Bismarck's grip on the popular imagination swings somewhere between the ""blood and iron"" image so dear to the sound and fury of German historians and the ""Dropping the Pilot"" cartoon of his latter days. Between the two extremes was a double contradiction -- a Junker with a fine Italian hand, an Iron Fist with sensitivity. The combination brought him to the point of being the arbiter of European affairs far beyond the borders of the Germany he had forced together . Mr. Richter is a sympathetic biographer but not an incautious one. He assesses motives too coolly and comparative prestige too cynically. For instance, a large part of the comment on Bismarck has come from biographers of the German and English royal families tending to enhance their limited political roles and influence and making Bismarck a monster of evil intent. This portrait shows Bismarck as a powerful, complicated conservative with few scruples. His sensitivity to the emotional vulnerability of both his friends and his enemies was raised, after he seized the chancellorship, to an unequalled system of domestic alignments and foreign alliances. Mr. Richter is particularly good at clarifying the now obscure internal and external problems of 19th century Germany. This is a Machiavelli Unmasked biography and very readable in to the bargain.