Who is Otto von Bismarck? As Prussian Prime Minister in the last half of the nineteenth century, he unified Germany and established the German Empire. When he died, in 1898, his son Herbert wrote that "I have lost the ... most splendid and noblest spirit in the world." Others did not have such salutary thoughts. Bismarck was ruthless, devilish even, a man given to rage--and a political genius.
"The real Bismarck," writes Jonathan Steinberg in an extraordinary new biography, "was a complex character: a hypochondriac with the constitution of an ox, a brutal tyrant who could easily shed tears, a convert to an extreme form of evangelical Protestantism, who secularized schools and introduced civil divorce." Steinberg's stated aim is to understand Bismarck by listening to his friends and his enemies, and to what Bismarck, in voluminous writings, had to say about himself.
The result is "Bismarck: A Life" ($34.95 in hardcover from Oxford University Press; $9.99 in Amazon Kindle and $14.97 in Barnes & Noble Nook e-book formats). Henry Kissinger, writing for the New York Times Book Review, called it "the best study of its subject in the English language."
Steinberg, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, is in Chico for a short stay and will be signing books and talking about Bismarck at the Chico Barnes and Noble Store this coming Saturday, April 30, from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Steinberg's work is large, like Bismarck's personality, but accessible and compelling. His curiosity about this man drives him onward and the reader is swept into a Europe that became the "ready room" for two world wars.
Bismarck "held office for twenty-eight years and transformed his world more completely than anybody in Europe during the nineteenth century with the exception of Napoleon, who was an Emperor and a General. Bismarck did it while being neither the one nor the other. ... He ruled Germany by making himself indispensable to a decent, kindly old man, who happened to be a king. ... His rule depended absolutely on the bond between William I and his chief minister and on nothing else." ... "With perfect justice, in August 1866, he pounded his fist on his desk and cried, 'I have beaten them all! All!'"