Iron Kingdom


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July 23rd, 2013

It's been a long while since I've thrown a book review up on the ye ole' blog. Since it's been so long, Iron Kingdom seems like an appropriate choice. Looking back at my reading list, I first cracked open this tome almost three years ago!

Over the last several years, my consumption of books has decreased dramatically, which to me is a problem. Readers and leaders, and leaders are readers. While I admittedly do have a lot less time for all of my competing hobbies since becoming a father, I also admit that I have been reading way, WAY too many comics. Again. Shifting from floppies to purely digital was accompanied by a drop in overall price, which means I simply started reading more than I had previously. I am (once again) trimming my reading list so that I have more time for fiction and non-fiction. The first fruits of this shift were polishing off Iron Kingdom, by Christopher Clark.

Iron Kingdom is a sweeping history of the kingdom of Prussia, from the roughly the 1600s to the 1900s. I picked up this book to further inform my knowledge of World War II and Nazi Germany. I've read more than a couple of books on this period of time, and still it's hard to understand how an entire nation could fall so quickly. I really wanted to understand the kingdom of Prussia and how its foundations propelled the German peoples towards war and genocide.

As to the book itself, I feel pulled in two directions. At almost 700 pages, the book definitely presents a detailed account of the nation of Prussia. I'm beginning to wonder, though, if history at this more micro level will keep my interest. Clark covers the major historical events through Prussia's turbulent history, but he also spends, in my opinion, a bit too much time describing everyday life in Prussia throughout its various eras. If this is your cup of tea, then this will be right up your alley, because Clark covers all the bases. For me, I at times found myself a bit bored through those parts.

Overall, the history of Prussia is interesting, with some parallels to our own nation. Prussia's rise from punching bag of Europe to a dominant superpower explains much of how Germany was able to enter two world wars and even today is one of the top five economies in the world. The more history that I read, the more I appreciate the fact that the United States is not the only nation to rise from small beginnings to greatness. The rise of Prussia is also filled with notable personalities, like Frederick the Great and Otto von Bismark. It's in the quirks, decisions and events surrounding the great people of history where I really can immerse myself.

One other note: this is most definitely a history of Prussia, and Prussia alone. That means the book assumes that you have knowledge of other relevant events happening outside Prussia. The history of Germany is complex and not focused on a single nation or people. Clark has a tendency to gloss over some historical details. Even regarding Prussia specifically, I found myself feeling like there were bits of information that I should have known that I didn't. This led me to believe that I may have been a bit outside the target audience of the book.

Overall, I'm glad that I read the book. It did not quite accomplish the goal that I set out for, namely giving context to the rise of Nazism. In fact, understanding now how Prussia was built on Protestantism, social responsibility, the Enlightenment, public education, etc, I feel more confused as to what happened to Germany in the 1930s. There are some holes here and there that are filled in now, but on the whole it's hard to understand how the largest German kingdom led the way towards the most desolate war in human history.

What next? From a history perspective, I have a 1200-page beast of a book that is a general history of Europe. I plan on reading this at some point. Iron Kingdom literally skipped over all of World War I, and I'm finding a new interest in that event. I have historically shied away from it in favor of World War II, but I'd like to know more about the Great War. After that, it might be time to delve into some other periods of history that have been waiting in the wings, such as Rome and feudal Japan.

I'm looking forward to becoming a more consistent reader again. My current reads are always available at GoodReads.

Books | History


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