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The ‘Iron Kingdom – The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947,’ by Christopher Clark is a somewhat massive work at 820 pages. It is a book that I wanted to read right from the moment I came across it, which wasn’t all that long ago. You see, I didn’t know all that much about Prussia. I knew it was tied up with the history of Germany, that Prussia fought the Napoleonic French forces at Waterloo and that the Napoleonic French forces had earlier defeated the Prussians. What I didn’t know about Prussia, this book soon made me aware of – as well as reminding me that I actually knew a lot more about Prussia than I had thought.
Doubtless 800+ pages seems somewhat daunting to many readers, many of whom would baulk at the size of this work and move on to much smaller books that can be completed in less time. Having said that, this book isn’t too difficult to read at all. I spent a bit longer than a week reading it and enjoyed it immensely. I read somewhere someone say that this book reads like a novel, which though I don’t think it is a description that is entirely accurate, it certainly points in the right direction as the book is really quite easy to read. I found myself quite caught up in it all, as I followed the development of the Prussian nation and empire and its eventual transformation into a greater German nation and empire, before it was destroyed by the Nazis and the defeat of World War II, following which the Prussian state basically ceased to exist as an allied retaliation for the war.
The book doesn’t just follow the military history of Prussia – indeed it could be said that the military history is somewhat sparse on the ground in this work with very little time really devoted to the wars of Prussia, though each one is treated within the body of the work. This history of Prussia digs into all facets of Prussian history, including the development of the monarchy and nation, the culture, education, the politics, the social welfare development and policies of Prussia, etc. It is more of a thorough introduction to the history of Prussia, a work that whets the appetite for more and perhaps encourages a deeper research of Prussian history. The experience of reading the Iron Kingdom has me wanting to research more the 30 Years War, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, a number of the other wars involving the Prussians and perhaps more detailed biographical works regarding the Great Elector, Frederick the Great, Bismark, etc.
So my overall impression after reading the book was that I wasn’t disappointed in it at all, even though I would have liked to have found out more about the various wars. Certainly I am the richer for having read the Iron Kingdom and it is a book I could see myself reading again at some point. I highly recommend the Iron Kingdom, especially to those interested in the development not only of Prussia and Germany, but also of Europe. A great read that I really enjoyed.
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