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Forge of Empires: Three Revolutionary Statesmen and the World They Made, 1861-1871 Hardcover – October 16, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist and historian Beran (Jefferson's Demons) provides a lively and entertaining look at a pivotal decade, in which three revolutionary leaders took actions that, he says, would shape world events for a dozen decades: Lincoln's role in the emancipation of slaves and winning the Civil War; Bismarck's unification of Germany and the rise of that country's continental hegemony; and Tsar Alexander II's part in freeing the serfs and the short-lived moderation of czarist rule. Making superb use of short vignettes, Beran provides fascinating insights on the importance of these events, noting, for example, that had Lincoln not triumphed, the institution of slavery would have derived fresh strength from... 'scientific' racism, social Darwinism, jingo imperialism, [and] the ostensibly benevolent doctrines of paternalism. However, the book gives insufficient background on the events covered, and there is only cursory treatment of Reconstruction and the Polish revolt against Russian rule in 1863. Nonetheless, Beran captures the decade's importance in a style that is both informative and dramatic. (Oct. 16)
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About the Author

Michael Knox Beran's previous books include Forge of Empires, 1861-1871 and The Last Patrician, a study of Robert Kennedy that was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the National Review. He lives in Westchester County, New York. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 477 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074327069X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743270694
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,365,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Beran convincingly makes the argument that Abraham Lincoln saved the free-state ideal not only for the United States, but for the rest of the world. Alongside his gripping potrayal of the Civil War, Beran carries on a simulaneous dialogue covering the failed free-state "revolution" in Russia, and the expansion of the German "coercive state" that evenutally led to two world wars. All of these tales are interwoven throughout the years 1861-1871. Beran keeps the readers interested by jumping from tale to tale, often making connections between players involved.

I couldn't put the book down. My one complaint is that Beran is not always easy to read. He likes to flourish his writing with colorful, yet obscure references that might well be lost on most readers. While the reading is sometimes slow, I couldn't stop reading. It is a fascinating look at the rebirth of our nation and how, at the same time, Europe was headed in the other direction.
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Format: Hardcover
The 1860s decade was tumultuous in many ways, though for many Americans the only thing that comes to mind is the Civil War. However, as Michael Knox Beran explores in his book Forge of Empires: Three Revolutionary Statesmen and the World They Made, much more was going on around the world than just that. The foundations of the 20th century in both Germany and Russia, as well as the rest of Europe, were also being forged at this time. In his excellent book, Beran gives readers a running narrative that often compares and contrasts the three main revolutions going on at this time, how they were different but also how they were similar.

Abraham Lincoln, of course, was forcing American society to change drastically, with the effect not only of freeing the slaves but also transforming Southern aristocracy from wealthy land-owning based on slavery to a much different class system. Otto von Bismarck, in turn, was in the process of accumulating power for his native Prussia (and for himself, of course) by uniting the various German states into one empirical power under one ruler, thus stamping his mark on the European balance of power for generations to come. Finally, Russian Tsar Alexander II was implementing policies to end serfdom, throwing Russian society into such upheaval that eventually that sniff of freedom turned into just another dictatorship.

Beran explores these three revolutions not only through the eyes of these great and powerful leaders, but also through those people caught up in these momentous events. Walt Whitman, Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Chesnut, Napoleon III and his empress Eugenie, all of them play a great role in illustrating the consequences of various actions.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Knox Beran has a fine grasp of the forces involved during the period of Lincoln, Alexander, and Bismarck, as well as the springs of their character. One learns a lot about the history of this period of romantic revolution that actually explains much about contemporary times.

Beran, even better than David McCullough, has a masterful gift for narration based on solid, creative scholarship. The book is chalk full of such devastating remarks as:

"That a scion of the [Enlightenment] luminaries should now become a policeman and a torturer might at first seem a historical irony; but the inquisitorial vocation comes easily to those who have embraced Voltaire's faith in the virtues of enlightened despotism."

It's interesting that Beran, a lawyer, is sensibly not involved professionally in the coils of sterile academia, though he has a solid background at Groton, Columbia, Cambridge, and Yale law.
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Format: Hardcover
Creating an American historical narrative that integrates events and ideas into the broader global story is the most urgent task facing American historians today. Forge of Empires is a substantial contribution to this emerging literature and deserves the close attention of every student of American affairs and of every working historian. Beran combines vast erudition and great narrative gifts to create a mosaic that not only illuminates the stories of the statesmen he follows (Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck, Tsar Alexander II, and, to a lesser degree, Napoleon III) but also provides readers with new insights into the ways world events affected the United States. Beran's narrative strategy is a gamble that pays off. Sweeping pictures emerge from short mini-narratives that function like pebbles in a mosaic -- or like the dramatic brushstrokes of the impressionist painters active in the era he so brilliantly portrays. Like Lincoln, Bismarck engaged in a project of national consolidation; like Alexander II, Lincoln was a liberator who freed millions of human beings. In Beran's skilled hands, the similarities and differences between the situations these statesmen faced and the consequences of their decisions gradually build up to form a revealing and insightful portrait of a vital historical era that will increase American readers' understanding of the relationship between U.S. domestic history and events in the rest of the world.
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