Duel of Giants: Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian War / Edition 1

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The clash of two extraordinary personalities-Otto von Bismarck and Napoleon III-drives this engrossing account of the events leading up to the Franco-Prussian War, one of the most momentous and decisive conflicts in the history of Europe.

An accomplished and eloquent historian, David Wetzel tells how this utterly avoidable war unfolded in the brief, eventful days of July 1870, ushering in an era of power politics that would reach its apocalyptic climax in World War I. Hotheaded militarists, high-minded statesmen, scheming opportunists, impassioned nationalists, and sensationalist newspapers all played their part as the European powers of the era-France, Germany, England, Austria, Spain, Italy, and Russia-jockeyed for advantage. Amidst this swirl of national and personal ambitions Wetzel brings Bismarck, Napoleon III, and their intimate circles to life, depicting for present-day readers the tremendous strains working upon them, their preoccupations, motives, judgments, and their ultimate decisions.

Indispensable reading for every student of the nineteenth century, A Duel of Giants offers a wealth of telling detail drawn from personal memoirs, official records, cabinet minutes, journalistic accounts, private notes, and public statements, presented in dramatic and enjoyable style.

Author Biography: David Wetzel is the author of The Diplomacy of the Crimean War, editor of From the Berlin Museum to the Berlin Wall, and, with Theodore S. Hamerow, of International Politics and German History. He works in the administration of the University of California, Berkeley.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite the title, the Prussian minister-president and the nephew of the first Napoleon have minor roles in abetting the war that would topple the emperor and unify Germany. The aging Napoleon III, after 22 years in power, was slipping. As the succession crisis in Spain (the ostensible cause of the war) played out, Bismarck was vacationing at his isolated estate in Pomerania. Wetzel's (The Diplomacy of the Crimean War) hero is William I of Prussia, who ultimately was willing to dissuade an ambitious young relative, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, from accepting the Spanish throne. Hotheaded French ministers had feared that Hohenzollerns might be on both major borders. France had its own candidate, a son of the discredited former French king Louis Philippe, but he hadn't a chance. What the opportunistic foreign minister, the Duc de Gramont, wanted was to have William I back down, and to disavow any future intention to propose Leopold. The king bridled at that indignity. Napoleon, incited by a chauvinist press and clamoring ministers seeing war as a way to prevent Prussia from absorbing such south Germany states as Bavaria, acted against his interests. He needed time to salvage his economy and to survive into the young manhood of his only child. He would have neither. His army was inept and the Prussians were professionals. Wetzel closes his complete narrative with the French declaration of war, after which his "duel" would begin but not in these pages. Napoleon would be taken prisoner and die soon after in exile in England. Prussia would absorb the German states on the sidelines and William would become emperor of Germany. Bismarck would be acclaimed as the clever statesman whohoodwinked France into a losing war. The losing French politicians would write self-serving memoirs. The pages on the Spanish succession are boringly complex and the tangled negotiations leading up to the war will interest only specialists in the period. 13 illus. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299174941
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 244
  • Sales rank: 1,042,732
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Preface xi
Acknowledgments xv
1. A Bit about Personalities 3
2. Napoleon III and the Spanish Revolution of 1868 37
3. Bismarck and the Hohenzollern Candidacy 63
4. The Negotiations at Ems 95
5. The French Declaration of War 138
Notes 183
Bibliographical Essay 198
Index 237
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