The Best Books On Imperial Germany Before World War 1

The Books I Picked & Why

Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany

By Margaret Lavinia Anderson

Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany

Why this book?

People learn democracy by practicing it. The Germans practiced and practiced, and eventually got better at it. This is the main argument of Margaret Lavinia Anderson’s stunning book. Scrutinizing hundreds of contested elections, Anderson shows how Germans gradually reformed their authoritarian structures without significant constitutional reform. She demonstrates that the grassroots struggle for more democracy brought voters out of their narrow communities and helped form a wider civic culture. Alas, however, practice did not make perfect, and Germany was not saved from its own aggressive militarism.


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Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany

By Isabel V. Hull

Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany

Why this book?

No one has dissected the military culture of the German Army with such a sharp analytical scalpel as Isabel Hull. This book, “a study in institutional extremism,” takes us deep into the mind of the German military. Hull argues that since the Franco-German War of 1870, German military leaders began to conceive of war as not over until complete military victory was obtained. This insight led her to the controversial contention that Germany’s large-scale slaughter of the Herero and Nama in Southwest Africa was not primarily a result of racism or of genocidal impulses in German culture generally, but of operational doctrine.


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Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany

By David Ciarlo

Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany

Why this book?

Full with arresting interpretations of visual material, this book shows how modern advertising subtly influenced racist templates. The prose is carefully-wrought and elegant. The dissection of racist images is done with patience and subtlety. And in the process, we learn how,  in the age of high imperialism, advertising reinforced ordinary racism and white supremacy became a default position.


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Red Saxony: Election Battles and the Spectre of Democracy in Germany, 1860-1918

By James Retallack

Red Saxony: Election Battles and the Spectre of Democracy in Germany, 1860-1918

Why this book?

In this profound, masterfully conceived, and beautifully written study of authoritarianism and democracy in the state of Saxony, James Retallack reminds us of the political power of Imperial Germany’s anti-democratic forces. We see authoritarian elements intimidating, cajoling, and constraining the social-democratic opposition. We see them clipping voting rights where possible, bullying opponents when they could, and subverting democratic institutions when it suited their interests. Sound familiar?


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Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

By Steven Press

Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

Why this book?

A brand-new gripping, revealing history of German colonialism, focused on the brutal diamond trade in Southwest Africa on the eve of World War I. With pellucid prose, Press tells how the Germans cordoned off a so-called “forbidden zone,” behind which rapacious explorers, colonial authorities, miners, and businessmen carted off these precious, if largely useless rocks, for which there was a huge, artificially created demand, especially in the United States.


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