Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Friday, 25 March 2011

image for Bismarck: A Life, by Jonathan Steinberg. Review. She was pals with Napoleon III - probably 'not amused' by Bismarck. (Oh kill me now - ed).

Otto von Bismarck, (April 1, 1815 - July 30, 1898) the creator of modern Germany, 'ruler of the Kaiser'... This towering figure in the history of modern Europe has hardly been over-examined in English - the last biography was nearly 30 years ago.

Ken Lucid considers this latest appraisal...

Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck - the Iron Chancellor, three wars, the unification of Germany, kulturkampf and one of the most famous (if not the most famous) political cartoons ever.* Quite a cv.

Of course, he figures large in my own book Napoleon III: Should He Have Stayed at Home? as the nemesis of the titular subject. I was planning a book on him when I got this job but I put things on hold and, what do you know, in jumps Steinberg.

"You must be spitting mad," I hear you say. Nah... he's a decent stick, is Jonathan, (had a beer with him at a conference at Penn State once) and my heart wasn't really in the project anyway. My German isn't great and I would have had to have relied too much on translators. Too much hassle.

What I can tell you is that Bismarck is one those subjects that is guaranteed to really get me pissed off.

It's not him - it's what the kids don't know about him when they get here (not that I have to deal with them much these days, thank heavens.)

Honestly, what do they teach them at school? My guys and gals in Modern European History have to start their courses by teaching some remedial German History because you mention Bismarck and all it means to the young slobs we get here is the bloody battleship! They've never considered it might have been named after someone.

"Oh," they say, with their slack jaws wide open. So you follow up - in hope rather than expectation - and ask if they knew that the sister ship, the Tirpitz, was named after anyone.

"Thought they were just German words." Oh give me strength.

So you can't even disabuse them of the knowlege that the Iron Chancellor invented the Guinness and champagne Black Velvet - they can't believe the myth if they've never heard of him.

Wasn't like that in my day! We knew he invented the thing - until old Fudders put us right.

"Wasn't like that in my day." My God! Didn't think I'd ever hear me say that!

Anyway, this is probably the best effort since old AJP Taylor's way back when. Well done, Jon, we must have another beer some day.

*Sir John Tenniel's Dropping The Pilot, Punch, March 1890. Unfortunately, we can't afford to cough for reproduction rights. Google it. - EIF.

Ken Lucid is Chair of History at Maidenhead Uiversity (formerly the University of Thames Valley East).

Bismarck: A Life is not available from the EIF News & Features Online Bookshop at the special price of £19.99.

Napoleon III: Should He Have Stayed At Home? is published by Mitchell Atkinson, London and New York.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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