I don’t really know how you review a history book. I mean, if it left something important out, I wouldn’t know. It portrayed history, which was exactly why I read it, so…awesome. But German history isn’t that simple, something I didn’t know until I delved into it.
Germany: A New History by Hagen Schulze starts out in 6 A.D. when the Roman Empire tried—and failed—to conquer the Germanic tribes of Europe. It then details the history of those peoples throughout the next two thousand years, paying special attention the Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. Basically, Germany didn’t exist until 1871, before that it was a group of smaller states and independent cities grouped loosely under the aegis of the Holy Roman Empire (the Roman Empire’s impotent stepson).
Part of the problem was that German didn’t refer to a specific people or language, it was this wide group of tribes that happened to come from Europe (largely east of the Rhine) and named the Germanic tribes by the Romans. These peoples were ruled by their own kings, dukes, counts, whatever, the largest kingdom of which was Prussia, kind of the pre-Germany Germany. For these reasons, they didn’t have a sense of being “German.” It wasn’t until the 1700s that they began to speak a similar language (helped by Martin Luther’s German bible) and establish a sense of nationality.
Finally, after a series of unrest, uprisings, and economic turmoil did the separate states join together into Germany. Forty years later, they wanted to become a colonial power like other European countries and were more than happy to expand their territory, spurring on World War I. After a short (very short) republic, Hitler came to power…and I think we all know how that ends.
I never knew that Germany or what later became Germany was so fragmented for so many centuries. It makes a kind of sense that, upon finding an identity, it wanted to stretch—so to speak—its fledgling wings. It didn’t help Germany had always been the backward country cousin to the much more advanced western nations; it wanted to be the equal of England and France. Germany only began to be German before it had to rethink this identity not just once more, but several times throughout the next 100 years. Only within the last three decades has Germany reached stability and come into its own.
The book was interesting overall. I would have preferred maps. Lots of maps to show the progression and changes of boundaries over the centuries. I also would have preferred more information prior to the 1900s. Of 14 chapters, six were dedicated to the last 100 years. Which means that 1,900 years were crammed into eight chapters.
If you want a good comprehensive history of Germany, this is pretty thorough and isn’t terribly long. It’s interesting and insightful. I loved the theme running throughout about finding the German identity.