007 as "the country's pre-eminent cultural historian".[8]

Gay's 1959 book, Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist, examined Voltaire as a politician and how his politics influenced the ideas that Voltaire championed in his writings.[9] Accompanying Voltaire's Politics was Gay's collection of essays, The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment (1964). Gay followed the success of Voltaire's Politics with a wider history of the Enlightenment, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966, 1969, 1973), whose first volume won the 1967 U.S. National Book Award in History and Biography.[10] Annelien de Dijn argues that Gay, in The Enlightenment, first formulated the interpretation that the Enlightenment brought political modernization to the West, in terms of introducing democratic values and institutions and the creation of modern, liberal democracies. While the thesis has many critics, it has been widely accepted by Anglophone scholars and has been reinforced by the large-scale studies by Robert Darnton, Roy Porter, and most recently by Jonathan Israel.[11] His 1968 book, Weimar Culture, was a study on the cultural history of the Weimar Republic.[12][13]

Gay was also a champion of psychohistory and an admirer of Sigmund Freud.[14][15] Starting in 1978 with Freud, Jews and Other Germans, an examination of the impact of Freudian ideas on German culture, his writing demonstrated an increasing interest in psychology.[16] Many of his works focused on the social impact of psychoanalysis. For example, in A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis, he linked Freud's atheism to his development of psychoanalysis as a field.[17] He wrote history books applying Freud's theories to history, such as The Bourgeois Experience: From Victoria to Freud. He also edited a collection of Freud's writings called The Freud Reader.[16] His writing was generally favorable, though occasionally critical, toward Freud's school of thought.[14][15]

Gay's 2007 book Modernism: The Lure of Heresy explores the modernist movement in the arts from the 1840s to the 1960s, from its beginnings in Paris to its spread to Berlin and New York City, ending with its death in the pop art of the 1960s.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Gay married Ruth Slotkin (1922-2006) in 1959 and had three stepdaughters.[citation needed]


Gay died at his home in Manhattan on May 12, 2015, at the age of 91.[3]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Gay received numerous awards for his scholarship, including the National Book Award in History and Biography for The Rise of Modern Paganism (1967), the first volume of The Enlightenment;[10] the first Amsterdam Prize for Historical Science from The Hague, 1990; and the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1992. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1967–68 and 1978–79; a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany; and an Overseas Fellow of Churchill College University from 1970 to 1971. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1987.[18]

In 1988, he was honored by The New York Public Library as a Library Lion. The following year, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Professor Gay held an ACLS Fellowship in 1959–60.[19] He has also been recognized with several honorary doctorates.[citation needed]



  • The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx, 1952.[27]
  • Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist, 1959.[28]
  • The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment, 1964.[29]
  • The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism, 1966 — winner of the National Book Award.[10] Reissued 1995.
  • The Loss of Mastery: Puritan Historians in Colonial America, 1966.[30]
  • Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider, 1968.[31]
  • The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Science of Freedom, 1969. Reissued 1995.
  • The Bridge of Criticism: Dialogues on the Enlightenment, 1970.[32]
  • Modern Europe to 1815, co-written with Robert Kiefer Webb, 1973.[33]
  • Style in History, 1974.[34]
  • Art and Act: On Causes in History: Manet, Gropius, Mondrian, 1976.[35]
  • Freud, Jews and Other Germans: Masters and Victims in Modernist Culture, 1978.[36]
  • The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, 5 vols., 1984–1998:[37]
    • The Education of the Senses (1984)
    • The Tender Passion (1986)
    • The Cultivation of Hatred (1993)
    • The Naked Heart (1995)
    • Pleasure Wars (1998)
  • Freud for Historians, 1985.[38]
  • A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis, 1987.[39]
  • Freud: A Life for Our Time, 1988 — finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.[40]
  • Reading Freud: Explorations & Entertainments, 1990.[41]
  • Sigmund Freud and Art: His Personal Collection of Antiquities, 1993.[42]
  • My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin, 1998 (autobiography).[43]
  • Mozart, 1999.[44]
  • Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture 1815–1914, 2002.[45]
  • Savage Reprisals: Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Buddenbrooks, 2002.[46]
  • Modernism: The Lure of Heresy: from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond, 2007.[47]
  • Why the Romantics Matter, 2015.


  • Deism: An Anthology, 1968.[48]
  • The Enlightenment; A Comprehensive Anthology, 1973.[49]
  • Historians at Work – 4 vols., 1972–1975.[50]
  • The Freud Reader, 1989.[51]


  • "Rhetoric and Politics in the French Revolution," The American Historical Review Vol. 66, No. 3, April 1961
  • "An Age of Crisis: A Critical View," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 33, No. 2, June 1961


  1. ^ "Peter Gay". Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  2. ^ Andreas W. Daum, ‘’Refugees from Nazi Germany as Historians: Origins and Migrations, Interests and Identities,” in Daum, ed., The Second Generation: Émigrés from Nazi Germany as Historians. With a Biobibliographic Guide. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016, 1–52.
  3. ^ a b c Grimes, William, Peter Gay, Historian Who Explored Social History of Ideas, Dies at 91. ''The New York Times, May 12, 2015.
  4. ^ Robert Wilson, "Departures", The American Scholar, Summer 2015.
  5. ^ Grimes, William (2015-05-12). "Peter Gay, Historian Who Explored Social History of Ideas, Dies at 91". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  6. ^ Bolick, Kate. "Q&A with Peter Gay", The Boston Globe, 25 November 2007.
  7. ^ Gay, Peter (1998). My German question : growing up in Nazi Berlin. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-585-34757-3. OCLC 47011660.
  8. ^ a b Siegel, Lee (December 30, 2007). "The Blush of the New". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  9. ^ Rodrigo Brandão, "Can a Skeptic be a Reformer? Skepticism in Morals and Politics During the Enlightenment: The Case of Voltaire," Skepticism and Political Thought in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (2015)
  10. ^ a b c d "National Book Awards – 1967". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
  11. ^ De Dijn, Annelien (2012). "The Politics of Enlightenment: From Peter Gay to Jonathan Israel". Historical Journal. 55 (3): 785–805. doi:10.1017/S0018246X12000301. S2CID 145439970.
  12. ^ "Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider". The Spectator. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  13. ^ "Berlin, Brecht, Bauhaus and a Whole Generation of Isherwoods". The New York Times. November 24, 1968. Retrieved May 13, 2015. (review by Walter Laqueur of Weimar Culture)
  14. ^ a b Rogow, Arnold A. (September 8, 1985). "The World on a Couch". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Ivry, Benjamin (May 13, 2015). "Remembering Historian and Freud Biographer Peter Gay". Forward. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  16. ^ a b Green, Martin (January 29, 1978). "A Love Affair With German Culture". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  17. ^ Marshall, John (October 11, 1987). "Mapping the States of the Mind". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  18. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  19. ^ "
  20. ^ "Peter Gay, intellectual historian, dead at age 91". The Denver Post. May 11, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  21. ^ "dankesrede von peter gay". Geschwister-Scholl-Preis. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  22. ^ "Peter Gay, Intellectual Historian, Dead at Age 91". ABC News. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  23. ^ "Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences Awards 2008 History Prize to Jonathan Israel". Institute for Advanced Study. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  24. ^ "Arts : Arts and Letters Group Admits 10". LA Times. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  25. ^ "Bookworms Devour Library's Lions". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-22.
  26. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Peter Gay". Guggenheim Foundation. Retrieved 2015-05-11.
  27. ^ The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism. Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx.: Peter Gay: Books. Collier. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  28. ^ Gay, Peter (1988). Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist (9780300040951): Professor Peter Gay: Books. ISBN 0300040954.
  29. ^ Gay, Peter (1964). The Party of Humanity. Knopf. ISBN 9789010044341. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  30. ^ Gay, Peter (1966). A Loss of Mastery. University of California Press. ISBN 9780608179919. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  31. ^ Gay, Peter (17 December 2001). Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393322392. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  32. ^ Gay, Peter (1970). "The Bridge of Criticism". Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  33. ^ Gay, Peter; Webb, Robert Kiefer (1973). Modern Europe: Since 1815. Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060422837. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  34. ^ Gay, Peter (1988). Style in History. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393305586. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  35. ^ Gay, Peter (1976). Art and Act. Harper & Row. ISBN 9780064332484. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  36. ^ Gay, Peter (1979). Freud, Jews and Other Germans. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195024937. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  37. ^ Gay, Peter (1984). The Bourgeois Experience. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780393045703. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  38. ^ Gay, Peter (1985). Freud for Historians. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195042283. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  39. ^ Gay, Peter (1987). A Godless Jew. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300046081. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  40. ^ "1988 National Book Awards Winners and Finalists". National Book Foundation. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  41. ^ Gay, Peter (1990). Reading Freud. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300046812. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  42. ^ Gay, Peter (September 1993). Sigmund Freud and Art. Abrams. ISBN 9780810925519. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  43. ^ Gay, Peter (1998). My German Question. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300076707. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  44. ^ Gay, Peter (1999). Mozart. Penguin. ISBN 9780670882380. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  45. ^ Gay, Peter (17 November 2002). Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture 1815–1914. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393323634. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  46. ^ Reynolds, David S. (2002-08-04). "Don't Get Mad, Write Novels". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-11-22.
  47. ^ Gay, Peter (2008). Modernism. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393052053. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  48. ^ Gay, Peter (1968). Deism: An Anthology. ISBN 9780442000936. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  49. ^ Gay, Peter (1973). The Enlightenment: A Comprehensive Anthology. ISBN 9780671214654. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  50. ^ Gay, Peter; Cavanaugh, Gerald J.; Wexler, Victor G. (1972). Historians at Work (4 Volumes Set): Peter Gay, Gerald J. Cavanaugh: 9780060114732: Books. ISBN 0060114738.
  51. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1995). The Freud Reader. ISBN 9780393314038. Retrieved 14 May 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]