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Adenauer [Hardcover]

Charles Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 July 2000
After World War II, Germany lay in ruins. To Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) belongs much of the credit for raising West Germany to a position of economic prosperity and making it a respected free-world ally. Born in 1876, in Cologne, Adenauer was part of a devout Roman Catholic family. He was elected mayor of Cologne in 1917, a post he held for 16 years, then a representative in the Prussian State Council of which he became president in 1928. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Adenauer was stripped of all his political positions, imprisoned and then sent to a concentration camp. But after the war he organized a new party, the Christian Democratic Union and in 1949 he became West Germany's first chancellor, retiring after four consecutive re-elections in 1963. Charles Williams' biography of this 20th-century statesman - and German - is also a history of modern Germany. The book's four sections: "The Kaiser's Germany", "Weimar Germany", "Nazi Germany" and "Adenauer's Germany" - bear testimony to this most singular of nations.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company; First Edition, First Impression edition (6 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316852988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316852982
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.8 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,093,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Alongside Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer was one of the big three leaders who helped rebuild Europe from the ashes of the Second World War. Charles Williams, the Labour politician, has already written an acclaimed biography of de Gaulle; now he has turned his attention to Adenauer, surely the greatest political survivor of 20th-century history. A second-rate Catholic lawyer, Adenauer owed his rapid advancement to the office of Mayor of Cologne in the 1920s to the influence of his first wife's family and to his own crafty opportunism. Under him millions were spent redeveloping the city, and his own rather shady investment portfolio expanded too. Driven from power by the Nazis, Adenauer spent the years of the Third Reich dodging the Gestapo, but remaining aloof from conspiracies bent on destroying Hitler. One of the few clean, if not honest, senior German politicians left after 1945, he not surprisingly became Chancellor of the new Federal Republic, finally bowing out in 1963 a few years short of his 90th birthday. All sides of Adenaeur--family patriarch, horse-trading politician, devout Catholic, rose-gardener, amateur inventor and shuttle-diplomat--are covered in this likeable biography of an unlikeable man.--Miles Taylor


** '(Adenauer) is well-researched and admirable written. It puts the German statsman 's extraordinary career into historical perspective. Above all it reveals Adenauer the man-with all his authority and strength, his persistence and endurance and his streak of ruthlessness and political cunning' - INDEPENDENT ** 'The best biography I read this year' - Antony Howard, NEW STATESMAN --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Charles Williams' authoritative volume is the first detailed biography of Adenauer in English. It divides into four distinct sections, covering imperial, Weimar, Nazi and post-war Germany. The author takes time to analyse Adenauer's early career (he entered politics in 1906,and was elected deputy in 1909 and then lord mayor of Cologne in 1917). Although potted biographies often refer to his 'local' role before 1933, in fact he was twice offered- and declined- the Weimar chancellorship in the 1920s. Adenauer's pre-1945 career actually takes up 60% of the book, which may be overlong, but allows scope for anecdote and a lengthy study of his personality. The book is better for it.
Adenauer initially practiced law, and made a happy and politically useful first marriage to Emma Weyer (her uncle was also lord mayor of Cologne). The younger man showed his ruthless side early, outmanoeuvring various colleagues to secure the top job. This may have done little for his family life- Williams shows that it was often strained, and that despite 2 wives and 8 children Adenauer was basically a loner (although never workaholic- even as a young man he found time to siesta). Admittedly, his period in office was difficult. Emma died just before his promotion to lord mayor, and shortly aftterward a car crash left him with serious injuries. Despite this, Adenauer presided over the city's trials during the war, and its recovery afterward, even finding time to invent an ersatz bread to feed the citizenry!
The 1920s brought hyperinflation, military occupation and the stock market crash to German cities.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another honesst opinion 8 May 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Adenauer lived through several generations and two world wars and yet how many know what made this man tick?
He rose to power by, at times; apparently ruthless methods; even for the class and cultural systems of the time.
He was faced with personal tragedy, which at times drove him on but also at times brought him near ruin.
The book is well written and, for a long and factual work; is worth investing time in reading. Excellent value for money.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow burner that accelerates to it's conclusion 13 Jun 2007
Charles William's gives a descriptive and introspective look into the life of West Germany's first chancellor. I found this book slow to get into at first, however as the books moves to the defining years of Adenauer's life it shows how huge a part this man had in shaping the new West Germany. For those interested in German history and it's development after WW2 this is a very good read.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Biography On One Of Europe's Finest Statesmen 23 Feb 2002
By John Kwok - Published on Amazon.com
"Adenauer: The Father Of The New Germany" is a fascinating, often spellbinding, account of the life of West Germany's greatest chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer's iron-willed personality is successfully recounted by Williams' excellent prose. To his credit, Charles Williams offers us a balanced account of Adenauer's life, yet nonetheless shows how Adenauer almost singlehandedly restored Germany's honor within the world community in the aftermath of World War II and the savagery of the Nazi regime. Williams provides us with a complex portrayal of a man governed by his deep-seated Catholic convictions, who eventually championed the vision of a tranquil, united Europe. He does a splendid job covering Adenauer's career as Cologne's mayor, his internal "exile" during the Nazi regime, and finally, his duties as the Federal Republic of Germany's first chancellor. This splendid book is one of the finest biographies of a distinguished statesman I've had the pleasure of reading; it certainly rivals David McCullough's "John Adams" for its wealth of information and spellbinding portrayal of its subject.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted biography of one of the 20th century's great figures 29 Oct 2006
By Utah Blaine - Published on Amazon.com
This biography recounts the public and private life of Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of Germany after WW II. Adenauer was certainly one of the great men of the 20th century, carefully crafting policies to rebuild Germany after the war and to ensure that West Germany remained free from Soviet domination. As Williams states in his introduction, Adenauer lived three very different lives. He was the mayor of Cologne (and a powerful force in the Zentrum party) until the Nazis came to power in the early 30s. He spent the next 15 years or so trying to lie low and avoid too much attention from the Gestapo. He had several close calls, particularly after the failed assasination attempt on Hitler in July of 1944, but he and his family managed to survive the war. Adenauer really came into his own after the war though. He was again appointed mayor of Cologne by the occupying powers, but was relieved of this position. Difficult at the time, it allowed him to become the undisputed leader of the newly formed Christian Democrat Party (CDP) and to guide Germany through a very difficult time.

This is a wonderful biography in my view. Williams has done a great job capturing Adenauer, both in his private and his public persona. I don't think that Adenauer personally was a particularly likable man. He had few friends, was domineering with his family, and certainly neither outgoing nor personable. We was, however, a great politician who was guided by a strong moral (Catholic) compass. As a political fighter, there were probably few men of any era that were as shrewed as Adenauer. His (mostly successful) 50 years as a politician are proof of that. He knew how to maneuver situations and opponents to benefit himself personally as well as acheive his larger political goals.

This book is divided into four sections. The first covers KA's life as a youth and student, the other three roughly correspond to his time as mayor of Cologne, avoiding the attention of the Nazis, and as Chancellor. I think that Williams has wonderfully captured many of the nuances of the political life of a complex, and in some ways enigmatic, man. This is not a hagiography, Adenauer certainly had his share of human weaknesses and these are not glossed over. He was also somewhat of a street fighter when it came to politics and I got the sense that Adenauer actually enjoyed the rough and tumble of the political world (particularly since he usually came out on top).

One other aspect of this book really intrigued me. This book is a wonderful vignette on the Cold War from a German perspective. When reading about the 50s and the Cold War, most American readers will be intimately familiar with the Korean War, McCarthyism, and the atomic bomb. The German perspective was somewhat different, and the issues facing Adenauer give the reader an interesting perspective on the events of this era. The Soviet threat loomed right over the border, not 5000 miles away over the Arctic Circle. Other issues of great import to Germany (and Adenauer) include rearmament, sovreignity, and re-unification with the East.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful biography. I knew very little about Adenauer and the events described in this book, and it has certainly filled my gaps in my knowledge. There isn't a whole lot about Adenauer written in English, so I would highly recommend this to anyone with even moderate interest. I agree with one of the other reviewers that the last section is a little light. It occupies over 200 pages in the book, but the events and details surrounding the treaties, reforms, and political machinations of Adenaeur's tenure as chancellor could have been expanded.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A heavy reliance on secondary sources. 6 Dec 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I bought this book I had high expections. The cover photograph is awesome! The book however, turned out to be a disapointment. In terms of research, it's similar to an undergraduate paper. Williams uses very few primary sources, relying instead on the work of others. It's kind of a cut and past job. An examination of the citations will confirm this.
I was especially looking forward to a discussion of what many consider Adenauer's finest hour. His decision, despite intense opposition, to push for reparations for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Williams barely mentions the reparations and dosn't even attempt to examine Adenaurer's motivations.
In terms of of giving an overview of Adenauer's life the book's ok. But this giant of the 20th Century deserves better.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful biography on one of Germany's great leaders 12 Mar 2003
By "objectivereader" - Published on Amazon.com
This book is the biography of the great Konrad Adenauer, the long serving German Kanzeller charged with rebuilding a shattered Germany following WW2. His childhood, education, and involvement in the Köln government are all described in detail. He is shown in an honest light and at times comes across as egotistical, greedy, and unfaithful. But he was also very determined, highly competent, and utterly committed to seeing Germany reunited under a peaceful, democratic government.
Overall, the book is a worthwhile read but tended to be a bit dry and sometimes got bogged down in detail. The complex issues facing him after the war and how he dealt with them are really the most important parts of this book and I would have liked to have seen this covered in a bit more detail. For those looking for an informative and comprehensive history of Herr Adenauer, this should do.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent political biography 27 April 2008
By Thomas Hofer - Published on Amazon.com
Charles Williams has written a biography almost like none I have ever read before. I am stating this because I grew up in West Germany when Konrad Adenauer was chancellor there, and remember Adenauer very vividly. Still, it was not until I read Mr. Williams' book that I learned a lot about Adenauer's life before 1945. Williams describes Adenauer's life virtually from the beginning to the end, covering every episode in equal detail, and the reader learns a lot about Adenauer who, after all, was a great statesman. It is interesting to read about Adenauer as a family man, his contacts with the Maria Laach abbey (whose abbot was a school friend of Adenauer's), his rise through the ranks of Cologne city government until he became mayor in 1917, his tenure as mayor from 1917 until 1933, his ouster by the Hitler regime, and his being in hiding from 1933 until 1945. Prior to reading that book, I had not learned a lot about Adenauer before 1945, except for a few fragments. Adenauer himself wrote memoirs after he stepped down as West German chancellor in 1963, but they begin with his return to Cologne in 1945, his being re-appointed mayor of that city by the Americans that same year, and his being dismissed by the British later that same year. The memoirs go on with his being made chancellor in 1949 and his experiences afterwards; unfortunately, they were not fully completed because Adenauer died before they could be completed. Even in that aspect, Charles Williams fills a lot of gaps with his book that Adenauer left with his memoirs. The book has since been translated into German.
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