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Book Review - The Unification of Germany

A critical analysis and book review of The Unification of Germany, by Michael Gorman

Posted by Judson L Moore

The Unification of Germany, by Michael Gorman, is a short yet precise and detailed book that outlines the events surrounding and influencing the German Unification of 1870-71.  This book tells the history of Germany during the 19th century, focusing on details that help the reader understand the causes for revolution in 1848, the conflict between central European states, and Germany’s eventual unification as a nation-state. This book is packed full of translated primary sources that powerfully illustrate the changes and the preventions during this time, political cartoons, charts and graphs, and commentary from the author.

To help the reader understand the book’s purpose, the author includes a chapter by chapter synopsis of the book in the introduction.  Covering all of the book’s key elements, the author makes an effective effort to summarize German unification.  As one reads throughout the rest of the book, the introduction serves as a stabilizer by helping the reader keep in mind why this event in history is essential.  Gorman does an excellent job of gathering information and commenting on each piece’s singular importance but sometimes fails to tie it all together.  The introduction lashes all the bits and pieces into one coherent chapter.

As I previously stated, many of these bits and pieces consist of translated primary sources.  Many major treaties like the Treaty Establishing the Zollverein, even constitutions, like the Act of German Confederation, and extracts from personal letters like that of the Letters from Metternich, all provide the reader with a real sense of the circumstances in 19th century Germany.  Before each piece, there is a brief introduction to what is about to be read.  Sometimes, several pages of text tell the story of the event at hand—other times, just a paragraph.  Either way, the author provides enough information for the reader to remain interested and understand what is being read as it applies to German unification.  After each translation, there is a set of questions that one should either answer after having read the piece or be able to better understand the significance of the piece by keeping that question in mind during a second reading.

Maps and charts are also heavily used in this book.  Most of the maps and charts concentrate on three fields: economics, politics, and state boundaries.  The use of maps helps see the geography of mineral resources and industry, which affect the economics of central Europe, which help clarify why some places were fought over and desired to be included in the new German state, while other areas were left out.  Maps are also used to show the location of different dialects and treaty boundaries and trade zones very effectively.  Graphs are used to compare industrial production between years more than anything else, but there are a few that indicate political preferences via voting comparison in different governmental bodies.

Finally, the use of political cartoons depicts some aspects of European culture during the era.  One can get a sense of humor and high tensions with the selection of comics, which I found to be extremely helpful in discovering the tone in which this book should be read.

In Conclusion, Michael Gorman’s, The Unification of Germany gets two thumbs up for being detailed but not long-winded, having extensive primary resources, the clear presentation of charts and maps, and packing all this information into fewer than 110 pages.  This book should be high on anyone’s list interested in Germany’s unification or seeking information about Germany in the 19th century.

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Judson L Moore
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Travel addict. Ambitious about making the world a better place. Writing what I learn along the way.

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