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Adalbert is a forum for me, to post ephemera, photography, poetry, occasional travel notes, and various spontaneous motions. Cover photo: Parsonage where my great-grandfather spent his early years. Taken near Liegnitz, Silesia, ca. 1870. The "xothique" portion of the web address is a nod to Clark Ashton Smith's fictional continent of Zothique.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Chancellor's Disunity: Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck: A Life

A photo I gathered, at nightfall, at the Bismarck Memorial, Berlin, April, 2015. I strolled about the monument, while visiting the nearby Siegessäule (which I first became aware of through its appearance in Wim Wenders' film, Wings of Desire). 

Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck: A Life (2011), which I read not long ago, has for its cover a photo of the chancellor, with his severe mien; and a blurb from Henry Kissinger. I am not clear that a recommendation from a chief planner behind Nixon's Cambodia and Vietnam strategy, is a good thing. Nonetheless, the meaty biography successfully evoked the life and spirit of Bismarck, the chief figure behind the unification of the German states, in 1871; drawing on the statesman's own writings, and the impressions of many of his contemporaries. A few sentences could have done with some tighter editing.  Here is an example: "Vain, irresponsible, a stock exchange speculator, Arnim certainly was, but Bismarck used the courts to accuse him of treason, drove him out of the country, and to an early death." (pp- 342-43) I remember advice from my 18th Century Literature professor, who once said, just write short, shitty little sentences if you have to.

 I was nonplussed at the absence, from the index, of Adalbert Falk. Despite this odd omission, he does appear, in the text, on page 321 (and elsewhere). "The pious, very Christian von Muhler was replaced with a formidable liberal lawyer, Adalbert Falk, whose name came to symbolize the Kulturkampf. Falk came from a Protestant pastor's family in Silesia. A child prodigy, he entered Breslau University at 16 to become a lawyer..." 

 Bismarck materialized in the book as a conflicted, neurotic, and brilliant individual, with a situational disregard for most other people. Steinberg barely alluded to Bismarck's late, landmark creation of social support systems (which came about incidentally, to take away momentum from more radical programs). Nevertheless, the book is an excellent, enlightening read. It provided a vivid, full portraiture of the Iron Chancellor. 

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