on 9 August 2006
What this is not is an up to date overview of German history. It is idiosyncratic. It is a glorious and exteded rant. It is worth reading. This is a book one should read in the knowledge that what is said may very often be wrong (however wonderfully written), but that it was also written in certain context. Perhaps this is, above all, a book for those interested in Taylor himself - as one of the great historians.
on 29 March 2011
This book is a fantastic and concise history of German History between 1815 and 1945. Taylor's popular writing is at its best here, witty, jaded, critical and sometimes prone to generalisation or exaggeration. Historical errors are largely covered by the later prefaces where Taylor admits to error when writing in '46 without full access to the facts. However it was always meant to be a popular history rather than an academic work so the lack of fully qualifying statements with references can be forgiven in part.
The real problem with this book is that it is a book of it's time. Taylor was a political historian who thought in events and dramatic narrative, which he wove splendidly, but this way of analysing history has not lasted. So when looking at the rise of demagogues like Hitler or the struggles of Junker and German middle class, it isn't enough to just view the higher political events but to dig in to the economic and social histories of the times. Where he broke with many of the older historians is that he rarely had time for "Great Men" but saw almost all political leaders as men making do with the events before them rather than shapers and planners, he always presents this in a cynically witty manner. It also shows why it isn't just a polemic to cash in the mood of post war western Europe, it suited everyone to treat Hitler as an evil mad men who duped the world in to a war and to quickly re-assimilate the Federal Republic. Seen in the context of "The Origins of The Second World War", where Taylor was merciless with all political leaders on both sides and at times scathing of the populations of all countries, the book is not a polemic against the German people.
A great read and a concise narrative of the period, however it is not a work you should ever base an essay on.
on 20 March 2015
A brilliant history book for those students of German history, and for those wishing to read a superb summary of nineteenth and twentieth century German history up to July 1945. The preface (added 1961) sets the tone of Taylor's critical assessment of Germany and the Germans. For those accusing Taylor of holding brutal anti-German views, he reminds the reader that "the facts made it for themselves" - facts which indeed stand before us all to see, to learn, and to try and understand.
The first chapter sets the scene with a summary of German history from the time when Charlemagne founded the First Reich in the year 800 to the outbreak of the French revolution in 1789. This summary of nearly 1,000 years of German history in just twenty-four pages must stand alone as one of the greatest accomplishments in historical writing of any age. Taylor's lucid and evocative style may unsettle some readers, but it does stimulate the mind to ask questions, and sets the scene for the rest of the book. Of course, no one wishes to be described or labelled as a 'barbarian', even a 'barbarian of genius' (a clear reference to Frederick the Great of Prussia). But I rather suspect those who express concern at this language may not have learnt all the facts, or may not wish to, for whatever reason.
Of the following chapters, I would highly recommend the chapter on the failed German liberal revolution of 1848, which of course laid many of the seeds for the future troubles of Germany. The events of the German revolution are quite complicated, as the German Confederation at this time included such states as Austria and Bohemia, yet Taylor's lucid account and explanation of these events is excellent. Also, Taylor's analysis of Bismarck in the following chapters, and the way in which this German statesman balanced the aims of achieving 'Little Germany', whilst keeping those happy craving for 'Greater Germany', is another tremendous achievement in this book, and is highly recommended.
Also, the final chapters on the failure of the Weimar Republic and the rise of National Socialism are of particular value. Those looking for in-depth details of the blatant anti-Semitism of the Third Reich may be surprised by the lack of details of the barbarity of this episode in human history. Instead, Taylor focuses on the continuing 'balancing act' of Hitler's aim of achieving both 'Little' and 'Greater' German objectives, all focused ultimately in achieving the age-long German dream of 'Mitteleuropa'.
Again, highly recommended for all students of history, and for all those who wish to understand the complicated and tortuous history of the Germans, a peoples who have succeeded in most things down the ages, with the exception of mastering the art of politics.
on 23 February 2004
Old-fashioned, narrow-minded, out-dated. The book hides its thoughtless arrogance behind sophisticated wording and sharp, witty phrases. Well-written, and he knows his facts, but it's painfully obvious from what time it is. There are better books on the German history, don't waste your money on this one.
on 2 November 2010
Taylor wrote this to cash in on anti-German sentiments after the Second World War, when the British public would have been better served by a book describing how a lack of sensible diplomacy on all sides before, and on the French side immediately after the First World War lead to the conditions that Hitler exploited in his rise to power.