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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Course of German History
Germany stands at the geographical heart of Europe yet its history is largely unknown in Britain, notwithstanding the Anglo-Saxon heritage that dominated English culture for five hundred years before being overthrown by the Normans. Knowing the tribal nature of Germany is essential to an understanding of Germany as a whole. The Germans consisted of over 100 tribes. The...
Published on 13 Dec 2011 by Neutral

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Frustrations of German History
I was quite disappointed with this book and what follows will explain why. It's not that I did not learn anything; who wouldn't from such a textbook as this, published by one of the world's most reputable university presses? Published in 1996, one might argue that the market for this kind of product will gradually fade in the age of Wikipedia, but I will keep it on my...
Published on 14 Oct 2011 by Nicholas Casley


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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Frustrations of German History, 14 Oct 2011
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Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany (Cambridge Illustrated Histories) (Hardcover)
I was quite disappointed with this book and what follows will explain why. It's not that I did not learn anything; who wouldn't from such a textbook as this, published by one of the world's most reputable university presses? Published in 1996, one might argue that the market for this kind of product will gradually fade in the age of Wikipedia, but I will keep it on my bookshelf nonetheless because it will still have some value.

It consists of an introduction, thirteen chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters are chronological in scope with the usual unfortunate format of telescoping history, with the result that the book's midway point covers the revolutions of 1848. Kitchen's opening sentence remarks that, "No country is fonder of historical debates than Germany, sometimes over topics which to outsiders hardly seem important." The purpose of this statement is to argue about when German history actually begins, but there is nothing unique about this as a German experience, for the same could quite equally be said about French, Italian - or even English history. But one question that is not openly addressed by this book is whether this is a history of the Germans or of the land now called Germany, for even in the earlier chapters there is little or no mention of events east of the Oder, but which were more and more decidedly German as time progressed. The only battle of Tannenberg that is mentioned is that of 1914; the defeat of the Teutonic Knights in 1410 is an event that is completely ignored.

But whichever date Kitchen decides is the commencement of German history, his treatment of the first thousand years or more is immensely partial. He seems a little out of his depth in this long but crucial period. (His forte is high politics and the army in nineteenth/twentieth century Germany.) So, although he starts with Rome, there is nothing on the occupiers of the land before. He then fails to make clear whether it was the Romans or the Germans themselves who referred to the peoples as `Franks' or `Alemanni', and whether the Alemanni of the fourth century were the same people as those of the eighth. There is no mention at all of the Saxon invasions of England, but one would have liked to have known whether these were the same Saxons defeated by Charlemagne in 782? Kitchen's concentration on dynastic politics in this period means the social, cultural, and economic history of Germany is barely mentioned prior to the Reformation. It also means that, whereas there is precious little on the Slavs who resided on lands that
later became part of Germany, ironically we spend much time in northern Italy and Sicily.

Throughout the earlier chapters there are references made to areas of Germany but no map is presented to the reader to assist him or her in placing them in geographical context. This problem is pertinent when Kitchen refers to peoples such as Saxons or Swabians, whose apparent place of origin is not necessarily the same as the places called such today. Indeed, there is a marked lack of geographical appreciation at all in the narrative: reading this book, who would know, for example, that a mountain range separated Germany from Italy, or that the great rivers helped and hindered trade and the movement of peoples. It is not until page 53 that any maps at all appear, and even then they are paltry amateur affairs, far below the standards that one would expect from Cambridge University Press. The book has illustrations on almost every page, yet few prove inspirational, and many appear pages after the referring text. (The `supposed' reference guide at the end is also poor, consisting of a one-page chronology and a bibliography.)

I was also disappointed by the relatively high level of punctuation omissions and often poor stylistic grammar. For example, poor sentence structure makes Alaric a Roman rather than a Goth, and some sentences that are subjunctive in spirit could be read the `wrong' way, as being indicative in meaning. (In his acknowledgements Kitchen thanks someone "for saving me from many errors, clichés and split infinitives.") There is a also a lack of precision in the text, with Kitchen talking about Hamburg or Venice as if these were real places centuries before their founding. And names that would be little-known to the general reader are just dropped into the text with little or no context. So we are left wondering what were the origins of the Salians? Who was or were the heathen Slavic Liuitzi? Who crowned Charles IV in Rome when the papacy was then based in Avignon? What was the difference between burghers and guild-members? For the first-time reader, there is no explanation for Erasmus upholding free-will or "Luther's grim determinism". Who were the Anabaptists and what made them difference from other sects? What was Biedermeier? What was the money seized by the Prussians from Hanover in 1866, and who was Otto Wels, that he was held hostage in 1918?

So, is there anything good to say about this book? Well, it is a body of knowledge and argument. For instance, Kitchen paints Bismarck in a favourable light. He also makes the point that there were no stormings of Bastilles in Germany because of the strong public confidence in the powers of legal redress. Whilst it might fail to provide alternative viewpoints about certain events or people, the book at least poses important questions, not least being who is a German? As Kitchen writes, citizenship is a matter of ethnicity: "Even today a Russian, born of parents who can claim descent from Germans but who cannot speak a word of German, has an automatic right to German citizenship. A child of Turkish parents, born in Germany, fluent in German and attending a German school does not." Kitchen also makes prescient links across the centuries between events hundreds of years previously and those of a more recent vintage. But more could have been made of this, as well as between German history and the histories of the powers surrounding it, such as comparisons between post-1648 France and the constitutional reforms made in Germany.

Comparisons with other nations aid in discovering what makes that of Germany so special. I worked through this book from beginning to end on the train from London to Berlin and during the subsequent week spent in the German capital. I was forced to conclude that Germany has been a problem to itself and to its neighbours for most of its existence. But how else could it be when you have an economic powerhouse at the heart of Europe? This, once again, demonstrates the fundament of geography in any historical considerations, but Kitchen gives this geographic centrality just a paragraph in his conclusion. There is much history in this book but little explanation.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Course of German History, 13 Dec 2011
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany (Cambridge Illustrated Histories) (Hardcover)
Germany stands at the geographical heart of Europe yet its history is largely unknown in Britain, notwithstanding the Anglo-Saxon heritage that dominated English culture for five hundred years before being overthrown by the Normans. Knowing the tribal nature of Germany is essential to an understanding of Germany as a whole. The Germans consisted of over 100 tribes. The East Germanic tribes, including the Goths, Burgundians, Vandals and the Scirii emigrated from Scandinavia. The West Germanic tribes included the Franks, a confederation of tribes, which proved to be one of the power brokers after the collapse of the Roman Empire. When German tribes were attacked from the East by the Huns, a collection of Asiatic tribes, they migrated to other parts of Europe.

German history is no different from politics elsewhere. Kings entered into alliances on the basis of advantage for themselves. German dynasties tended to divide their estates by appointing their sons as kings of specific territories. This had the effect of plunging German states into constant civil war. Charles the Great (Charlemagne) was king of the Franks from 768 AD and Emperor of the Romans from 800 AD. He spent most of his life fighting his enemies including the pagan Saxons, 4500 of whom were massacred after the battle of Verdun in 782 AD. The Saxons were forced to convert to Christianity on pain of death. This assisted Charlemagne to maintain his primary objectives of defending the Papacy and Christendom. The rapidity with which changes took place require a narrative rather than a thematic approach and Martin provides a superbly written narrative.

In 911 four East Frankish peoples - the Franks, Swabians, Bavarians and Saxons formed the kingdom of Germany - and were joined by the French-speaking Lotharingians fourteen years later. By the thirteenth century dynastic rivalries had created a power vacuum which left Germany dominated by its territorial princes. The Prince-electors had a powerful voice in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. Hence the study of the role of dynasties and the interaction between them is essential to understanding Germany in the early modern period. In nationalistic terms Germany was still in its infancy and, notwithstanding the Nazis attempt to mythologise the German past, it was not until 1871 that Germany became a single nation-state.

The Reformation, far from increasing nationalistic ideas, simply provided "fresh opportunities for the princes to increase their power". The Diet of Speyer (1526) agreed that the individual rulers of the 225 German states be permitted to determine their state's religion according to their conscience. This promoted political and military cooperation but not nationhood. The Schmalkaldic League (1531) initially defended Lutherism but evolved into a territorial group opposed to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Charles hoped his victory over the League in 1547 would restore religious unity within the Empire but had to accept the de facto existence of Protestantism. In 1555 this was confirmed by the Peace of Augsburg. When the Peace of Westphalia brought an end to the Thirty Years War and boosted the twin ideas of religious tolerance and sovereign states Germany was still "a loose federation of virtually sovereign states." This is obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to read the book in toto.

So too is the fact that Martin provides coverage of economic, social and religious issues. In particular, he describes the advance of the mining industry and the replacement in international trade of Italian bankers by the German Fugger family. Eventually the Fuggers took their place amongst the German nobility in the sixteenth century in a society which "was in many respects the century of the bourgeoisie. They controlled the economy, set cultural standards and exercised considerable political influence." Martin Luther's observation that, "our German devil is to be found in a good wineskin and is called booze" was perspicacious. In Luther's time the average Hamburger drank 200 gallons of beer annually compared with 33 gallons in 1993. The intellectual sources of the humanism espoused by Erasmus and the theologians are clearly stated and placed within the political, economic and social context of the time.

The House of Hohenzollern became prince-electors of Brandenburg in 1415 and Dukes of Prussia in 1525. In 1701 The Elector Frederick 111 crowned himself as Frederick 1, King in Prussia. During the eighteenth century Prussia expanded and, together with Russia and Austria, partitioned Poland out of existence in 1795. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 a German Confederation was created to act as a buffer against the French and Russians. Its members could not agree on common policies, although a customs union (Zollverein) led by Prussia facilitated economic growth in the 1840s. Economic union encouraged nationalism but the revolution of 1848, led by nationalists and liberals, failed primarily because of the disparate nature of Germany itself. Prussia seized the initiative by defeating Austria in 1866 and establishing a Prussian led unification of all German states five years later.

The importance of understanding a book lies in reading it in full rather than engaging in quibbling about grammar. The claim that poor sentence construction makes Alaric a Roman rather than a Goth is pettifogging and inaccurate. Similarly with Otto Wels, who Martin identifies as "Berlin's SPD boss" and describes his role in frustrating the radical left's post-war plans for a Soviet style regime. In 1933 he was the only member of the Reichstag to speak against the Enabling Act. Martin provides sufficient information for readers to pursue the subject further should (s)he wish to do so. Anyone looking for an introduction to the subject will find a firm foundation on which to build. Certainly worth four stars and well worth purchasing.
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