From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. For over two decades the study of Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) has been structured by the seminal multivolume works of Lothar Gall and Otto Pflanze. Steinberg (Yesterday's Deterrent), a professor of modern European history at the University of Pennsylvania, brings a fresh perspective to the subject in a single volume whose insights and presentation make it no less canonical than its predecessors. Steinberg's Bismarck is a man whose power came not from the external "forces and factors," as stated by Gall and Pflanze, but from "the sovereignty of an extraordinary, gigantic self." He embodied Hegel's concept of a world-historical figure: shaping events and people by the potency of his intellect, the force of his character, and the strength of his will. Yet Steinberg demonstrates that Bismarck's rise and survival depended on his relationship to King William I. Serving as prime minister at the pleasure of William I, Devoid of any principle beyond the exercise of power, defining politics as struggle in domestic and international contexts, he singlehandedly "brought about a complete transformation in the European international order." As Steinberg relates, he fostered enmity in order to resolve conflict. The results were a restless Reich, an antagonistic Europe, and eventually a world war. B&w photos. (Apr.)
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Since there are a passel of Bismarck biographies, Steinberg recognizes that a new portrait requires a new approach. He adopts one of expansive quotation from Bismarck�s correspondence and from observations of him by contemporaries, which well suits the style of power Bismarck wielded from 1862 to 1890. It was personalistic, entailing domination of his nominal sovereign, Kaiser Wilhelm I, and of subordinate and rival Prussian officials. If Bismarck�s will to power conveys the reputation for unprincipled ruthlessness reflected in his sobriquet, the Iron Chancellor, it also belies human qualities in the man who engineered three wars by which he united Germany. He could be witty and convivial, he adored a handful of relatives and friends, and, less positively, he grumbled about pedestrian inadequacies in his food and housing. But the salient characterization emerging from this presentation is that of a cynic ruled by wrath. If scholars and history buffs want to meet Bismarck in flesh and blood, they need go no further. Steinberg�s integration of psychological insights and Bismarck�s political strategies yields a worthy biography. --Gilbert Taylor