Guenther Roth (1955)


Guenther Roth, a retired professor of sociology at Columbia University, died at the age of 88 on May 18 of complications from advanced prostate cancer, according to his wife Caroline W. Bynum. 

He was a historical sociologist and social historian, specializing in 19th century Germany and particularly the works and lives of Max and Marianne Weber.   He became first known with his study “The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany” (1963), which advanced his influential theory of the “negative integration” of a radical labor movement into a dominant regime. In a review Ralf Dahrendorf called it “a brilliant and impressive picture…a combination of original historical interest and a trained sociological perspective.” In 1968 Roth (and Claus Wittich) published the first complete English edition of Max Weber’s magnum opus “Economy and Society” (1968), which has become a standard reference. This was followed by the essay volumes “Scholarship and Partisanship” (1971, with Reinhard Bendix) and “Max Weber’s Vision of History” (1979, with Wolfgang Schluchter). In 1991 he edited (with Hartmut Lehmann) a volume on “Max’s Weber’s Protestant Ethic” for the German Historical Institute in Washington. His major work of the 1990s was “Max Weber’s Anglo-German Family History 1800-1950” (2001, in German), a study of the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie, which created the first globalization in the 19th century.  In a review, the German historian Wolfgang Mommsen write that “a wholly new foundation has been laid for research of Max Weber’s life and work.  Besides…giving us a fascinating group portrait of a successful German bourgeois merchant family.”  In 2016, he published (with John Röhl) an edition of the letters of diplomat Kurt Riezler to his fiancée Käthe Liebermann, which he discovered in an attic in Baltimore and which shed light on the coming of World War I.

Born in Germany in 1931, Roth came to the United States in 1953 from the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research to finish a project on the American denazification of Germany. He subsequently worked with Reinhard Bendix in the Institute of Industrial Relations at the University of California in Berkeley where he received his Ph.D. in 1960.  He taught at the U. of Illinois in Urbana, the State U. of New York in Stony Brook, and the U. of Washington in Seattle before coming to Columbia U. in 1988. He also held visiting professorships in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Mannheim.

He is survived by his wife Caroline W. Bynum, professor emerita Columbia University, a daughter Alice Roth (Santa Rosa, Calif.), a son Christian Roth (Seattle), and a step-daughter Antonia Walker (New York City).


I came to the United States in 1953 from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research to finish a denazification study with Kurt Wolff at OSU. From 1955 until 1958 I was a full-time research assistant under Reinhard Bendix for the Ford Project on Labor in Economic Development housed in the Institute of Industrial Relations. A part-time graduate student in the Soc. Dept., I picked up my Ph.D. in 1960 with one of the first dissertations in historical sociology. For many of us assistants in the interdisciplinary Institute the apprenticeship nature of research was more important than disciplinary study, since we could look over the shoulders of our masters. For some of us our first teaching experience was in the Social Science Integrated Course. What all of this meant to me I have tried to recollect in Bennett Berger's "Authors of Their Own Lives" (UC Press 1990), where I also recount my growing up in Nazi Germany and surviving the war.

I retired from Columbia in 1997 to finish my last book, a historical lesson for German readers, "Max Weber's Anglo-German Family History 1800-1950" (in German, 2001). I document Weber's descent from one of the wealthiest Anglo-German families in the 19th century and suggest counterfactually that a stronger cosmopolitan bourgeoisie might have helped prevent the catastrophes of the 20th century. 

I will publish a book on the Leo Baeck Institute website in early 2011: Edgar Jaffe, Else von Richthofen and their children: From German-Jewish assimilation through antisemitic persecution to American integration. This concerns the circle around Max and Alfred Weber and their exiled colleagues. My manuscript is based on my discovery of 1,500 letters in the possession of an American grandson; I have annotated these letters and arranged for their donation to the Leo Baeck Institute in New York.

Dissertation Title: 
The Social Democratic Labor Movement in Imperial Germany
Dissertation Book Title: 
The Social Democrats in Imperial Germany