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.