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Bismarck: A Life Paperback – 2 Aug 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 600 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (2 Aug. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199642427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199642427
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 4.4 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 113,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


This is an austere and thoughtful book ... Steinberg has given us a major biography. (The Guardian)

Otto von Bismarck became the dominant figure of his era and, as this rich and readable biography shows, had an almost uncanny sense of power. Steinberg's portrait is very much warts and all. (The Sunday Times)

Jonathan Steinbergâs new biography of Bismarck has been widely acclaimed, and rightly so. I read a lot of German history, and this is the most enjoyable German history book I have read in years. As a deeply researched but accessible guide to the life of one of nineteenth-century Europeâs most compelling and significant political figures, it stands head and shoulders above other Bismarck biographies. (Abigail Green, European History Quarterly)

About the Author

Jonathan Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, and Emeritus Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He is the author of Yesterday's Deterrent: Tirpitz and the Birth of the German Battle Fleet (1965), Why Switzerland? (2nd ed.1996) and All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust, 1941 to 1943 (classic edition 2002). He was also the principal author of The Deutsche Bank and its Gold Transactions during the Second World War (1999).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Steinberg tells us in his Preface that he has had access, which no earlier biographers have had, to what contemporaries have said in letters and diaries about Bismarck, and those sources are certainly interesting to read. The result is an emphasis on Bismarck's complex personality. For some of his characteristics possible explanations are supplied in Freudian terms - transferences of how he related to his father and his mother. There is a convincing explanation of Bismarck's many attacks of bad health, as being due to rage whenever he was thwarted or to exhaustion, rather than elation, whenever he had won a hard-fought struggle. Gut-busting over-eating did not help. He frequently threatened to resign if he did not get his way over the most trivial issues. The mystery is that William I, however severe their disagreements, always refused to let him go. Perhaps it was because William paid more attention than Steinberg does to Bismarck's value as a diplomatic genius; for Steinberg the central point is, over and over again, the dominance that Bismarck's personality exerted over the King. At the same time the constitution Bismarck had devised and the fact that he was never a party leader with a substantial personal parliamentary following meant that he was totally dependent on the monarch and never had any personal parliamentary following.

Bismarck is shown repeatedly to have been deeply neurotic, repeatedly to the point of hysteria, hate-filled, vindictive, and paranoid (with some justification: he had made so many enemies, at Court and elsewhere). His intemperate rages drove his doctor to resign. (The next doctor, regarded by his colleagues as a quack, was curiously successful by treating Bismarck with the "tender loving care" with which noone had ever treated him before.
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Format: Hardcover
I genuinely cannot remember the last time I looked forward to a book with as much anticipation as I did for this biography of Bismarck. The emphasis, before the release, was on Steinberg's access to materials that no other biographer had access to. It promised a 'warts and all' investigation into Bismarck's life. I'll nail my colours to the mast here and say that the yardstick biographer I measure all biographies by is Roy Jenkins.

As I don't HATE the book, and as both of the above claims it made are true, it can get two stars. But why can't it get more?

I think probably the most significant point is that Steinberg utterly, utterly fails to bring Bismarck to life. This man was one of the greats of European history. He, and he alone, is largely responsible for creating a Europe that looks in some way like it does now. The most influential character of the nineteenth century? Probably not. In the top 10? Without a doubt. There should be enough in all this, not to mention Bismarck's legendary hypochondria, gluttonous appetite and self-proclaimed ambition to drink a certain number of bottles of Champagne and smoke a certain number of cigars before he died (I think it was 10,000 and 5,000 respectively) to flesh out Otto. Sadly, the details of his self-proclaimed ambition, his throwing an inkpot at the Kaiser, his locking himself in a cupboard when storming out of a room by mistake, are all ignored.

Instead, we are treated to a dry, turgid, day-by-day account of what Bismarck did and when, without any sort of effort to link the strands of his character together or show how they develop. If I'd not read any other books on Bismarck, I'd feel he was an exceptionally boring man.
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By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 31 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is an intriguing study of a leader - part "charismatic" charmer, part ruthless monster. Bismarck is brought to life through hundreds of quotations from a wide variety of politicians and socialites who knew him. Their names alone make fascinating reading: Johann Bernard Graf von Reckburg und Rothenlöwen, for instance. Bismarck's own memoirs are quite revealing. In his youth he wrote in a witty and self-deprecating style - his account of a train journey with young children and a wife too embarrassed to breastfeed her howling baby could have been written yesterday.

Bismarck achieved the unification of the German States, and broke free from the dominance of the old Austrian Empire. He introduced a state-funded social security system a quarter of a century before Lloyd George managed it in Britain. Personally brave, yet aggressive and a bully, he was prepared to destroy those who challenged him, even old friends. An arch-manipulator who conducted domestic and foreign policy - realpolitik- like a chess or poker game which he had to win, he seemed to have a low boredom threshold and could not help experimenting with ideas - often quite visionary- to pass the time.

A man of contradictions, he persecuted the catholics when it suited him politically, and was often crudely anti-semitic - but he employed a Jewish banker to manage his investments, and remembered with nostalgia his late-night political discussions with the Jewish socialist Lasselle.

Despite his apparently despotic power and undeniable influence, he remained totally dependent on the support of the Prussian King whom he made into an Emperor, with whom he maintained a complex emotional relationship spanning several decades.
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