At a little over five hundred pages, W.L. Langer's overview of European diplomacy in the first, Bismarckian period of the German Empire (1871-90) is certainly impressive and, maybe surprisingly, also sufficiently comprehensive. The later nineteenth century is, to us moderns, an undiscovered country; the epic events of the twentieth and early twenty-first century have so narrowed our historical vision that we have forgotten all that precedes the great cataclysm of the Second World War.
It is in this sense that Langer succeeds brilliantly in bringing to life this vanished era. In the memoranda, notes, treaties, and newspaper articles of the times we learn clearly what mattered to statesmen, but also to the general public, in those days. A very clear sense is created of the strategic threats, the fears and hopes of diplomats and politicians. Langer's treatment of the crises of the period is competent, his handling of historiographical issues sure.
The chief complaints against this work must be those of style. Langer writes competently enough, but there is never a sentence that one would wish to savour aesthetically, not a phrase one would re-read for the sheer pleasure of it. This makes the going somewhat tough, as the author's bland style makes the sometimes complicated subject matter seem more difficult than it is. The book's ending is also abrupt; but so is that of this review.
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