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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 19 June 2001
Twenty-one years after it was first published, this still looks like the best account of why Britain and Germany grew ever more at odds with each other in the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Kennedy's fundamental point is that, with Britain an established world power and Germany becoming stronger and more ambitious as time passed, the antagonism was all but inevitable. One power wanted to preserve the status quo, or allow only modest changes; the other wanted its "place in the sun" and, after Bismarck's departure, pursued its goals with alarming single-mindedness, not to say pushy aggressiveness. If Germany ended up with an encircling Anglo-Franco-Russian alliance around it, it basically had itself to blame. Perhaps a more liberal and less divided German society and a more inclusive post-1870 political settlement would have made a difference. Or perhaps, as one historian once suggested to me, "the basic problem was that Germany was too big for Europe".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2013
Lets get the housekeeping out of the way first. This is a very in-depth study of the subject that requires a reasonable knowledge of both the period, political background in both countries and the more prominent political and cultural figures. It is not a book for the beginner. Having said that, it is written without pretence, in clear, straightforward prose and without any attempt either to talk down to the reader or use language that does not make either the subject or the arguments comprehensible.

The book is broken down into three chronological sections studying political relations between 1860-1880, 1880-1906 and then the deteriorating period prior to WW1. Interspersed between are two sections that draw together the political background by examining the roles of public opinion; the debates within the various political groupings and parties; the role of the press, religious and cultural attitudes and the monarchy. Both the Kaiser who held a position of great authority and power within the German political structure and Queen Victoria and Edward VII were of significant presence and influence within their own structures of power. There is in-depth examination of the diplomatic principles, private opinions, attempts to use and manipulate the press and influence party and public opinion.

In some ways the arguments in this book are very obvious and easy to follow. Germany a rising power in central Europe, having won three wars prior to unification in 1871, with a fractured and underdeveloped political structure, a monarchical and highly centralised system of political authority, an energetic, motivated and well educated population compared itself and chafed against Britain, a highly developed, established imperial power that certainly towards the end of the Victorian period realised that it's industrial lead and colonial markets and reach were under pressure both from Germany and the United States. On top of this Britain's geographic position, it's widespread responsibilities and trade links with empire around the globe made it dependant on the Royal Navy, an organisation that had both practical and mythic status for the country as a whole.

Although the colonial aspect while creating a lot of background noise, and particularly in relation to the Boer War straining relationships because of the Kruger telegram, mutual press hostility and a level of again popular press and public vituperation showed the more outward signs of the clash. The more fundamental aspects of power politics, the balance of power within Europe; the weakness of France following defeat in 1870; the continuing weakness of both Austria-Hungary, the disintegrating Ottoman Empire and the machinations of Russia, considered a great power until the defeat at Tsushima by Japan in 1905 are much more revealing. The sheer complexity of the diplomatic manoeuvres, with each country trying to balance its needs and alliances is astonishing, but easy to follow and understand, even when it is often difficult to perceive actual value in many of them.

Another fascinating aspect is how over time views changed from the British view of Germany as a largely harmless (with the exception of Prussia) collection of minor kingdoms and trading cities (trade relations and their increasing advantage to Germany are covered in some detail. German merchants were prominent in Manchester from the early 19th century because Britain was a more stable trading environment during the Napoleonic wars), to that of an aggressive, militaristic state despised because of Bismarck's power and perceived dishonesty. From the German side Britain is seen on the left in Germany is a country to follow because of its more open and liberal democratic culture and despised by the more aristocratic elements and the Junkers for exactly the same reason. Gladstone particularly is loathed by the latter with Salisbury seen as a more amenable opponent. Latterly positions were reversed in Germany with the Liberals seen as more accepting of a degree of German expansion with the Unionist/Conservative party seeing the country in a far more negative light. Books such as the 'Battle of Dorking', 'Riddle of the Sands, 39 Steps all played on fears of German Invasion.

From an economic aspect many Germans brought up in the Hegelian school who looked at public responsibility as diametrically opposed to liberal laissez faire capitalism, decried what they called 'Manchesterstum' and hated the City of London for much the same reasons many people hate it to-day. Again many in Britain while admiring of German education and industry were bewildered about the effect it was having in challenging British supremacy, something to which the country struggled to respond.

Of course the greatest confrontation was in the area of naval enlargement. Wilhlem II, Tirpitz and von Bulow, the Chancellor all sought such expansion to directly challenge British control principally of the North Atlantic, a challenge to which there was a near unanimity of response in Britain. Interestingly some of the chief sabre rattlers such as Tirpitz and Northcliffe had a deep appreciation of each others culture. Northcliffe read German magazines and books regularly and Tirpitz spoke English at home, employed an English nanny and sent both his daughters to Cheltenham Ladies College. However, these cultural perspectives had little impact on the politics and hyper-nationalism in either country.

Paul Kennedy firmly places the responsibility for the negative and aggressive stance with Germany. He does however, show understanding of the fact that unlike the United States that was expanding into territory held by a more primitive culture unable to respond to continuing encroachment, Germany was surrounded and felt surrounded by what it considered by almost equally aggressive nation states sharing a much more confined area of land, and to which the chances to expand for a burgeoning population developing a much greater sense of their own identity, were severely limited.

Highly recommended.
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Professor Kennedy has produced a series of books, the best known of which are 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' and 'The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery'. This lesser known study is an essential adjunct to these major works and addresses, in more detail, a period that was critical to both Great Britain and Germany within the context of his historical overview. In my own work, 'The Lion and the Eagle', I have been greatly indebted to Paul Kennedy's books. Together with Marder, Hough, and Rodger, amongst others, he provides all the basic facts and assessments that other historians continue to use, and toss around in their various arguements. Read 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers' first; then 'The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery'. Then this.
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on 17 May 2014
The only problem with this book is that is not more readily available, it's an outstanding book and essential reading to the most important rivalry of two states in modern times, without the rivalry do we get two world wars and the ensuing Cold War? Unlikely. This is a classic students of the subject should not be without.
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on 14 October 2013
Prof Kennedy has produced an outstanding, comprehensive history of this critical period ranging over the economic as well as the social, diplomatic and politcal arenas and their interrelationships.
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0 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2010
I haven't began reading it yet. Just because it's so hard. Impressive(!) the low quality of this pbk edition.
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