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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 often asked himself ...

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 the unsuspecting Germans ...

Vases, Tea Sets, Cigars, His Own Watercolours

Christopher Clark: Nazi Toffs, 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 wide-brimmed hat, clutching a leather riding whip ...

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 Best and Robert Gerwarth’s Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich as one of the landmark Nazi biographies ...

Bristling with Barricades

Christopher Clark: Paris, 1848, 3 November 2022

Writers and Revolution: Intellectuals and the French Revolution of 1848 
by Jonathan Beecher.
Cambridge, 474 pp., £29.99, April 2021, 978 1 108 84253 2
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... Ascene​ in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, 1848: standing on an armchair taken from inside the building, Alphonse de Lamartine addresses the crowd. Around him are the men of the newly formed provisional government. Smoke wafts over the people and there are signs of recent fighting: a small artillery piece, the rubble of a barricade, a dead or dying horse, a man on a makeshift stretcher who bleeds from the bandaged stump of his right hand ...

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 military budget implied a degree of co-determination in all military matters ...

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 ...

How powerful was the Kaiser?

Christopher Clark: Wilhelm II, 23 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 with Germany ...

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, his love for his mother, his struggle with an authoritarian father, his refusal of the destinies prescribed for him by convention ...


Christopher Clark: Gravelotte, 1870, 21 September 2023

Bismarck’s War: The Franco-Prussian War and the Making of Modern Europe 
by Rachel Chrastil.
Allen Lane, 485 pp., £30, June, 978 0 241 41919 9
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... On​ 18 August 1870, French and German forces clashed along a six-mile arc between the hamlets of Gravelotte and St Privat, in a Lorraine landscape of open fields and low rolling hills. Four weeks into the Franco-Prussian War, it proved to be the deadliest battle of the conflict, prefiguring the butchery of 1914-18. After directing six hours of intense artillery fire from emplacements just north of Gravelotte, the Prussians swarmed the French positions at Moscow Farm and Point du Jour ...

A Rock of Order

Christopher Clark: Through Metternich’s Eyes, 8 October 2020

Metternich: Strategist and Visionary 
by Wolfram Siemann, translated by Daniel Steuer.
Harvard, 900 pp., £31.95, November 2019, 978 0 674 74392 2
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... I hate the war and all that it brings: the killing, the pain, the piggishness, the pillaging, the corpses, the amputations, the dead horses – not to forget the rape,’ the Austrian foreign minister Klemens von Metternich told his friend Wilhelmine von Sagan. War’s only positive feature, he observed, was its ability to numb the senses to the immense misery it caused ...

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 by an internal stairway and tiptoed down to the courtyard, where a carriage was waiting for him ...
... 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 bourgeois key. (To this day, ‘as dead as Robert ...

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 ...

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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... elegiac fondness for the Prussian past. Pinning down what Fontane meant takes us to the heart of Christopher Clark’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 have impressed a 19th-century observer like ...

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