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96 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expansive and detailed history of the Prussian Empire,
Rich in detail, Christopher Clark's new book Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947, is a welcome addition to the multitude of histories covering central Europe. Clark brings to life an era of Prussian history that is little known aside from the 19th and 20th century Kaisers and this expansive history is a fine piece of research.

Clark...
Published on 11 Dec 2006 by A. G. Corwin

versus
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much talk not enough action...
They say never trust a book by its cover and this book is a great case in point. The paperback oozes the military confidence and strangely warlike nature of Prussia. This promised to be a book that in equal measure dazzles you with military prowess and then the cultural achievements of Prussia all to end in the inferno of World War 2...but then you actually start reading...
Published on 11 Mar 2008 by J. Duducu


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96 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expansive and detailed history of the Prussian Empire,, 11 Dec 2006
By 
A. G. Corwin - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Rich in detail, Christopher Clark's new book Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947, is a welcome addition to the multitude of histories covering central Europe. Clark brings to life an era of Prussian history that is little known aside from the 19th and 20th century Kaisers and this expansive history is a fine piece of research.

Clark analyzes the transformation of the Prussian empire from its small Brandenburg origins to the dominant European power it became. The book covers all the major rulers from the Great Elector to Frederick the Great to Kaiser "Willy", and examines in detail the social, political, economic and military issues that played such a part in the development of Prussia. Where Clark especially shines is the detail of the empire's early years with the Great Elector and his two successors. In this era Prussia gained extensive swaths of territory through alliances and marriages, even as it went through internal and religious strife at home. Clark has clearly done his homework, scouring through dusty archives and examining in multiple languages the papers of the empire, most notably the Political Testaments (a letter of sorts to the next King) of the early Kings. Clark examines the successes of the Prussian military machine, with its strength of the canton regimental system, and the growth of the civil service and judiciary. The political maneuverings between Prussia, France, England, Russia, and Austria make for fascinating reading, with Prussia somehow managing to come out ahead more often than not (conversely, Austria managed to always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory).

This is a large book, and takes a while to get through. Clark's writing style is fairly fluid, rich with detail, but the structure of the book is more thematic as opposed to linear, at least in the early chapters. For example, the clash of Lutheranism and Calvanism in the early empire spanned many decades and three different rulers, with the text jumping back and forth between the years. After a few chapters, it's hard to keep focus on who is ruling and what territory is gained, but it does get better as you get deeper into the book. This however, is a minor fault and may be more based on my writing preferences rather than any fault of the author's. All in all though, it is a very solid book and a nice addition to your history shelf. Recommended.

A.G. Corwin

St.Louis, MO
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90 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is history as it should be written, 30 Aug 2006
By 
M. Burton (English Midlands) - See all my reviews
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It's not very often that you read something which really changes your thinking about a major area of History. This book does. It shows that there is a far greater richness and diversity to the Prussian story than the hoary military stereotypes would have us believe. This book is superb on Prussia in the Napoleonic period, and also on the unification era. Clark is very good also at his pen-portraits - Hegel, the captain of Koepenick, Georg Grosz et al. Above all this is a book which encourages us to see Prussia as distinct from Germany, and is a fine attempt to rehabilitate an entity tarred with a perhaps unjustified degree of opprobrium after 1945.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 24 Nov 2006
By 
Lobsterman (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
I heard many good things about this book before I got it, and was pleased to find that they were all true. This is a fascinating journey through some 350 years of Prussian history, from the early days of the Mark Brandenburg to post-WWII. There is a lot here, and as others have said it will probably take you a while to get through it, not because the writing is difficult (it is anything but, being admirably clear and flowing) but because of its size (indeed, until I read this book I did not realise how big asubject this was). But it is well worth the journey.

Even on the rare occasions that I feared the author was getting off the main subject, e.g. his detailed treatment of the Pietist religious movement in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, I came out feeling that this was all highly relevant to the main theme. Indeed, I now feel I understand much better the reasons for and effects of that peculiar blend of insecurity and confidence, indeed at times arrogance, that drove much of Prussian history and was typified in the person of Wilhelm II. At the same time it shows clearly that there was never a uniformity of Prussion thought and culture, and that there were always elements that were at odds with what became perceived as rigid Prussian stereotypes.

Thoroughly recommended.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?, 19 Oct 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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Another reviewer has expressed surprise that the author of this history of Prussia from 1600 to 1947 scarcely mentions the First World War; but this is to misunderstand the purpose of the book. This is not a narrative history of Prussia, let alone Germany. It is an attempt to explain some of the contradictions in Prussian history and politics; and why a state which so justly merited the title of `Iron Kingdom' ultimately collapsed and was expunged from the annals of history after the Second World War. In this, Christopher Clark succeeds brilliantly.

Who can honestly say they know anything about Prussia? When I first came across the place at school, I could not understand how there could be two states with such similar names - Prussia and Russia; and it took a long time to understand the relationship between historic Prussia and present-day Germany. Clark shows very well how this grew, but also how complex the relationship was; and how the dominance of Prussia within the German Empire between 1870 and 1914, together with the uncertain position of the Kaiser and the Army in the imperial constitution, was responsible for many of Germany's problems.

Clark tells some familiar stories - for example about Frederick the Great's invasion of Silesia and his tragic relationship with his friend Von Katte, and about the Captain of Kopenick - but he also explains some unfamiliar problems of German history. If you want to know about the conflict between the Calvinism of the State and the Lutheranism of some of the people in the seventeenth century; about Bismarck's `Kulturkampf' against the Catholic Church in the nineteenth; about the reasons why the Prussian Army collapsed so suddenly in the face of Napoleon but performed so spectacularly against Austria and France two generations later; about the role of women in the Prussian story; about why Bismarck was the architect of national insurance as well as of German unity; about why the First World War broke out, read on. These are only a sample of the topics discussed, by someone who clearly knows what he is talking about.

The book is not `dry' as one reviewer suggests: on the contrary it is a skilful interweaving of facts and anecdote, of people and socio-economic analysis. At the same time, I have to say that I did not find much in this book about the reasons for Germany's rise to economic and industrial leadership in Europe in the period before 1914, nor about her scientific, cultural and philosophic predominance; that I was not always swept along by the author's style; and the maps are not very good when viewed on the Kindle edition; but overall this is an illuminating survey of what is, in effect, the whole of Prussian history. The Iron Kingom is no more: only Brandenburg remains. Christopher Clark tells us why.

Stephen Cooper
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you always wanted to know about Prussia but were afraid to ask, 4 Aug 2013
By 
Anglophone (Paris, France) - See all my reviews
There is very little I can add to the other reviews of this book except to reiterate that despite its length and detail, it is a very easy and compelling book to read and one not to be missed for those who are interested in modern European history. This is a history of Prussia and how the Margraves of Brandenburg came to be the Kings in Prussia and then Kings of Prussia, before finally becoming the German Emperors. This is most emphatically not a history of Germany nor a history of the Hohenzollerns but a history of the territory they ruled and how they increased both the physical and political and cultural importance of their territory. Reading this book does require prior knowledge of the history of the region and periods covered not least to fill in those gaps others have mentioned. There are no family trees in the paperback edition, so it might be a good idea to print out one from the internet to follow who is who (and have a detailed atlas of Germany handy as well, as the maps in the Penguin edition are not always easy to read.)

Two very minor typographical/proofreading errors in the Penguin edition which I bought: (these ought to be addressed to Penguin but it has proved beyond my deductive skills to find how to contact their history editors) p. 62, Frederick II the Great is the Great Elector's great-grandson, not his grandson (an error not repeated elsewhere); and p. 666, the name should read Arthur Seyss-Inquart, not Inquest. It says much about the quality of the book that these two very minor errors appear all the more glaring because of that quality.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its best, 21 Jun 2013
History at its best.

The traditional view of the monocle bearing, militaristic, authoritarian state of Prussia is one that has lingered long in the memory. Indeed, the very name of Prussia conjures up images of Teutonic efficiency and aggressive militarism.

Thankfully, Professor Clark holes this idea below the waterline.

The book take us through a journey from Prussia as a European backwater, to its rise through shrewd power play and dynastic intrigue. We see Prussia staring into the abyss as Napoleon blazes a trail through Europe, only to rise again. We see a traditional Prussian anxiety of facing a two front war against France and Russia, magnified into German policy, and above all, we see the tragedy of the Prussian core - the lack of civilian control over the military.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth buying, 24 Nov 2006
By 
It's taken me a couple of months to battle my way through this book (time constraints, not because it is boring!), but it's been worth every penny spent on it. Christopher Clark is a very able writer, putting across 350 of history in an engaging, interesting manner. When I ordered the book, I was expecting history mostly of the military kind, in the with the popular view of Prussia as mostly a military power. Actually, the author spends a lot more time on the economic, political and social aspects of Prussia, which really broadened my understanding of it. I didn't know - for example - that Prussia sat out most of the 18th century wars after Fredrick the Great. This is apparently why the Prussians were so humiliated by Napoleon.

Some areas received more focus than others, such as Fredrick the Great, the Napoleonic Wars, the frequent near-revolutions amongst the various working class and agrarian workers during the 19th century, the Jews, Catholics and Poles living in Prussia. You get a real sense of the diversity of Prussia beyond the stereotypical view of the toffee-nosed Junker or precise goose-stepping soldiers. The `birth' of Prussia itself is fascinating - it was almost wiped out during the religious wars of the 17th century, the land being repeatedly invaded and occupied by various powers. The Prussian enlightenment also gets a good section on it, along with Bismarck's political machinations.

There is little on WW1 or WWII, but I think this is rightly so. What happened during the wars was experienced by all Germany. In all, this was a terrific buy, and the only surprising me is that no-one has written a book about Prussian history before.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rise and Downfall of a Great Book, 8 Jan 2008
By 
R. J. Bowen "fishcheese" (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I've given this work 4 stars with a few reservations.

On the plus side, it is a well-written, expertly researched masterpiece of modern history in a classic style (that is to say, it's honestly intellectual, scientifically rigorous and lacking in patronising gimmickery - hooray).

And the story of Prussia is very well told, in a weave that includes rulers, soldiers, politicians, philosophers, scientists, churchmen, and even the ordinary citizen, in buckets.

It is enormously informative as a result, and left me better educated, which should be the point, but...

Well, it's about those bizarre gaps that have irritated at least one other reviewer.

The first one occurs right at the start, when the author asks how it was that Prussia came to be at all, all things considered. It's a good question, and Mr Clark properly weighs some of the considerations. Then he forgets all about it, and starts his narrative proper with a fait accompli. Bizarre.

There is at least one other example of this in the text, before reaching the 20th Century and the rather odd non-mention of the Great War, although the author has by this time already skimmed over several important military events, like the Franco-Prussian War (believe it or not). It's rather as if the book is running out of steam.

Yet, I can understand that Mr Clark might be trying to concentrate exclusively on Prussian history - perhaps German Imperial history is not so important to him, although Bismark nevertheless IS, while William II is not. Nor is the Weimar Republic, nor Hitler, nor the Federal German Republic, other than in terms of a few reflections and musings.

SO you'll need to take this work as a very particular spotlamp, and have your hands on some other works to fill in the shadows (Massie's Dreadnought, for example).
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prussian History 'Der Grosse', 24 Aug 2007
I begged my wife to buy this for me for Christmas and I was not disappointed.
This spectacular panorama of Prussia is an absolutely fascinating read from the first to the last.
Anyone expecting a militaristic procession form Frederick William through Frederick The Great, Bismarck to Hindenberg et al should be disabused, this is not the focus of the book. It points to the significant positive cultural contributions of the Prussian State (The Chapters on Kant and Mendelssohn are superb) without shrinking from its unfortunate legacy.
If anyone is interested, Christopher Clark can be heard debating with the marvellous Richard J. Evans about Bismarck and his legacy at BBC Radio 4 `In Our Time' listen again section on the web.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much talk not enough action..., 11 Mar 2008
By 
J. Duducu (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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They say never trust a book by its cover and this book is a great case in point. The paperback oozes the military confidence and strangely warlike nature of Prussia. This promised to be a book that in equal measure dazzles you with military prowess and then the cultural achievements of Prussia all to end in the inferno of World War 2...but then you actually start reading it.

Everything here is well written, thoroughly researched and highly readable. I will give Christopher Clark 5 out of 5 for giving dry bureaucratic issues enough verve to get you to care. This book is one of those great titles that fills in the blanks around areas which most people know about- Frederick the Great WW1, WW2 (all be it discussed in a heart beat) etc are all present and correct but I had never even heard of Frederick William before and I am now suitably impressed by his abilities.

Where it falls down however is it is largely a cultural and sociological book. Nothing wrong with that per se but that isn't mentioned anywhere in the title and of course Prussia wasn't just renowned for its tax systems and pretty buildings. Even when the author gets to talking about the military it's more about the canton recruitment system than the actual fighting done by the army. It's almost like Christopher Clark finds the huge wars that engulfed Europe as dull but can't get enough of the importance of grain silo rebuilding which is (to be polite) a little odd.

If you are the sort of person who argues that social history is more important to the average man than battles, well I cannot argue with your logic, but I read history to not only learn but to be entertained too so to have the Franco-Prussian war distilled into 5 pages with only one of those on the battles I find disappointing particularly when you compare it to the endless information on the political repercussions of the 1848 uprisings.

Saying this misses the point is a little harsh but either there should be less detail on the structure of the bureaucracy to allow a little more on the Prussian military victories or perhaps it should have been a longer book giving the various conflicts as much depth as something as dull as the draining of the Oder estuary. The final option is just be honest and rename this "A social history of Prussia"- that way my negative comments are all irrelevant and I could have saved 7.99.

Going back to my title this could have done with less talk and more action.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947
Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark (Paperback - 30 Jan 2009)
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