First published in 1978 some aspects of this book have been overtaken by the almost saturation coverage that is given to both world wars. However, this does not detract from the very lucid and cogent way in which Professor Craig writes about the period.
Beginning with the war against Austria in 1866, the Danish war in 1864 obviously being of little importance, we follow the troubled, violent and often anarchic birth of Europe's major European power. The book for me was particularly strong on the relationship between Bismarck and the German states, the often regressive nature of the monarchichal feuding and the nascent nationalism and socialism of the pre 1914 period. The internecine political squabbling and manoeuvering by various political groupings, that both allowed and encouraged the military to act as a separate entity within the state, together with Kaiser Wilhelm II's isolation and hubris almost guaranteed war even without the empire building machinations of others and the naval building programme of Tirpitz.
The Kulturkampf (anti-catholic movement) is explained in some detail, it's origins and impact. As are the issues surrounding working class social welfare and Bismarcks numerous attempts to control and supress the rise of socialist and communist urban working class identity.
You get the picture of a country and a ruling class almost desperate for status and acceptance, but having without Bismarck in his prime few people capable of delivering it for them.
The cultural milieu of the period, the role of artists, the struggle of women are all worked through and summarised with great understanding and clarity. He also explains the role in the universities and academics in fostering national identity and militant nationalism.
WW1 itself is interesting not so much for it's military aspects but the behind the scenes rivalry of the politicians and military commanders. The character assessments, so important and so often missed are balanced and inciteful.
The bloody anarchy after 1918, hyperinflation and the devastating impact and ruin this caused to many evoke a sympathy that you would struggle to have at the end of this awful war.
The cultural brilliance and political brittleness of the Weimar period are probably one of the best parts of this book. The financial speculation which so closely mirrored the Grunderzeit (economic transformation and development that followind unification in 1871) and Grunderkrach (economic crash) of the 1870's show a society that for all it's energy, brilliance and ability is undeveloped and unstable.
Professor Craig shows great understanding of the attractions that brought National Socialism into play. Neither does he stint in his understanding of the personal and political qualities Hitler showed that enabled him to acquire power, transform the party from the socialist party it started out as, it was described in 1924 'a pure workers movement. 'Bolshevik poison in black, red and white packing', into the cult of personality that it became. It's revolutionary elements being bloodily purged in 1934.
If you wanted a starting point for this period it is highly recommended.
Loses one mark for the many failures to translate important phrases in the text, even where key quotations are noted in the appendix.