I just finished this sweeping history of the rise and fall of Prussia, from 1600 until 1947. It chronicles the rise of Brandenburg and the ruling Hohenzollern dynasty, including the famous Frederick The Great. The author makes a convincing case that Prussia was an artificial political construct rather than a place with its own unique cultural tradition. While Brandenburg had such an identity, what became "Prussia" did not.
As the Hohenzollerns added to their territory they brought in disparate places that had little in common other than being generally Germanic. The Hohenzollerns ruled over East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Pomerania, Silesia, and a few other smaller areas. Prussia included much of modern day Poland, which was divided up between the Russians and the Prussians for about a century.
As Prussia began its wars of conquest and territorial acquisition, it became the unifying force within the German heartland, replacing Austria as the Germanic hegemon in Central Europe. By 1871 Prussia under Kaiser William I and Otto von Bismarck had unified Germany and declared the new German empire. The high water mark of Prussia and the German empire occurred not too long after that declaration, as Germany allied with Austria-Hungary and eventually the Ottoman Turks leading up to World War One. By the end of the war, the Kaiser had abdicated and political revolution swept through Germany, bringing on the tumultuous years of the Weimar Republic, and eventually the rise of the Nazis.
The book is worth a read to anyone interested in Prussian and/or German history, and it rejects a few misconceptions along the way. At more than 680 pages it is an investment of time, but is well worth it for the student of German history who wants to fully understand how this one time nation-state came to be, and how it came to its ultimate demise.
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Brendan Steinhauser is a national political strategist focused on campaigns, media, and public policy.