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Bismarck:A Life

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  929 ratings  ·  100 reviews
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 ...more
Kindle Edition, 592 pages
Published (first published 2011)
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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
The Juggler

Nineteenth century Europe was a game of two halves or, better, a game of two men: the Emperor Napoleon, who dominated the first, and Otto von Bismarck, who dominated the second. If anything Bismarck was the more important of the two, creating not just a new Germany but a new Europe, with a legacy that extended well into the twentieth century. He was the greater because he was the more cunning; the lesser because his vision was considerably more limited. In some ways Bismarck was the
“The Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck is regarded as the greatest statesman of the 19th Century due to his great accomplishments while running Prussia from 1861 to 1898. His first great accomplishment was unifying all the German people into one country. The last unification of Germany was in the 10th Century by Henry the Fowler and his son Otto the Great.

He started the reunification policy in 1864 when he authorized the Prussian Army to attack and consequently defeat Denmark to gain back the
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vheissu by:
"Admirable" is not a word I can apply to Bismarck, nor it is a word that Steinberg suggests. Otto von Bismarck was a viscous, vindictive, duplicitous, unprincipled "dictator" (yes, dictator is how most of his friends and enemies viewed him in life), and hoary anti-Semite who ruthlessly destroyed friends and foes alike. Bismarck was just as happy to establish a social security system for the workers as he was to massacre striking workers if either served his immediate political purpose. Bismarck ...more
Jun 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This was a detailed treatment of The Mad Junker with lots of primary sources. It was a tough, tough read, though; very dense at times, and demanding that I recall my previous coursework in 19th century German history more than I thought it would. Those were OK. I will say I had two problems:

1. Author's insertion into narrative -- The author was WAY too visible in this book. Lots of first person pronouns and asides that would have been better off in the footnotes, or left out entirely.

2. Needed a
Lars Brownworth
The first ingredient in a successful biography is a good subject, and Steinberg couldn’t have asked for a better one. He perfectly sums us the enigma of Bismark in his opening chapter: The Iron Chancellor made Germany but never ruled it. He was not charismatic or a great speaker. He had no military credentials, led no political party, had no great wealth, and served at the whim of three different emperors- any of whom could have dismissed him with a word. And yet, he dominated Germany and Europe ...more
Mikey B.
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, germany
My purpose in reading this book was to obtain background on German history in the 19th century and Mr. Steinberg is largely successful at this. We can clearly see that Bismarck was the catapult for the Germany of the 20th century.

The author paints a very complex portrait of Bismarck. He unified Germany and to some extent modernized it by increasing the electorate and introducing some social programs – by the end of the 19th century Germany had become a major industrial power. Even though he “
Frank Stein
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An impressive and shocking portrait of a political genius and a damaged individual. Steinberg manages to depict the grand course of German history over the entirety of the nineteenth century through that era's most dominant personality, Otto von Bismarck.

On the whole, Steinberg aims at a psychological investigation, one achieved through heavy use of Bismarck's own writings and the writings of others who came in contact with him, both often supplied in large block quotes, sometimes three or four
Apr 04, 2011 marked it as not-gonna-read  ·  review of another edition
(Well-reviewed in the New York Times by Henry Kissinger: Otto von Bismarck, Master Statesman.)

Abandoned. I'd still like to read on this topic, but this was the wrong biography to start with. Steinberg set out to illuminate the inner Bismarck, and I've still got to catch up on the politics of the era, not the personal demons and neuroses of its key player.
Not a terribly perceptive nor compelling read...but adequate. Useful for the novice Germanophile but nothing that hasn't been covered elsewhere and in some cases much better. Still, a mildly interesting read.

If you've access to nothing else on Bismarck this is worth a go.
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No person was more responsible for the creation of Germany in 1871 than Otto von Bismarck. First as minister-president of Prussia, then as chancellor of the German Empire he shaped and guided the creation and development of the country for over a quarter of a century. Yet as Jonathan Steinberg points out in the introduction to his biography of the man, he was a ruler without any sort of sovereignty or popular support, a fact that in our more democratic age makes his achievements all the more ...more
Henri Moreaux
I was very disappointed in this book.

Biographies generally need two additives, a good subject and a good narrative. Otto von Bismarck is a fantastic subject and led an extremely interesting life - he was essentially the Hitler of the 1800s.

I found the problem here though was the writer has taken an interesting subject and added dull narrative. I found it extremely difficult to 'get into' this book and it just seemed to ramble on and on. I found it resembled a textbook more than a non-fiction
Jan 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book suffers for its lack of context. Anybody who picks up a book like this will surely have some knowledge of European history, but to be appropriate for a broad audience, this book would have had to better explain the major events of 19th century German history that Bismarck was involved in. Steinberg glosses over events like the Crimean War, assuming his readers know all the details. I spent much of my time with this book referencing other works in order to provide the necessary ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This had such potential, but unfortunately the author's style turn what ought to be a fascinating read into a deadly dull and confusing slog. The introduction is wonderful, but things go downhill rather fast.

First, and this is admittedly a pet peeve of mine, the author proceeds in only vaguely chronological fashion, with frequent tangents to relate backstory of important figures in Bismarck's life or remind readers what is to come. Then there is the psychoanalysis which crops up again and
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Old geezer on old geezer. Bismarck is the defining figure of German history in the 19th century, so I came to this biography with certain expectations. It soon became obvious, however, that the author lacked the freshness or empathy to make this biography come alive, and only cares about demonstrating a central thesis. Sentences are repeated, German names are mangled, and there are odd interjections like a grumpy uncle would make, especially concerning the European Union. So what's the central ...more
Baris Balcioglu
I like reading biographies and I asked my friend Hakan to purchase this book for me, so I had to read it to the end. One of the claims, from another book, is that Hitler came into power because people believed in Bismarckian type strong leaders, so I wanted learn more about him. This book heavily relies on excerpts from memoirs and letters of the people from that era. But I don't think that this serves the purpose. The author could have given us the interpretation instead. I really didn't ...more
Bismarck changed the history of Europe -- this is one of those statements written in a high school term paper that makes the teacher roll his or her eyes. So tell me something I don't know. This biography explains how his personality, intelligence, and shear force of will allowed him to do this. It is a very dense history of necessity, but poorly edited and typeset. Being the pedant I am, I found it annoying that lines ran together with no spaces. Obviously the publisher didn't want to re-run ...more
Elliot Schnapp
If only Steinberg could write. To say his prose is turgid is an understatement. Also persists in using the first person ("I discovered" "in my opinion" "as I delved further into the matter"), which I found utterly inappropriate in a biography. Presumes familiarity with persons and events in mid 19th century Prussia that I doubt many of his readers will have. His gross shortcomings as a writer are quite unfortunate because the content in much of the book is quite strong, particularly once the ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Otto Von Bismarck was an appalling human being: anti-Semitic, misogynistic, vengeful, dishonest, given to temper tantrums, and a hypochondriac to boot. Yet, this giant of a man - in every sense - was 19th century Europe's most effective politician and diplomat, and was a major force in the formation of the German state. Such thundering contradictions and a firm grip of the historical context are grist for Professor Steinberg's thorough mill in this excellent and comprehensive biography. Since it ...more
William Ramsay
I didn't finish this. Steinberg's premise was a good one. How did Bismark, who was not rich or well connected or a military man or even elected to any office, end up first unifying and then ruling Germany for thirty years? And he does a fairly good of explaining this up to a point. I think the point was reached when my eyes glazed over. I thought it was very boring. The most interesting revelation was that Bismark was six four and towered over everyone. It's a revelation because in all drawings ...more
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
I could not think of a better description of the "Prussian" personality than this book. Bismarck was ruthless, single minded, prejudiced and unquestioning of his personal belief system. A true machiavellian. A sad tale. Especially when you realize that the government he devised was defunct for only 14 years when it was resurrected by the Nazi's. As Steinberg points out it did not have to be so. To our sorrow it was. I had been looking for a good biography of this important historical figure for ...more
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bismarck was ahead of his time politically, in the worst possible ways. He died long ago, in the service of a country that no longer exists. So it's possible to study him and see the dark side of the modern power-hungry administrative state without getting caught up in partisan sentimentality.
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Way too textbook ish for me. Got 130 pages in and couldn't do it anymore. Not my cup of tea.
Doreen Petersen
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
What a complex character Bismarck was. Kudos to the author of this book as the subject material must have been very challenging to write. I loved it.
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magisterial account of the great man's life. It's hard to imagine any historian will ever do a better job of capturing Bismarck in all his complexity.
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I did not know much about Bismarck before reading this book. And I did not learn much by reading it. It paints a pretty bad picture of the man, and fails to highlight the statesman's merits. We are left with the feeling that maybe this book is a historical reappraisal, but it misses the bits where he states what the original thesis was, such Bismarck's brilliant moments in diplomacy and politics. He just seems to be a wicked, vain, and jealous man. But then why was he so important to Germany? ...more
Bill Manzi
Jun 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book, although it was, in my opinion, light on the the great achievements of Bismarck in foreign policy. Bismarck was a truly monumental historical figure who dominated his era, both domestically and internationally. Steinberg, while writing a strong book in many respects, betrays his anti-Bismarck bias throughout. Steinberg acknowledges Bismarck as a genius, but takes great pains to point out some of the "character flaws" of the great man. Such flaws include losing friends (always ...more
Brian Ross
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have rated it 3 1/2 stars if I could have. I read this book looking for insight into an autocratic style of leadership that I believe we are seeing more and more of these days.

The subject is fascinating, the research is tremendous.

The author tries to unearth the man and circumstances beneath the myth. He finds a force of nature - narcissistic, insecure, overbearing, energetic but hypochondriac, amoral, ruthless, political genius, yet a man of his class and time - whose primary objective
Brad Eastman
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am fascinated how modern nation states, particularly in Europe arose. We take for granted the presence of France, Germany, Russia, Norway, etc. throughout history. However, the modern nation states evolved and even 200 years ago many of them had not evolved into their current form. Germany, in particular, is a recent creation. No individual drove the creation of modern Germany more than Bismark. While I knew this truth, I had no real understanding of how he brought about this achievement or ...more
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Steinberg's biography oozes potential from its introductory chapter. Unfortunately, the remainder of the book falls short.

I have read numerous critical biographies of prominent historical figures. Too often, historians are content with a "flawed giant" interpretation that reeks of subtle apologetics. Steinberg is bold in his opening chapter, emphasizing that Bismarck's power and success developed from a gigantic, "sovereign" self. Bismarck, Steinberg argues, was a contradictory figure whose
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very detailed biography of Otto von Bismarck. Who was he? The individual who made possible the formation of the German Empire in 1871 - and by doing so completely altered the course of European and world history since then. Without Bismarck, you do not have the chain of events that led to World War I. Without World War I, you don't have World War II, etc. I am not a believer in a "Great Man" school of history, but if you had to pick someone in the past two centuries who did exercise a ...more
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Jonathan Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of European History and former Chair of the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his A. B. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from Cambridge University.