Among non-academic historians, there is no one of greater accomplishment than Crankshaw (The Fall of the House of Hapsburg,...



Among non-academic historians, there is no one of greater accomplishment than Crankshaw (The Fall of the House of Hapsburg, The Shadow of the Winter Palace); and his talents are fully on display here. Heretofore the best Bismarck biography has been A. J. P. Taylor's, but Crankshaw's is likely to take over the field. He prefaces his study with the observation that a great deal is known of the later years and vast accomplishments of the creator of modern Germany; to gain a better view of the Iron Chancellor's personality, his work will center on the earlier years. This caution is unnecessary. Crankshaw does succeed in presenting a more nuanced view of Bismarck's early life: while Taylor settles for saying that Bismarck's relationship to God was like Cromwell's, Crankshaw examines Bismarck's religious development and concludes that God was Bismarck's ally, not his master. But he also gives a fuller description of Bismarck at the height of his power. For one thing, he has made use of Fritz Stern's Gold and Iron (1977)--on the critical relationship between Bismarck and Jewish banker Bleichroder--not only to account for some of Bismarck's strategic decisions (e.g., the demands for concessions from Austria that led to the outbreak of war, based on Bleichroder's assessment of Austrian financial weakness), but also to flesh out Bismarck's character. In this way, the young, impetuous, romantic Bismarck is gradually replaced by a calculating ruler insensitive to his own corruption. We see him, for instance, maneuvering his king, William, into confiscating the riches of his fellow-monarch, the deposed King George of Hanover, and turning the money over to him. With Bleichroder's help, Bismarck not only enriched hismelf, but was also in a position to bribe politicians and newspapers, and even King Ludwig of Bavaria, into going along with his plans for the unification of Germany. Crankshaw is at pains to show, however, that Bismarck did not enjoy his corruption; he was blind to it. The picture is not appealing, but Crankshaw--scorning such labels as ""mistake""--prefers to see Bismarck whole. A deft work--and commanding.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981