Prussia weighed heavily on the collective mind of Europe during the 19th and 20th Centuries. My history classes generally blamed the formation of Germany for throwing off the structure of international power in Europe and causing two World Wars. And at the end of WWII, the Western Allies also felt that ‘Prussia’ was behind Germany’s warlike ways and redrew the map of Germany to get rid of the name. Nearly sixty years later, ‘Prussia’ still brings up stereotypes that lie at the root of current German stereotypes.

Christopher Munro Clark’s Iron Kingdom traces the history of Prussia from about 1600 (or, of Brandenburg, just before it acquired Prussia, later known as ‘East Prussia’), though its official dissolution in 1947. Along the way, he takes a good look at the institutions as well as the events and people that shaped the Prussian state. I found the last parts of the book very interesting as he traces some very familiar events from the point of view of Prussia instead of Germany. Since the German Empire did not fully absorb its member states, but Prussia was by far the dominant member, there were some odd administrative fits.

Despite this, much of the lead up and progress of WWI is barely glossed over. It is one of several places where having some idea of the regular history is needed as Clark does not hash it out for you. But one of the most fascinating sections is the interwar years, where he shows that the Prussian administration was a bit more willing to curb the rise of the Nazi party than the German administration. Otto Braun (Prussian Prime Minister) and Albert Grzesinski (Police Chief of Berlin) nearly had Hitler arrested and ejected from the country, but would have been blocked by Heinrich Brüning (Chancellor of Germany). This sort of tension is played up throughout the entire section, before moving on to how various people (including both Hitler and Churchill) played upon the idea of ‘Prussianism’ to try and promote their idea of the character of ‘Germany’.

In all, it is a very good overview of a bit more than three centuries of history. I think it gets a little too dependent on the reader knowing some details of the Napoleonic Wars, and WWI, and so on, but the type of person interested in this book will probably already have the bare essentials needed already.