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By Paolo Menuez on 06-12-18
Good, but read a primer first
a good history, written with wit and attention to detail, but absolutely dense with minute and somewhat opaque historical references a newcomer to Bismarck will have practically no way of understanding. Those hoping for more personal, anecdotal material may also be disappointed. This is a work that keeps the focus strictly on the minutiae of Bismarck's domestic and foreign intrigues. In the end, one gets a clear sense of the statesman, but perhaps not the man. His close political allies, associates and other contemporaries are also extremely submerged in this account. One doesn't get a sense of how he interacted with these people on a personal level. Only the great chancellor and William 1 truly occupy the stage in this telling. To get the most out of this book requires a robust and broad understanding of the period and it's principal actors; a deep dive for those looking for a blow by blow account of his intricate, behind the scenes policy manouevers. A little dry, slighly myopic at times, but a solid work.
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By Rene Nielsen on 06-15-18
A One-Man Cult of Personality
Still the definitive biography of The Great Chancellor, Alan Taylor’s masterful story of Bismarck will never be surpassed. Bismarck’s was a cult of one. He was not a hero, not a soldier, not much of a politician. Instead, by force of personality he created things, not just Modern Germany but the concept of realpolitik, over a century after his death still the foreign policy of choice in big-power relations. How did he do it? By agile maneuvering, by consensus-building, shrewd negotiation, by use of force? No. Bismarck stewed over a problem or goal alone, then announced what was to be done, and that was that. Yet he was no dictator. He introduced universal suffrage and strengthened the legislature as a check on the Kaiser. But since his focus was foreign policy, and since he created the apparatus to serve his foreign policy, whether to make treaties or go to war, he acted, at his peak, without the constraints of either the politicians or the Kaiser. He loved his solitude in his country home yet pined for the action of Berlin, where he could cause trouble and vanquish real or imagined rivals. Though a devoted family man, Bismarck was not personally popular with his colleagues but prevailed simply by force of personality. Bismarck was a staunch conservative, and yet Germany under Bismarck was a progressive, stable, prosperous democracy, not at all the Germany of WWI or WWII. The narration was excellent, giving voice to Taylor’s irreverent style. Taylor himself is not overawed by Bismarck and presents him as a deeply flawed man, but one unlike any other I’ve encountered. Do not take seriously unhinged complaints about this book. This must-read book by one of our great historians, convincingly illustrates how history is indeed made by exceptional individuals.
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