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Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006)

by Christopher Clark

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9642715,536 (4.01)15
"Iron Kingdom traces Prussia's involvement in the continent's foundational religious and political conflagrations: from the devastations of the Thirty Years War through centuries of political machinations to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, from the enlightenment of Frederick the Great to the destructive conquests of Napoleon, and from the "iron and blood" policies of Bismarck to the creation of the German Empire in 1871, with all that implied for the tumultuous twentieth century."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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Prussia was an unlikely candidate to become a great power. Yet from the economically unpromising Brandenberg region, Prussia eventually established itself as a European power, ultimately coalescing the various states of Germany into a single, powerful nation. The question of how this took place is at the heart of Christopher Clark's book, a valuable survey of the three centuries of Prussia's rise, dominance, and eventual dissolution after World War II. It is a very Carlylean tale in his telling, giving much of the credit for the success Prussia enjoyed to its leadership, particularly the remarkably capable series of rulers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Together they used a combination of careful alliances, agreements, and marriages to expand their holdings, to the point where they dominated northern Germany by the early 19th century. The country which subsequently emerged was in many respects "Prussia plus," with Prussian institutions doubling in some instances as the main organ of government for all of Germany. Though this changed after World War I, the loss of the kaiser -- the dominant figure in the Prussian constitution -- left a hole that was largely unfilled until Adolf Hitler's rise to power during the Great Depression.

Clark's book describes all of this in an assured and well-sourced narrative that surveys the broader social and cultural context for Prussia's emergence. It is by far the best account of Prussia's modern history, one that is unlikely to be bettered for the foreseeable future. For anyone seeking a useful overview for anyone interested in learning about the emergence and collapse of this vanished kingdom and European power, this is the book to read. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
A weird thing about this book is that it explains what was going on in Prussia in detail at multiple points, but assumes that the reader knows exactly what else is going on in other parts of Europe at the same time. Maybe I’m too transnational (and also I don’t actually recall enough detail of my European history) but there were constant references to the other German states without really explaining what made them German too or what the differences were. It didn’t help that the chapters jumped back and forth in time a bunch because they were only sort-of chronological and sort-of about culture, religion, etc. in particular periods. ( )
  rivkat | Feb 5, 2020 |
This took a long time to get going, and parts of "Iron Kingdom" read like a masters thesis. As such, it took me a year or so to finish and it was only the last section or so, as Prussia grew into the biggest Germanic nation and into the jewel of the German Empire and then its downfall, with parts of Prussia now included in Poland, Russia and the Baltic nations.

Will Prussia rise again? It seems distant but stranger things have happened and if they do I won't be so worried about its rebirth. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jan 9, 2019 |
A good single volume account of how just one of many German states emerged as a power. We think of the Germans as a major military power in the 20th century, but before 1870 even the largest state, Prussia, got battered by the major powers surrounding them (France, Austria, and Russia).It's heavy on the politics and the conflicts and light on everyday life and culture, although it's not completely neglected. I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of a family tree of the monarchs and a section on suggested reading.

It seems that the British considered the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo their own victory. This is not true; it was the German forces who won this battle, and in particular the Prussian army. I hadn't known that until I read this book. ( )
  nog | Jun 5, 2016 |
This book was a fascinating tour through the 350-year life of the Kingdom of Prussia, and it was packed with interesting facts and insights. Some of the book was heavy going, but this was more than compensated by the great amount of new (for me) information the author was able to impart. ( )
  oparaxenos | Nov 27, 2015 |
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"Iron Kingdom traces Prussia's involvement in the continent's foundational religious and political conflagrations: from the devastations of the Thirty Years War through centuries of political machinations to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, from the enlightenment of Frederick the Great to the destructive conquests of Napoleon, and from the "iron and blood" policies of Bismarck to the creation of the German Empire in 1871, with all that implied for the tumultuous twentieth century."--BOOK JACKET.

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