Book Review – Iron Kingom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark

This massive tome lays claim to being a complete history of Prussia, and if he doesn’t achieve it, he doesn’t miss it by much. It is fairly large at over 700 pages but Dr. Clark has a pleasant writing style that makes the book easy to read. He is not so much recounting events as using the historical events to tell the story of Prussia.

The book opens with the retelling of the Allies abolishment of Prussia as a political unit in 1947 then goes right to the beginning of Prussia with the establishment of Prussia as a political unit under German sovereignty under the Great Elector in the years just prior to the Thirty-Years War. He follows the history of Prussia from its initial conquest by the Teutonic Knights to its incorporation as part of Brandenburg during the Reformation and the conversion of the Knights to Lutheranism. He then traces the the way in which the Elector of Brandenburg got the rights to call himself King in Prussia to King of Prussia and eventually Emperor of Germany.

Almost half the book covers the history of Prussia from the Napoleonic Wars onward. This makes it a little unbalanced in my opinion, but it is also understandable as there are many more records from then forward and it is easier to know what happened. I especially like that the author refuses the temptation to speculate on the might-have-beens as I call them. He points out events that he thinks were pivotal but does not devote space to discussing the what-ifs had different decisions been made. He presents a straightforward recitation of the events of Prussian history in an entertaining manner that also lets the reader make up his own mind about causes because the retelling of events themselves are extremely well balanced.

In conclusion, Dr. Clark has written what is perhaps the best one-volume history of Prussia I have found. I especially liked it’s focus on Prussia as being the dominant factor in German history, and it was. This is an extremely readable book that is useful to both academics and non-academics alike. It should be on the bookshelf of anyone who considers himself a student of German history.