In the late 19th century the statesman Otto von Bismarck unified Germany, but also embodied everything brutal and ruthless about Prussian culture.
Biographer Jonathan Steinberg looks at this influential leaders conflicted legacy in a discussion of his new book Bismarck: A Life on Thursday, November 29, at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Drawing on contemporary writings, Steinberg allows Bismarck's friends and foes to tell the story. What rises from these pages is a complex giant of a man: a hypochondriac with the constitution of an ox, a brutal tyrant who could easily shed tears, a convert to an extreme form of evangelical Protestantism who secularized schools and introduced civil divorce.
Bismarck, the Minister President of Prussia from 1862 to 1890 and the first chancellor of the German Empire, may have been in sheer ability the most intelligent man to direct a great state in modern times. His brilliance and insight dazzled his contemporaries. But all agreed there was also something demonic and overwhelming in Bismarck's personality. He was a kind of malign genius who, behind the various postures, concealed an ice-cold contempt for his fellow human beings and a drive to control and rule them.
As one contemporary noted: "the Bismarck regime was a constant orgy of scorn and abuse of mankind, collectively and individually."
Henry Kissinger has called Bismarck: A Life "the best study of its subject in the English language."
ForeignAffairs.com describes it as "A first-rate biography that combines a standard historical narrative with an intriguing account of Bismarck as a personality ... Bismarck offers a fresh and compelling portrait of a fascinating character."
Steinberg is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History at the University of Pennsylvania, and Emeritus Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge. His books include Yesterday's Deterrent: Tirpitz and the Birth of the German Battle Fleet and All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941 - 1943.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th & Baltimore.
The event is co-sponsored by Adam Starr and the Starr Family Foundation.