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Christopher Clark: What would Bismarck do?

26 September 2019
... What​ would Otto von Bismarck, the chief architect of Germany’s 19th-century unification, do in the situation currently faced by the British government? This apparently esoteric question is more pertinent than one might think, because ‘what would Bismarck do?’ is something that Dominic Cummings, political playmaker to Boris Johnson, who has been ‘gaming’ the current crisis all summer, has ...

Black Legends

David Blackbourn: Prussia

16 November 2006
Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 
by Christopher Clark.
Allen Lane, 777 pp., £30, August 2006, 0 7139 9466 5
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... travel writings and novels would combine sharp criticisms of the Prussian present with a melancholy, elegiac fondness for the Prussian past. Pinning down what Fontane meant takes us to the heart of ChristopherClark’s lively and thoughtful book. His clear-eyed account hinges on the idea that the essence of the Prussian tradition was the absence of tradition. It is not hard to see how that quality might ...

Nicky, Willy and George

Christopher Clark: The Tsar, the Kaiser and the King

22 October 2009
The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One 
by Miranda Carter.
Fig Tree, 584 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 670 91556 9
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... On 30 July 1914, it suddenly dawned on Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany was on the threshold of a war with three great powers. Panicking, he grabbed a recently arrived dispatch from St Petersburg and committed his agonised thoughts to paper in a frenzy of marginal scribbles. England was the author of Germany’s predicament, he scrawled. Over the years, it had gradually tightened a net of alliances around ...
9 April 2009
High Society in the Third Reich 
by Fabrice d’Almeida.
Polity, 294 pp., £17.99, November 2008, 978 0 7456 4312 0
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... In a diary entry for 11 August 1936, the German writer and journalist Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen recalled his first meeting with Adolf Hitler. It was in 1920, at the Munich home of his friend, the composer and conductor Clemens von Franckenstein. Among the Gobelin tapestries and the marble panels (Franckenstein lived at the time in the Villa Lenbach) sat Hitler in a pair of gaiters and a floppy ...

I could bite the table

Christopher Clark: Bismarck

31 March 2011
Bismarck: A Life 
by Jonathan Steinberg.
Oxford, 577 pp., £25, February 2011, 978 0 19 959901 1
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... In the autumn of 1862, the Kingdom of Prussia was paralysed by a constitutional crisis. Wilhelm I and his military advisers wanted to expand and improve the army. The liberal-dominated Prussian parliament refused to approve the necessary funds. At issue was the question of who had the right to determine the army’s character. The liberal view was that the parliament’s constitutional control of the ...

How powerful was the Kaiser?

Christopher Clark: Wilhelm II

22 April 2015
Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-41 
by John Röhl, translated by Sheila de Bellaigue and Roy Bridge.
Cambridge, 1562 pp., £45, February 2014, 978 0 521 84431 4
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... In January​ 1904, King Leopold II of Belgium was invited to Berlin to attend a birthday dinner for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two monarchs were seated next to each other and everything was going nicely until the Kaiser suddenly brought up the question of a possible future French attack on Germany. In the event of a war between Germany and France, Wilhelm explained, he would expect the Belgians to side ...

Theorist of Cosmic Ice

Christopher Clark: Himmler

11 October 2012
Heinrich Himmler 
by Peter Longerich, translated by Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe.
Oxford, 1031 pp., £25, October 2012, 978 0 19 959232 6
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... The ascent (if that’s the right word) of Heinrich Himmler to become the chief architect of Nazi genocide is one of the strangest strands of the regime’s story. There have been several studies of this enigmatic man, but Peter Longerich’s massive biography, grounded in exhaustive study of the primary sources, is now the standard work and must stand alongside Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, Ulrich Herbert’s ...

Still messing with our heads

Christopher Clark: Hitler in the Head

7 November 2019
Hitler: A Life 
by Peter Longerich.
Oxford, 1324 pp., £30, July 2019, 978 0 19 879609 1
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Hitler: Only the World Was Enough 
by Brendan Simms.
Allen Lane, 668 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 1 84614 247 5
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... Something​ very strange happens in the middle of The End, the sixth and last volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s titanic work of self-description. At around page 482, the book swerves away from scenes of family and social life, and plunges, like a car crashing through a safety barrier, into a prolonged reflection on Adolf Hitler. For 360 pages Knausgaard discusses Hitler’s youthful longing and seriousness ...

The First Calamity

Christopher Clark: July, 1914

29 August 2013
The War That Ended Peace 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Profile, 656 pp., £25, October 2013, 978 1 84668 272 8
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July 1914: Countdown to War 
by Sean McMeekin.
Icon, 461 pp., £25, July 2013, 978 1 84831 593 8
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... The European continent was at peace on the morning of Sunday, 28 June 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian heir to the throne, and his wife, Sophie Chotek, arrived at Sarajevo railway station. Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. In its complexity and the speed with which it escalated, the ‘July Crisis’ of 1914 is without parallel in world history. Franz Ferdinand and his wife were ...

Not Just a Phase

Nora Berend and Christopher Clark: Rewriting Hungary’s Past

20 November 2014
... This summer​ , a new monument appeared in Budapest’s Liberty Square. Amid a copse of truncated white marble pillars stands the metal figure of a slender young man. Wrapped from hips to feet in windswept drapery, he opens his arms to the sky. In his right hand he bears the orb of political authority surmounted by the Hungarian double-barred cross. Wings sprout from his shoulder blades. His expression ...

God bless Italy

Christopher Clark: Rome, Vienna, 1848

10 May 2018
The Pope Who Would Be King: The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe 
by David I. Kertzer.
Oxford, 474 pp., £25, May 2018, 978 0 19 882749 8
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... On the evening​ of 24 November 1848, Pope Pius IX fled from the city of Rome. At 5 p.m., he took off his Moroccan silk slippers with crosses embroidered on their uppers, put aside the red velvet papal cap and dressed himself in the black cassock and broad-brimmed hat of a country priest. Half an hour later, in a state of great agitation, he left the papal audience chamber in the Quirinale Palace ...
7 March 2019
... Jäger wohlauf! schlagt an!The tear for his wife and childrenDo not dishonour a man!Farewell, the time has come to die,To pay in blood for liberty.Riflemen, shoot straight if you can! Chris Clark sings Blum at Winter LecturesThe tear lived on in memory because it identified Blum as a man of middle-class attachments and values, a private man who had entered public life. This was politics in a ...

At Notre Dame de Lorette

Gavin Stamp: The International Memorial

20 November 2014
... memorial’. But he has a point. I wonder whether next year we will remember that we wouldn’t have ‘won’ the Battle of Waterloo without General Blücher and his Prussians. The recent books by ChristopherClark and Margaret Macmillan, which suggest that the catastrophe of 1914 was caused, in part, by secret treaties, devious and incompetent diplomacy and a culture of militarism from which Britain can ...

Some Damn Foolish Thing

Thomas Laqueur: Wrong Turn in Sarajevo

5 December 2013
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 
by Christopher Clark.
Allen Lane, 697 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 0 7139 9942 6
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... in Dallas could plausibly be as badly misconstrued as the murder in Sarajevo had been fifty years earlier. A comparable mistake today, Johnson believed, could leave twenty million dead instantly. ChristopherClark’s breathtakingly good book is, much more self-consciously than Tuchman’s, also a history for its – that is, our – times. An act of terrorism in Sarajevo – the assassination of the ...

Echoes from the Far Side

James Sheehan: The European Age

18 October 2017
The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 
by Richard J. Evans.
Penguin, 848 pp., £12.99, June 2017, 978 0 14 198114 7
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... inconclusive, caught somewhere between the conventional wisdom that holds Germany responsible for the outbreak of war and the revisionist interpretation recently advanced by his Cambridge colleague ChristopherClark. (It is unfortunate that Evans decided to end a book so full of new and interesting material with Sir Edward Grey’s familiar lament on 3 August 1914 that Europe’s lamps were being ...

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