Tim Blanning

‘I have beaten them all! All!’

Bismarck: A Life

By

Oxford University Press 537pp £25 order from our bookshop

Riding through Lorraine after the defeat of France in the autumn of 1870, Otto von Bismarck was accosted by a woman whose husband had just been taken into custody for attacking a Prussian hussar with a spade. ‘In the kindliest possible manner’ he replied to her tearful entreaties: ‘Well, my good woman, you can be quite sure that your husband’ – and at this point he drew a line around his neck with his finger – ‘will very soon be hanged!’ This contrast between civilised exterior and brutal substance arises often in Jonathan Steinberg’s magnificent new biography. Disraeli, for example, was impressed by Bismarck’s ‘sweet and gentle voice’ and his ‘peculiarly refined enunciation’ but added that it made all the more appalling the terrible things he actually said. Bismarck not only loved to outrage people, he turned offensiveness into a political tactic right from the start, subduing his fellow conservatives in the Prussian Parliament by presenting himself as ‘the most extreme of extremists, the wildest of reactionaries, and the most savage of debaters’.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,
    • 'The day produced countless stories of chance, of people taking one route or another without realising that the dec… ,
    • In this month's 'Silenced Voices', looks at the case of Azimjon Askarov, the journalist and human rights… ,