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

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,690 ratings  ·  124 reviews
'Of the "Great Powers" that dominated Europe from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, Prussia is the only one to have vanished … Iron Kingdom is not just good: it is everything a history book ought to be … The nemesis of Prussia has cast such a long shadow that German historians have tiptoed around the subject. Thus it was left to an Englishman to write what is sure ...more
Published June 2007 by Penguin Publishing (first published August 3rd 2006)
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One of the review blurbs on the back cover of Iron Kingdom reminds the reader that Prussia remains Europe's only extinct power, which I found startling upon further reflection; it is a fate similarly dealt out to Piedmont after its political leaders and monarchical house led the drive to reunify Italy, though, of course, that Alpine kingdom never came close to the level of being a major European player. However, one can at least still find the Piedmont name upon modern maps as a constituted Regi ...more
Prussia bearing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under Prussia - they burn a building down
Hack a family in two
Lay people on sheets
It's the terror of knowing
What this nation is about
Watching some good junkers
Screaming let me in
Pray today - you rise higher
Prussia is people - people in armies
She been around
Kicked my brains round the floor
These are the days it rains but it never pours
People in armies
People on sheets
It's the terror of knowing
What this country is about
Not history as the history of great men, not history as military history, not history from below but a magnificent, monumental, magisterial blend of all of those. A thoroughly modern history that takes into account areas such as education, attitudes to women and their role in society, collective memory, the symbolic portrayal of power through statuary and rituals, and constantly, throughout, the way that the idea of Prussiandom was shoehorned into service either as perfect role model or as bane ...more
I can't say I was filled with excitement at the prospect of reading a thousand page history of Prussia. The state was famed for its bureaucrats rather than its brilliant or bloodthirsty leaders. I approached the book more out of a sense of duty than anything else, a slight feeling of shame for having lived in Germany for over five years and yet not having much more of an understanding of its history beyond World War 2.

But Clarke is a brilliant writer, fully able to express his fascination for th
Just how tenable is a modern state--a Great Power, in fact--if it refuses to conform to modern nationhood? Per Christopher Clark, the answer would would be "surprisingly so," though with roughly a trillion caveats. In a quick-reading narrative style that belies the mind-boggling mastery of a huge sweep of historical epochs and characters, Clark charts the uneasy path that early progenitors of the Prussian dynastic line took through the political and cultural battles of modernizing, maturing Euro ...more
Anisa Widyasari
"To equate Hitler with Frederick the Great, and Nazi Germany with Prussia, is a ludicrous perversion of history. The idea that one of Europe’s most enlightened and gifted Monarchs prefigured one of the most repellent dictators in modern history is simply absurd."

Those words of Prof. Clark on BBC 4's documentary "Frederick the Great and the Enigma of Prussia" was the trigger that led mo to this book. I was instantly captivated by the way Prof. Clark delivering his history lesson on said documenta
Prussia weighed heavily on the collective mind of Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries. My history classes generally blamed the formation of Germany for throwing off the structure of international power in Europe and causing two World Wars. And at the end of WWII, the Western Allies also felt that 'Prussia' was behind Germany's warlike ways and redrew the map of Germany to get rid of the name. Nearly sixty years later, 'Prussia' still brings up stereotypes that lie at the root of current Ge ...more
Prussia, contrary to what all of my friends think when I tell them about this book, is not me mispronouncing Russia. It was actually a real....thing? Okay, it's hard to say what exactly Prussia was. First, confusingly enough, it was the Duchy of Brandenburg (always remember to pass your duchy on the left hand side kids), ruled by the Duke of Brandenburg who was an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, which actually had nothing to do with holiness or Romans. The role of an Elector was to vote for wh ...more
Finnaly! A history book that does not see all of Prussian history throught the lens of Nazi Germany. Clark (the author) gives the most objective and thorough look at one of the most influential, and ignored, states in history. The book is not written as an apology or excuse of the World Wars, which little time is spent, but gives a complete contextual look at Prussian history covering the culture, politics, and forgein policy of this controversial state. Anyone interested in German history shoul ...more
David Lowther
Iron Kingdom is an outstanding account of the state which, piece by piece, grew to become one of Europe's most powerful nations by 1914.
Tracing its growth from a small German Electorate in 1600, through its acquisition of territory which saw it become a significant player in the European power game in the early nineteenth century to being the nation chiefly responsible for German unification in 1871 is a fascinating journey brilliantly written and painstakingly researched by Clark.
German unific
Great overview, however brief it might be. Tends to be a little about Prussians, and not enough about Prussia at points, but has an amazing section on the 19th century, and a good precursor to WW1. Very well written.
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, ...more
Well I'm relieved I finally finished reading this. Despite a very interesting & good writing, it's still a heavy weight book to go through, especially for new German history reader. Midway I realized that I could've help myself more by making notes on the peopple & time frame, etc. But then perhaps I'll think of it more as a chore & won't even manage to finish. The notes will be helpful considering Clark's way of spiraling through the history, which is wonderful as it can cover more ...more
The history of Prussia has been written, and re-written many times, but this one probably nailed it. As an Australian, now working at Cambridge University, the author Christopher Clark has "no obligation (or temptation) either to lament or celebrate the Prussian record". Instead Clark "aims to understand all the forces that made, and unmade Prussia."

The caricature of Prussia is more popular unfortunately, than the real thing according to Clark. As one contemporary put it, Prussia was not a state
Craig Coleman
I love narrative history but did not love this book. The author stayed at too great a distance from the personalities of the major players in the history of Prussia. Amazingly, he gave almost no specifics on the tactical battle plans of Frederick the Great, one of the greatest modern commanders. His chapters of the book were no more detailed that those dedicated to rulers who did nothing much more than maintain control for their descendants.

A person who likes the bird's eye view of history may e
Lauren Albert
I found the book easier to follow in the first half or so. I got more confused at the end but that could have been simply because the history itself became more confusing. I particularly got lost with distinguishing Prussia/Germany/the Reich. But then again, so did many people then. It's a solid (long) history of Prussia. My one criticism is how Clark skirted WWI. I would have liked more detail.
Ben Newton
This is a well-written book that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how Germany became Germany, from the point of view of the biggest state of those that would eventually merge to become Germany. The broad topic and large time span means you'd better like history, because there isn't going to be a single narrative thread you can follow all the way through this book.
Manuel J.
History is funny, even when it is not! So, the question one must make regarding this book is: was there a country called Prussia? Ever?
It is a fascinating story, full of glorious pages, and also of darker ones. And it is also a very important body of knowledge to understand events that are closer to us, like the two world wars of the 20th century. The end of it is almost ironical: the enormous efforts that were carried on trying to erase a country that never existed, as if it was a black sheep,
This left me asking some serious questions. Why don't we speak German? The Prussians were amazing. Militarily they were near unstoppable. The fall is explained herein quite well but it still leaves a feeling of great disbelief. I found myself asking "I know you're telling me how, but how?" Good stuff if you like history.
I kept coming across Prussia in my reading but had never understood exactly what or when it was. This book will tell you that and much more. Much more. Not a bad thing if you're looking for detail. Hard to keep up with all the similarly named characters and fluid borders unless you're really interested.
Donald Luther
Clark begins at the end. He describes the February 25, 1947, law enacted by the Allied occupation authorities that abolished Prussia. He details the reasons for this law and the perceptions that led to its creation.

But his book is really about why all of those reasons were based on mis-perceptions.

When I was teaching MEH, I usually introduced Prussia in my Rise of Eastern Europe unit, which was really encapsulated in what I called 'The Three Greats' (Peter the Great, Frederick the Great, and Cat
John Crossen
Just a fantastic book about the history of Prussia from it's inception to the end of World War II. Full of details, but very well written and flows quite nicely. Highly recommended
Viktoria Michaelis
As everyone who has spent more than ten minutes in a classroom knows, history is a boring subject packed with dates and names which have to be learned by heart so that, at the end of the year, everything can be regurgitated on an exam paper. The textbooks given out are bland, filled with maps and the occasional portrait, and seem to whisk the reader through hundreds of years as if it were a forty-five minute lecture. It is hard enough finding interest for current events, when so much information ...more
Interesting overview of the political and cultural evolution of Prussia: from Catholic to mostly Lutheran, from Brandenburg to the single biggest part of future Germany, from Duchy to Kingdom.

The state was never meant to become a main player in the Holy Roman Empire: having no fertile arable land, surrounded by strong empires (Sweden, Poland, Russia,...). But as Elector its rulers increased its political power and inherited huge pieces of land (Rhineland, East Prussia, etc.). Most strikingly, Fr
George Serebrennikov
I usually do not like overviews of history, especially coverage of hundreds of years, as it is typically superficial and lacks depth and analysis. Moreover, I was especially concern with “Iron Kingdom” by Christopher Clark, as it covers the history of Prussia, history that includes such famous names as Frederic the Great and Bismarck, and closely intertwined with the greatest and most-interesting events that shape the modern Europe. Just to name the few: 7-years war, partition of Poland, Enlight ...more
It is the story of a corner of Europe where her destiny was three times decided: at the end of the Thirty Years war, when the Great Elector vowed never again to let his country - then Brandenburg - be pillaged and left bleeding to death, in 1750 at the apex of Frederick the Great's reign and the age of Enlightenment, in 1813 during the War of German Liberation, and the reforms that followed that heralded the kingdom of Prussia as a formidable military power, and in 1933 when, finally, the Prussi ...more
This history of Prussia has enough flaws that giving it four stars doesn't quite feel justified but giving it three stars is underrating it.

The primary problem is that -- like many bits of non-fiction written by specialists in their field -- the book is chock full of bits where the author assumes you already know what he's talking about. In some cases I did...but not all. So when he uses "Kaiser" with no gloss it didn't bother me but not all readers will feel the same.

Another problem with the bo
Alan Jacobs
This was a difficult read, but I accomplished my purpose filling a bit of the gap in my knowledge of European history. The author is an academic, and refers often to events and people who other academics might have heard of, but not me. Fortunately, I read this on my Kindle Fire, and could instantly look things up in dictionaries and in Wikipedia. I had to do this repeatedly.

So it took a long time to complete this book, and I forgot about 99% of it. But I now have a much wider perspective on how
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Randy Mcdonald
Prussia, annihilated after the Second World War by Allied powers eager to eradicate the militarism that led to the Third Reich, is undergoing something of a revival in historical writing, with works like Christopher Clark's Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1700-1947 demonstrating a decidedly impressive reediting of the traditional blood-and-war narrative associated with Prussia.

Put briefly, Clark makes a convincing case that Prussia's Hohenzollerns responded to the devastation inf
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Christopher Munro "Chris" Clark is an Australian historian working in England.
He was educated at Sydney Grammar School between 1972 and 1978, the University of Sydney where he studied History, and between 1985 and 1987 the Freie Universität Berlin.

He received his PhD at the University of Cambridge, having been a member of Pembroke College, Cambridge from 1987 to 1991. He is Professor in Modern Eur
More about Christopher Munro Clark...
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm II (Profiles in Power Series) Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe The Politics of Conversion: Missionary Protestantism and the Jews in Prussia 1728-1941 Ordinary Prussians: Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers, 1500-1840

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