Bismark: A Life Book Review


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Otto von Bismark  July 1890

 

In Bismark: A Life, Jonathan Steinberg suggests that the modern German state had its origins in the imagination of Prince Otto von Bismark. However, Steinberg builds his case with such apparent animus toward the subject that the value of this book is somewhat undermined.  Steinberg implicitly lays at Bismark’s door responsibility for WWI (by creating the German Empire and buttressing autocracy), WWII (by reinforcing the Junker class and doubling down on militarism), and genocide of the Jewish people (by fueling antisemitism).

Steinberg’s approach is comprehensive. He traces Bismark’s rise to power and attempts to lay bare the state-builder’s multiple motivations. In support of his analysis, Steinberg provides extended excerpts from Bismark’s correspondence and from other first-person accounts. The portrait of Bismark that emerges is more demonic than Machiavellian.

Bismark, by Steinberg’s account, was a hypochondriacal, reactionary, anti-Semite, an ingrate with an unbridled thirst for power. Despite Steinberg’s compilation of evidence, the reader is left with doubts about the integrity of this author’s presentation. His loathing for Bismark is so manifest that we feel bias must inevitably influence judgment.

However, because Steinberg’s book is well resourced, it has much to offer. I was interested, for example, to learn how Germany reacted to the revolutions of 1848. Also interesting was the tension between the papacy and secular heads of Europe. Most fascinating was Bismark’s effort to weaken a rival, France, by aligning himself with Russia. I wondered, as I read, if there was a corollary with present times–with Donald Trump’s expressed criticism of NATO and his avowed admiration for Russia.

I recommend this book, but with reservations.  For a complete view of Bismark, it would be a good idea to read a second biography.  Many questions, in my mind, remained at the book’s end.  Chief among these was, what was Bismark really like?

A. G. Moore     June 2017

 

 

 

 

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Exploration and Conquest Stories of Indigenous Peoples: With Student Study Guide


Featuring:

  1. Vocabulary Development
  2. Reading Comprehension
  3. Written Expression
  4. Core Curriculum Concepts
  5. An Integrated Workbook
  6. Pictures Highlighting Key History Figures And Events

A Book For High School Students: Exploration And Conquest Stories Of Indigenous Peoples

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This book takes the student around the globe and across the centuries with a pictorial odyssey.  Six continents are covered, as are island nations.   Twenty-two anecdotes are labeled “Did You Know?” Each of these has a vivid photo associated and a dramatic story.  For example:  Vietnamese villages are shown kowtowing to French invaders; indigenous Putumayo are shown chained as slave laborers on South American rubber plantations; and junks are shown burning off the coast of Canton during the Opium Wars.

A special feature is the “Useful Terms” section, which offers simple explanations for challenging words that appear in the text.  Also, in the “Student Study Guide” (incorporated into the book), there is an exercise in map reading.  There are, additionally,  vocabulary and reading comprehension questions, as well as a suggested essay in the Guide.

The book is suitable for high school or upper middle school.  Upon completion of the book, students will have learned how Europe’s Age of Exploration affected indigenous peoples around the world.

The photo below illustrates how the images in “Exploration and Conquest” capture dramatic moments in history.  Photos, such as the one featured here, will hold students’ attention and will help them understand critical concepts.

Ethiopian Resistance Fighters
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This photo was taken between 1935 and 1940 by an unknown author.  The men were part of organized resistance to Mussolini as he sought to expand his African colonies.

What Do We Do About Inequality? Book Review

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Lenin, giving a speech to the troops, 1920. Picture by G. Goldshtein.  Copyright expired.

The title of this essay collection, “What Do We Do About Inequality?, is a bit like a traffic sign. We’re clearly told the orientation of the book and where it will take us if we decide to read further. Some readers will see this title and follow the path. Those who do, likely will proceed for one of two reasons: either they believe inequality is a problem that needs correction, or, they believe the issue of inequality is a straw dog, and they’re eager to shoot down the arguments of those who stress about it. Of course, some who read this title will look away. They may believe the issue has nothing to do with them, or is so intractable that discussion is pointless.

The greatest value of “What Do We Do About Inequality? is that it doesn’t offer one solution, or even one point of view. It gives space to commentators who have a variety of perspectives. Readers should be prepared to agree, disagree, or shake their heads in puzzlement. As informative as some essays are, a few others get bogged down in jargon that will mean little to lay readers. However, on the whole, the contributors to this book have a great deal to offer. The inequalities considered are not limited to economic disparity, but also include other manifestations of inequality, including race and gender.

One essay I found persuasive, “The Age of Inequality: Causes, Discontents and A Radical Way Forward“, was written by Jason Hickel and Alnoor Ladha. Hickel and Ladha offer a fact-based analysis of economic inequality. In the view of these authors, inequality is a “self-perpetuating cycle: the rich are able to buy policy decisions that shore up the very system that delivered them their wealth in the first place.” The Hickel/Ladha analysis suggests two remedies they describe as cosmetic, but nonetheless essential: impose a global tax on capital and institute a minimum “living wage” that is pegged to inflation. True reform, however, will not come, the authors assert, until more profound changes are effected: the global “power imbalance” must be corrected.

What Do We Do About Inequality? is an important book. Chris Oestereich, its editor (and a key contributor) has created a platform for comparing ideas about a core social issue. It’s hard to find an area of life, or of the world, that inequality does not influence. Those who enjoy the privileges of inequality, whether it be racial, religious, gender or economic, may not regard inequality as a problem. This fortunate minority live in a bubble of denial. Moral considerations aside, resentment engendered by inequality is noxious and enduring. To ignore simmering discontent is to invite a chaotic, volatile, and spontaneous solution. This would certainly bring change, but of the sort that would have profound and unpredictable consequences.

If we look to history, we see clearly how gross inequality can destabilize government and social order. The French and Russian Revolutions, for example, were instigated largely by the issue of inequality. Even in the United States, dramatic government reform was enacted during the Great Depression, largely to forestall civic unrest. There was very real concern that growing inequality would lead to an uprising by those who were suffering.

It may be true that the poor will always be among us, but the number of poor and the degree of their poverty, according to “What Do We Do About Inequality?“, can be affected by rational application of sound social and political reform. It’s either that, or wait for the despair of the poor to overwhelm them. At that point, upheaval will undermine the social order, an order that seems secure to those who exist in remote perches of privilege.