The most recommended books on Prussia

Who picked these books? Meet our 7 experts.

7 authors created a book list connected to Prussia, and here are their favorite Prussia books.
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Book cover of Wilhelm II (2 vols)

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

From my list on Prussia from different perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am what is euphemistically called an "independent scholar," meaning I have no academic affiliation, no straightforward road I must follow (in order, let’s say, to gain tenure), and no duty per se to follow a pre-ordained or politically correct point of view. But being a "freelance"  has obligations which I take very seriously. I feel that my job, in any subject I choose to pursue, is to engage the reader in a joint venture. I must instill in them the same enthusiasm I have for whatever I’m writing about, which in this case is the history of Prussia, and the state of this footprint on earth which war and ceaseless conflict have rearranged countless times. To do that, I usually take an often oblique and "off the radar" approach that I think will pull the reader along with me, making the journey for both of us something that matters.

James' book list on Prussia from different perspectives

James Charles Roy Why did James love 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.

By Lamar Cecil,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wilhelm II (2 vols) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wilhelm II (1859-1941), King of Prussia and German Emperor from 1888 to 1918, reigned during a period of unprecedented economic, cultural, and intellectual achievement in Germany. This volume completes Lamar Cecil's prize-winning scholarly biography of the Kaiser, one of modern history's most powerful--and most misunderstood--rulers.
As Cecil shows, Wilhelm's private life reflects a deeply troubled and very superficial man. But the book's larger focus is on Wilhelm as a head of state. Cecil traces the events of the years leading up to World War I, a period that offers ample evidence of the Kaiser's inept conduct of foreign affairs, especially…


Book cover of Boule de Suif: Maupassant

Patrick Holland Author Of The Darkest Little Room

From my list on prostitution and prostitutes.

Why am I passionate about this?

Prostitution is a thing one has to go looking for to get even a glimpse of in Australia. Since I first travelled, I realised how aberrant this is, and I became fascinated with the implications of making what for many of us is sacred into something transactional. Prostitution, certainly in Asia, where its relationship with ‘normal’ society is more complex than in the West, and where great economic disparity can mean it is a thing that may be both enslaving and freeing, is a fascinating subject for fiction, and one my work has often taken up.

Patrick's book list on prostitution and prostitutes

Patrick Holland Why did Patrick love this book?

Maupassant’s story takes its name from the chubby prostitute at its centre, nicknamed ‘Bowl of Fat’. At the time of Prussian occupation of France, a group of petty bourgeoisie, upper bourgeoisie, noble and religious people encourage her to offer herself to a Prussian officer in return for the freedom to travel through an occupied town to Le Havre. Through this short novel, Maupassant reveals the hypocrisy and moral poverty of those who sit in the layers of society above such outcasts as ‘Boule de suif’ and, by contrast, both the moral solidity and even innocence of the ‘fallen woman’ herself.

By Guy de Maupassant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boule de Suif as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant est un écrivain et journaliste littéraire français né le 5 août 1850 au château de Miromesnil à Tourville-sur-Arques (Seine-Inférieure) et mort le 6 juillet 1893 à Paris.Lié à Gustave Flaubert et à Émile Zola, Maupassant a marqué la littérature française par ses six romans, dont Une vie en 1883, Bel-Ami en 1885, Pierre et Jean en 1887-1888, et surtout par ses nouvelles (parfois intitulées contes) comme Boule de suif en 1880, les Contes de la bécasse (1883) ou Le Horla (1887). Ces œuvres retiennent l’attention par leur force réaliste, la présence importante du fantastique et par le…


Book cover of Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Life in Power

Katja Hoyer Author Of Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire; 1871-1918

From my list on German history that aren't about the Nazis.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in East Germany and experienced the disappearance of that country and the huge changes that followed as a child. My history teachers reflected this fracture in the narratives they constructed, switching between those they had grown up with and the new version they had been told to teach after 1990. It struck me how little resemblance the neat division of German history into chapters and timelines bears to people’s actual lives which often span one or even several of Germany’s radical fault lines. My fascination with my country’s fractured memory has never left me since. 

Katja's book list on German history that aren't about the Nazis

Katja Hoyer Why did Katja love this book?

Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, has always been a subject of fascination to me. Often portrayed as a caricature of the archetypical Prussian and blamed single-handedly for the outbreak of the First World War, the man behind the historical figure has remained an enigma. Very little has been written about him in Germany itself. Christopher Clark, who is perhaps better known for his seminal work The Sleepwalkers and his excellent biography of Prussia, Iron Kingdom, has done a great job tackling this delicate subject. Neither tied down by the weight of German memory culture nor by the constraints of academic writing, Clark’s biography of Kaiser Wilhelm is readable, informative and well-balanced. I would highly recommend it to anyone who seeks to understand Germany before and during the First World War.

By Christopher Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kaiser Wilhelm II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Christopher Clark's Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Life in Power is a short, fascinating and accessible biography of one of the 20th century's most important figures.

King of Prussia, German Emperor, war leader and defeated exile, Kaiser Wilhelm II was one of the most important - and most controversial - figures in the history of twentieth-century Europe. But how much power did he really have?
Christopher Clark, winner of the Wolfson prize for his history of Prussia, Iron Kingdom, follows Kaiser Wilhelm's political career from his youth at the Hohenzollern court through the turbulent decades of the Wilhelmine era into global…


Book cover of The Northern Crusades

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

From my list on Prussia from different perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am what is euphemistically called an "independent scholar," meaning I have no academic affiliation, no straightforward road I must follow (in order, let’s say, to gain tenure), and no duty per se to follow a pre-ordained or politically correct point of view. But being a "freelance"  has obligations which I take very seriously. I feel that my job, in any subject I choose to pursue, is to engage the reader in a joint venture. I must instill in them the same enthusiasm I have for whatever I’m writing about, which in this case is the history of Prussia, and the state of this footprint on earth which war and ceaseless conflict have rearranged countless times. To do that, I usually take an often oblique and "off the radar" approach that I think will pull the reader along with me, making the journey for both of us something that matters.

James' book list on Prussia from different perspectives

James Charles Roy Why did James love 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.

By Eric Christiansen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Northern Crusades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 'Northern Crusades', inspired by the Pope's call for a Holy War, are less celebrated than those in the Middle East, but they were also more successful: vast new territories became and remain Christian, such as Finland, Estonia and Prussia. Newly revised in the light of the recent developments in Baltic and Northern medieval research, this authoritative overview provides a balanced and compelling account of a tumultuous era.


Book cover of Frederick the Great

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

From my list on Prussia from different perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am what is euphemistically called an "independent scholar," meaning I have no academic affiliation, no straightforward road I must follow (in order, let’s say, to gain tenure), and no duty per se to follow a pre-ordained or politically correct point of view. But being a "freelance"  has obligations which I take very seriously. I feel that my job, in any subject I choose to pursue, is to engage the reader in a joint venture. I must instill in them the same enthusiasm I have for whatever I’m writing about, which in this case is the history of Prussia, and the state of this footprint on earth which war and ceaseless conflict have rearranged countless times. To do that, I usually take an often oblique and "off the radar" approach that I think will pull the reader along with me, making the journey for both of us something that matters.

James' book list on Prussia from different perspectives

James Charles Roy Why did James love 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.

By Nancy Mitford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Frederick the Great as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY KATE WILLIAMS

Frederick II of Prussia attempted to escape his authoritarian father as a boy, but went on to become one of history's greatest rulers. He loved the flute, and devoted hours of study to the arts and French literature, forming a long-lasting but turbulent friendship with Voltaire. He was a military genius and enlarged the borders of his empire, but he also promoted religious tolerance, economic reform and laid the foundation for a united Germany. Nancy Mitford brings all these contradictions and achievements to sparkling life in an fascinating, intimate biography.


Book cover of Alexander Von Humboldt: A Metabiography

David N. Livingstone Author Of The Empire of Climate: A History of an Idea

From my list on the history of ideas.

Why am I passionate about this?

My love for ideas and their history was born when I was still in high school. It was my old English teacher who first opened up the power of ideas in literature to change the world. I’m pretty sure he loved Eleanor Roosevelt’s comment: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Whether or not that’s true, my taste was further sharpened when I took a two-year course on the history of thought about nature and culture as an undergraduate student. I was captivated. 

David's book list on the history of ideas

David N. Livingstone Why did David love this book?

What struck me about this book was its enigmatic subtitle: A Metabiography. Here, I encountered not a biography of the great Prussian scientific traveler Alexander von Humboldt but a host of different Humboldts: Humboldt the liberal democrat, Humboldt the Aryan supremacist, Humboldt the anti-slavery Marxist, and Humboldt the pioneer of globalization.

What I discovered is that biographers construct their subjects in the image of their own time and place. This impressed me with two thoughts: that all scientific reputations are fundamentally unstable and that all of us are composed of multiple selfhoods.

By Nicolaas A Rupke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alexander Von Humboldt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is one of the most celebrated figures of late-modern science, famous for his work in physical geography, botanical geography, and climatology, and his role as one of the first great popularizers of the sciences. His momentous accomplishments have intrigued German biographers from the Prussian era to the fall of the Berlin wall, all of whom configured and reconfigured Humboldt's life according to the sensibilities of the day.This volume, the first metabiography of the great scientist, traces Humboldt's biographical identities through Germany's collective past to shed light on the historical instability of our scientific heroes.


Book cover of Globalization and War

Gregory A. Daddis Author Of Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines

From my list on war and society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the USS Midway Chair in Modern US Military History at San Diego State University. I’ve been teaching courses on the relationships between war and society for years and am fascinated not just by the causes and conduct of war, but, more importantly, by the costs of war. To me, Americans have a rather peculiar connection with war. In many ways, war has become an integral part of American conduct overseas—and our very identity. And yet we often don’t study it to question some of our basic assumptions about what war can do, what it means, and what the consequences are for wielding armed force so readily overseas.

Gregory's book list on war and society

Gregory A. Daddis Why did Gregory love this book?

Barkawi speaks of war as a form of “interconnection” among peoples and wisely reasons that we have to talk about war from a global perspective if we are truly to understand it. War may be an extension of politics, to quote a certain Prussian, but it’s also a social activity. And that activity has been globalized for far longer than many of us might think.

I really enjoy the way Barkawi weaves together a global story of war, culture, and identity. His case study on the Indian Army—he argues it was at “once a tool and an object of imperial control”—is superbly fascinating and highlights how localities can be affected by martial activities from faraway, distant places.

By Tarak Barkawi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Globalization and War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

War doesn't just tear nations apart-it brings peoples and places closer together, providing a new lens on globalization. This book offers a fresh perspective on globalization and war, topics rarely considered together. It conceives war as a form of interconnection between home and abroad, and as an occasion for circulation and interchange. It identifies the political and military work required to create and maintain a free-trading world, while critiquing liberal and neoliberal conceptions of the pacific benefits of economic globalization. Speaking from the heart of old and new imperial orders, Tarak Barkawi exposes the Eurocentric limitations of military history and…


Book cover of Effi Briest

David Blackbourn Author Of Germany in the World: A Global History, 1500-2000

From my list on German history for people who love to read novels.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in England, live in America, and write history books about Germany. I’ve published eight books in all (and co-edited two others), and I’m proud that two of them won prizes. I review books, too, in publications like the Guardian and the London Review of Books. History is how I make my living, but it is also a calling and a passion. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have always enjoyed reading literature and find I am reading even more avidly since the pandemic. There are so many German novels I love it was hard to choose just five. I hope you enjoy my choices.

David's book list on German history for people who love to read novels

David Blackbourn Why did David love this book?

I first read this book more than fifty years ago, before I began to teach and write about German history for a living. I knew the great nineteenth-century novels of adultery, like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, but didn’t think there was a German counterpart worth mentioning in the same breath. But there is, and this is it!

I love the psychological insight Fontane brings to portraying his characters, especially the youthful and headstrong title character, Effi, and the sharply etched social relations and stifling moral codes of the time.

Another incidental pleasure of the book, for me, is the way it moves back and forth between the countryside and the city, the old and the new. All this, and a ghost story sub-plot.

By Theodor Fontane, Mike Mitchell (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Effi Briest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I loathe what I did, but what I loathe even more is your virtue.'

Seventeen-year-old Effi Briest is steered by her parents into marriage with an ambitious bureaucrat, twenty years her senior. He takes her from her home to a remote provincial town on the Baltic coast of Prussia where she is isolated, bored, and prey to superstitious fears. She drifts into a half-hearted affair with a manipulative, womanizing officer, which ends when her husband is transferred to Berlin. Years later, events are triggered that will have profound consequences for Effi and her family.

Effi Briest (1895) is recognized as…


Book cover of Napoleon Bonaparte

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

From my list on Prussia from different perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am what is euphemistically called an "independent scholar," meaning I have no academic affiliation, no straightforward road I must follow (in order, let’s say, to gain tenure), and no duty per se to follow a pre-ordained or politically correct point of view. But being a "freelance"  has obligations which I take very seriously. I feel that my job, in any subject I choose to pursue, is to engage the reader in a joint venture. I must instill in them the same enthusiasm I have for whatever I’m writing about, which in this case is the history of Prussia, and the state of this footprint on earth which war and ceaseless conflict have rearranged countless times. To do that, I usually take an often oblique and "off the radar" approach that I think will pull the reader along with me, making the journey for both of us something that matters.

James' book list on Prussia from different perspectives

James Charles Roy Why did James love 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

By Alan Schom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Napoleon Bonaparte as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A definitive biography of Bonaparte from his birth in Corsica to his death in exile on St Helena, this book examines all aspects of Bonaparte's spectacular rise to power and his dizzying fall. It offers close examination of battlefield victories, personal torments, military genius, Bonaparte's titanic ego and his relationships with the French government, Talleyrand, Wellington and Josephine. It is a consummate biography of a complex man.


Book cover of The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation

William L. Urban Author Of Teutonic Knights: A Military History

From my list on medieval Baltic history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became enthusiastic about the history of the Baltics when my dissertation advisor persuaded me to use my language training in German and Russian to test the American Frontier Theory in the Baltic region. None of the various theories were applicable, but I earned a Ph.D. anyway. Later I taught in Italy, Yugoslavia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. I've written a number of books and won a Fulbright Hays grant, the Dr. Arthur Puksow Foundation prize, the Vitols Prize, and others. I retired in 2017 after fifty-one years of university and college teaching, but I would still be teaching if my hearing had not deteriorated to the point that I could not make out what shy students were saying. 

William's book list on medieval Baltic history

William L. Urban Why did William love this book?

The Germans and Poles moved into a land inhabited by flourishing native tribes that have previously been understood only through the observations of German and Polish chroniclers.

Pluskowski shows that the native peoples had a sophisticated local economy that was hardly changed by the German conquerors. That is, wherever the Teutonic Order and its associated bishops and abbots brought in German or Dutch colonists, the farming practices reflected those of the immigrants’ homelands; however, the three-field system required farmers to work together, while the original inhabitants preferred to retain individual farms worked on the two-field system. The three-field system produced more food, but the Native Prussians valued their freedom more.

This is a very detailed study, with abundant information on what people ate, how they lived, and how they were buried.

By Aleksander Pluskowski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade explores the archaeology and material culture of the crusade against the Prussian tribes in the 13th century, and the subsequent society created by the Teutonic Order which lasted into the 16th century. It provides the first synthesis of the material culture of a unique crusading society created in the south-eastern Baltic region over the course of the 13th century. It encompasses the full range of archaeological data, from standing buildings through to artefacts and ecofacts, integrated with written and artistic sources. The work is sub-divided into broadly chronological themes, beginning with a historical outline,…