Book Review: Germany Since 1740

Germany Since 1740, by George Madison Priest

As soon as I saw the title of this particular book I viewed it with a great deal of interest.  Upon reading the book I found that it had been written in 1915, giving a picture of Germany that was full of prescient warnings concerning the fears of other European nations that a unified Germany was a threat to the well-being of its neighbors as a divided Germany had been held in contempt by the powers of Europe and had a great deal of latent economic, political, and cultural strength that had lied dormant for many centuries [1], and I was even more interested.  Here we have a book that gives a cautious view of German military, political, social, and cultural history from 1740 to 1914 without having over it the shadow of Hitler.  And even without the foreshadowing of the horrors of Nazi Germany that are common in more recent German histories, this book still has a lot of caution concerning Germany as a result of the author’s discussion of the widespread political apathy of many Germans even in earlier ages, and the tendency of its leaders to engage in policies of divide and rule.

This book itself has an elegant structure, in that it is designed by periods of importance.  For example, the first division of the book looks at the rise of Prussia thanks to the wars of Frederick II.  After that it looks at the decline of Prussia between the death of Frederick II and the Napoleonic Wars.  A discussion of the German national humiliation of the early 1800’s and the period of revival afterward follows.  The author then looks at the period of reaction in an age of increased nationalism going to 1848, before looking at Prussia’s role in the unification of Germany as a result of more wars, and a look at Germany in the late 1800’s as well as in the period of the early 20th century.  The author has a nuanced view of Germany, looking at its high utilization of land compared to its neighbors, to the concerns over political legitimacy and a great deal of favorable feeling to German religious feeling–although the fact that he views pietism as a force for the good in German culture is more than a little bit troubling given the relationship between pietism and a disconnect between personal morality and a concern for the moral behavior of rulers that would loom particularly large in 20th century German history, and he shows a strong knowledge of areas outside of military and political history that add a great deal of depth to the work as a whole.

In about two hundred pages or so the author has managed to create a work on German history that has stood the test of time and that deserves to be better known.  Although this forgotten book was published more than a century ago, it remains of interest to those who are students of German history and who want to see what a thoughtful person had to say about German history before everything went so wrong in the 20th century.  The signs of trouble were already present, although the author was clearly not a prophet in knowing in great detail what would happen in the future.  Moreover, the author’s notes about German treatment of its Polish and Danish minorities as well as the territory of Alsace-Lorraine conquered in the Franco-Prussian War were highly prescient concerning the problems of German imperialism in Europe.  The deeper and underlying struggles of Germany in achieving political legitimacy as well as diplomatic legitimacy in wider Europe, in large part due to its late unification, are explored with enough detail that they provide the raw material for many contemporary writers on Germany to draw a great many appropriate and relevant conclusions.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s