Bismarck : A Life

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This is the life story of one of the most interesting human beings who ever lived. A political genius who remade Europe and united Germany between 1862 and 1890 by the sheer power of his great personality. It takes the reader into close proximity with a human being of almost superhuman abilities. We see him through the eyes of his secretaries, his old friends, his neighbours, his enemies and the press. Otto von Bismarck 'made' Germany but never 'ruled' it. For twenty eight years he acted as a prime minister without a party. He made speeches, brilliant in content but hesitant in delivery, and rarely addressed a public meeting. He planned three wars and after a certain stage in his career always wore military uniform to which he had no claim. The 'Iron Chancellor', the image of Prussian militarism, suffered from hypochondria and hysteria. Contemporaries called him a 'dictator' and several observers credited him with 'demonic' powers'. They were not wrong. The sheer power of his remarkable 'sovereign sel' awed even his enemies. William I observed that it was hard to be emperor under a man like Bismarck. He towered physically and intellectually over his contemporaries. His spoken and written prose sparkled with wit, insight, grand visions and petty malice. He united Germany and transformed Europe like Napoleon before and Hitler after him but with neither their control of the state nor command of great armies. He was and remained a royal servant. This new biography explores the greatness and limits of a huge and ultimately destructive self. It uses the diaries and letters of his contemporaries to explore the most remarkable figure of the nineteenth century, a man who never said a dull thing or wrote a slack sentence. A political genius who combined creative and destructive traits, generosity and pettiness, tolerance and ferocious enmity, courtesy and rudeness - in short, not only the most important nineteenth-century statesman but by far the most entertaining.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 592 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 53.34mm | 907.18g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 16pp black and white plates
  • 0199599017
  • 9780199599011
  • 110,284

Review quote

the best biography of the Iron Chancellor to date Wall Street Journal Jonathan Steinberg delivers the best biography of Bismarck...superb. Simon Sebag Montefiore, Daily Telegraph Steinberg succeeds in getting inside the mind of [Bismarck] Daily Express Amazing story...Steinberg reveals the character never before. Radio Times Magnificent...brings out the monstrous egotism of Bismarck more clearly than anybody before him...Steinberg has brilliantly transformed this man of "blood and iron" into a tragic figure worthy to be compared with Goethe's Faust Daniel Johnson, New Criterion If scholars and history buffs want to meet Bismarck in flesh and blood, they need go no further. Booklist Astute biography Independent A fine lively and scholarly biography 01/06/11 A fascinating biography...Steinberg breathes more life into Bismarck than any other biographer...the result is riveting, and we experience Bismarck as a hulking, breathing presence. Wall Street Journal An incisive psychological approach Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review superb biography London Review of Books The best study of its subject in the English language Henry Kissinger, New York Times Book Review Fine biography Irish Times Steinberg has an eye for details...and a talent for reconstructing the political drama of the period...Perhaps the greatest single pleasure of this books, and its signiture quality, [is] the unusually generous helping of quotations from those who came under Bismarck's spell.' David Blackbourn, The Guardian This is the best one-volume life of Bismarck in English, much superior to older works. It brings us close to this galvanic, contradictory and ultimately self-destructive figure...' David Blackbourn, The Guardian Rich and readable Michael Burleigh, The Sunday Times This is a fine biography. The Scotsman Otto von Bismarck became the dominant figure of his era and, as this rich and readable biography shows, had an almost uncanny sense of power. Steinberg's portrait is very much warts and all. The Sunday Times Magnificent new biography. Tim Blanning, Literary Review A first-rate biography that combines a standard historical narrative with an intriguing account of Bismarck as a personality...Bismarck offers a fresh and compelling portrait of a fascinating character. Foreign Affairs

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About Jonathan Steinberg

Jonathan Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, and Emeritus Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He is the author of Yesterday's Deterrent: Tirpitz and the Birth of the German Battle Fleet (1965), Why Switzerland? (2nd ed.1996) and All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust, 1941 to 1943 (classic edition 2002). He was also the principal author of The Deutsche Bank and its Gold Transactions during the Second World War (1999).

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