Before 1871, Germany was not yet a nation but simply an idea. Its founder, Otto von Bismarck, had a formidable task at hand. How would he bring thirty-nine individual states under the yoke of a single Kaiser? How would he convince proud Prussians, Bavarians, and Rhinelanders to become Germans?
Breakneck and lurid, subtle and momentous, the story of the German empire is the sort of subject that could overwhelm a seasoned television don with 1,200 pages to play with, let alone a debut writer with 239 ... Yet in Blood and Iron Katja Hoyer, a German-born historian living in Sussex, more or less pulls it off, rattling stylishly through the long century from the humbling of Napoleon to the abdication of Wilhelm II in a book so short you could wolf it down in six or seven hours, were you so minded ... Hoyer renders a vivid account of Wilhelm’s overweening ineptitude ... The book’s brevity results in a certain breathlessness. Inevitably many things are missing or too lightly touched on...Complex scholarly debates over questions such as the Schlieffen plan and the causes of the First World War are sometimes concertinaed more than I would like ... These forgivable shortcomings aside, Hoyer has mastered an intimidating jungle of material and written a balanced and hugely accessible introduction to the age when Germany became Germany.
There’s nothing particularly new in this assessment. The most impressive feature of this book is not its thesis but its brevity. Until now, I didn’t realize that it was possible to write a short book about Germany. Succinctness is an impressive and sadly undervalued quality in an author. A strict word count is a cruel tyrant; difficult decisions about what goes in have to be made and creativity inevitably curtailed. Hoyer nevertheless manages to pepper her trim narrative with some lovely frills. The mark of a really good short book is its ability to inspire curiosity. Blood and Iron achieves just that.
The themes of political fragility, social cleavages and pervasive militarism give an impressive depth and coherence to Hoyer’s tightly written narrative ... a book that has the merit of treating imperial Germany as an era on its own terms rather than as an inevitable prelude to the horrors of 1933-1945.