Last Updated 07 Jul 2020

Book Review Imperial Germany

Category Germany
Essay type Book Review
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Date: April 18, 2012 Subject: Book Review The book “Imperial Germany 1871-1918” by Volker R. Berghahn has the under title Economy, Society, Culture and Politics and was first published in 1994 by Berghahn books. The used edition is the revised and expanded edition published in 2005 and summarizes the events in the ‘Kaiserreich’ (1871-1918). Furthermore, the book has 388 pages and is divided in five parts which are Economy, Society, Culture, the Realm of Politics, and World War I. Each part has numerous under parts giving the reader detailed information about each part.

In addition, the author did tremendous research on the German Empire, founded by Otto von Bismarck in 1871 and lasting until the end of World War I, to clarify the broader outlines of the development between 1871 and 1918 and to explain why Germany went to war in 1914 and lost that conflict four years later. Volker Berghahn, born 15 February 1938 in Berlin, studied jurisprudence at the University of Gottingen in the first place and then history and politics at the University of North Carolina.

He taught in England and Germany before coming to Brown University in 1988 and to Columbia ten years later since then, he is Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia University. Moreover, he has published widely on modern German history and European-American relations. The book “Imperial Germany” is a comprehensive history of Germany and is thematically organized to provide data and information about major developments and the Bismarckian and Wilhelmine eras. The author expresses his theses and opinions in this book.

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Firstly, Berghahn? s position regarding the debates over the Deutschen Sonderweg is balanced and his main view about the German population is that it was characterized by pluralization and polarization. In particular, the society became more pluralistic after 1871 demonstrated by a more colorful and dynamic Kaiserreich. Berghahn demonstrated this richness and diverseness of the German population by looking at German? s society and culture. Polarization also played a main role in the Imperial Germany. In Berghahn? opinion, polarization is connected with another controversial which is whether or not the Kaissereich was in a deep crisis before World War I. His first evidence is that the economy was not in a good shape (tax conflicts, armament expenditures) followed by evidences such as that the society had difficulties to integrate industrial workers and minorities, the cultural view was pessimistic and the political realm came in a stage of stagnation. He also argues that the Kaissereich is a class society and analyzes who classes/groups/people are the “losers” of the society development.

Furthermore, he points out the impact of gender, minorities, generations and religion but makes clear that these are only under topics of analyzing Germany. Moreover, the author was driven by his interest in major related issue in the Kaiserreich. The issue is that he wants to explain why Germany ended up in World War I. His thesis is that the catastrophe was triggered by Vienna? s and Berlin? s decision makers. Berghahn does a pretty good job in backing up his theses. The reason is that he uses other historians? opinions to support the written. For example, in the 1st part, ?

Economy`, (Page 13) he writes that the economy experienced an upswing that lasted until 1913 and backs up this statement by providing a footnote which can be find at the end of the book. In addition, he provides the reader with tables to support his data and information. The tables are good because they make it easier to understand the data and summarize the written perfectly. Additionally, he cites other people who are mainly historians as well and have published famous and generally accepted writings such as M. Kaplan, The Jewish Feminist Movement in Germany.

Moreover, Berghahn also refers to researches by mention them after his thesis or/and statement. Another notable characteristic of Berghahn? s book is that he mentions counter theses. By mention them; the reader gets to know the different historical views and what diverse and numerous opinions historians have about the development of Germany (1871-1914). Additionally, to support his theses, Berghahn confutes counter theses by giving data, information and arguments which show that the other historians? theses are wrong. In other words, Berghahn uses other (“wrong”) theses to support his theses.

The author also uses counter theses to introduce a new theme and to make the reader think about the argument more deeply. In addition, he uses a research and/or historian thesis which is from the past or only the beginning of a thesis to further develop his thesis up on the other thesis. Furthermore, Berghahn sometimes writes what a specific historian thinks about a topic without commenting it. In comparison to the other books? authors we have read so far, the author of the book “Imperial Germany; Economy, Society, Culture and Politics” writes differently. Firstly, he states his wn opinions and theses, whereas the other authors mainly provide information. Additionally, Berghahn provides a lot of tables at the end of the book as compared to no tables in the previous books. In contrast to some use of footnotes (other writers? publications) in previous books, in Berghahn? s book, you find footnotes everywhere and the book has 32 pages only for footnotes. Additionally, Berghahn writes not chronologically like Blackbourn for example, he divides the part thematically. In conclusion, on one hand, the book was informative and I like that Berghahn mentions other historians opinions as well.

In addition, the use of tables makes it easier to understand the data and he handles counter theses well. On the other hand, the book was hard to read and protracted because his sentences are not straight forward and clear and he uses a lot of numbers in his writings making it hard to follow. Additionally, I don? t like how the book is organized (thematically) because for me, I prefer reading of all the developments happened in one time period. However, it shouldn? t be forgotten that the book is a very useful source and provides the reader with tones of information about the developments in the ? Kaiserreich`.

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