Friday, May 10, 2013

Bismarck

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The Bismarck monument in Hamburg...larger than life and and slowly tipping over. Which is actually a fairly good metaphor for the way Bismarck is seen by historians. There is no longer the unquestioning hero worship and plenty of criticism, but even over 100 years after his death, it seems to be hard to escape the force of his personality.

Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck - A Life manages to walk the line between it all. I quite liked it that the author mentions his personal opinions outright, a rare thing for academic authors. And while Steinberg clearly admires Bismarck political abilities, it becomes obvious very fast that he has no liking for his subject as a person.

Bismarck comes across as a cold, calculating man, unforgiving and dogmatic, with more than just a bit of hypochondria (particularly when things were not going the way he wanted them to). But he was also an amazingly successful politician and diplomat and despite his dislike, Steinberg writes objectively about both sides of the coin.

At times I had to stop to look up the host of people introduced. For anyone who knows German history between WWI and II, many of the names will be familiar. People who will become important for Bismarck, either as allies or enemies (or both), are introduced in a couple of paragraphs and the reader is given a good idea of who they were not only in dates and titles, but also in terms of their personality. I really need to read up on Ludwig Windhorst for example, a man who was an almost constant antagonist to Bimarck, but who is much less remembered today, eclipsed by Bismarck's fame.

Reviews 2013
Library Challenge 2013

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