The best books on Prussia from different perspectives

James Charles Roy Author Of The Vanished Kingdom: Travels Through the History of Prussia
By James Charles Roy

The Books I Picked & Why

The Northern Crusades

By Eric Christiansen

Book cover of The Northern Crusades

Why this book?

When we say the word Crusades, most of us think of Jerusalem, and the many Christian efforts to wrest control of what was called the Holy Land from Islamic control -- six separate expeditions from 1095-1291. The foundation of Prussia is found in the lesser-known, but equally sanguinary campaigns of conquest undertaken by a religious order of Germanic origin, the Teutonic Knights. Their aim was to wrest lands along the Baltic Sea, east of the Oder, Vistula, and Nieman Rivers, from non-Christian Slavic tribes, a process that surged back and forth for over four centuries, until the Order was secularized in 1525 by its last grandmaster, a Hohenzollern. Christiansen's impressive, chronological narrative gives a comprehensive overview, and has the additional quality of being very well written. The Teutonic Order is the foundation story of Prussia, along with the emergence of the Hohenzollern dynasty.

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Frederick the Great

By Nancy Mitford

Book cover of Frederick the Great

Why this book?

The role of Prussia as a real player in Western European politics is largely due to the most famous of all the Hohenzollerns, the warrior king Frederick the Great. Brutalized as a young cadet by a schooling regimen devised by his buffoonish father, Frederick distinguished himself from the myth of the stereotypical Prussian Junker (uncultivated, boorish, recklessly brave) by developing into a Renaissance gentleman -- fond of music, an unabashed Francophile, patron of Voltaire. This can never disguise his fame as a soldier and master strategist, however, as well as that of an amoral and duplicitous diplomat who essentially put Prussia on the map. Mitford's delightful biography (the 1970 first edition is beautifully illustrated) covers all the high points (and low points) of Frederick’s career in distinguished prose.

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Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life

By Alan Schom

Book cover of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life

Why this book?

This relatively recent biography of Napoleon, well researched and written, has Prussia all over it (tangentially), mostly because of the French emperor’s insatiably aggressive appetite, which involved all his neighbors diplomatically, socially, militarily, and economically. Everything Napoleon did had ramifications everywhere else, and it took a united Europe to thwart him. Prussia, along with Great Britain, was in the forefront of this effort. Marshal Blücher's Prussian forces, in fact, provided the last-minute, decisive intervention that led to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1814, a pivotal moment in European and Prussia history

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Wilhelm II (2 vols)

By Lamar Cecil

Book cover of Wilhelm II (2 vols)

Why this book?

Wilhelm II, the last Hohenzollern kaiser of Germany, and the last King of Prussia, bears perhaps more than any other single individual the onus of causing World War I, the most industrial and catastrophic conflict ever seen on earth to that point. His flamboyant personality, erratic thought processes, and often uncontrollable outbursts of temper, disjointed the European political arena on a sometimes weekly basis, causing instability, confusion, and uncertainty in the minds of diplomats throughout Europe. His abdication of the throne in 1918 proved the end of the Hohenzollern dynasty, with East Prussia detached geographically from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor, a sore point almost as annoying to contemporary Germans as the Versailles Treaty, and a flashpoint that would ignite again in 1939. Cecil's very well-written and enlightening biography will not be replicated anytime soon.

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Before The Storm: Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia

By Marion, Countess Dönhoff

Book cover of Before The Storm: Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia

Why this book?

Marion Dönhoff was born into privilege, 1909, at Schloss Friedrichstein, one of the largest semi-feudal estates in East Prussia, and her memoir lovingly recreates her childhood there amongst a family of cultured and benevolent Junkers. The values they espoused were contrary to everything Nazism represented, but that did not prevent the deaths of nearly all her adult male relatives in either combat or purges after the failed assassination plot against Hitler in 1944. In 1945 she, along with thousands of other refugees, fled west during harsh winter weather, as the Red Army ruthlessly advanced for Berlin and victory. Dönhoff, on a horse from the Friedrichstein stables, rode alone over 800 miles to safety. From 1946 until her death in 2002, she was associated (as both editor and publisher) with the prestigious, Hamburg-based weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. Her memoir is exceptional.

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