A Concise History of Germany, written by Mary Fulbrook, first published in 1990 by the Cambridge University Press and revised in 1992, presents a chronicle of central Europe from the time of the Early Medieval Period to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Fulbrook's objective in writing the book was to provide a concise yet sweeping view of the development of the German state, exploring the apparent contradictions and paradoxes regarding the social, political, and cultural characteristics of Germany and its peoples. Fulbrook has succeeded in this goal, as her book is contained in one relatively short volume encompassing the span of German history; however, as Fulbrook herself writes in the preface to her book, "The attempt to compress over a thousand years of highly complex history into a brief volume will inevitably provoke squeals of protest from countless specialists." As such, this book, though an excellent piece of historical writing, does contain certain flaws, but those do not detract significantly from the overall quality of the work.
A Concise History of Germany is exactly that: it is a brief account of the primary elements that make up the course of Germany's history. The eccentricities and peculiarities of Germany's long history have been at the center of much extensive deliberation in the academic community. Fulbrook's book is essentially an amalgamation of a wide range of preexisting historical material that delves into the principal social, political, and cultural elements contributing to the scholarly controversy surrounding the development of Germany. In her book, Fulbrook reviews and interprets the significant events of the last thousand years of Central European history. Fulbrook explores the major proceedings of Medieval Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, the Age of Confessionalism, the Age of Absolutism, the Age of Industrialization, World War I and its aftermath, World War II and its aftermath, the period of the Two Germanies, and the "revolution of 1989" and the reunification of Germany. Fulbrook details the effects of various events on the development of Germany, including the reign of the Austrian Habsburgs, the Protestant Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, the rise of Prussia, the French Revolution, the rule of Bismark, the Weimar Republic, Hitler's consolidation of power and the subsequent Holocaust, the creation of the two Germanies, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Mary Fulbrook's predominant aspiration in writing this book was to present a new view on the events surrounding the development of the German state; Fulbrook aimed her book primarily at the scholarly community and those historians concerned with the seemingly inconsistent development of Germany. She intended her book to be a reaction against the existing interpretations of German history, which mostly focused on nationalistic issues such as the latency of German unification following the looseness of the Holy Roman Empire and the multitude of autonomous German states, or on moral issues stemming from the reign of Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party, or on cultural and societal issues, which have come to dominate historical discussion during the late twentieth century. Fulbrook clearly believes that the German "peculiarities" have been greatly exaggerated and that the wide scope of German culture is only natural and has been misrepresented. She states that the facets of German culture historians have considered in the past have been "selected, reinterpreted, transformed and adapted for current concerns and endeavors at any give time."
Fulbrook's point is well taken, and she makes it obvious to any casual student of history that she speaks the truth. One of the greatest strengths of this book is that it is concise and, despite its brevity, quite encompassing. Additionally, Fulbrook presents her interpretation of the development of Germany in a clear and informative fashion, effectively addressing the apparently paradoxical history of Germany and central Europe. In her research, she used a wide array of existing historical material, mostly dating from the 1970s and '80s. While the breadth of such an assemblage of sources is remarkable, however, the use of primary sources is conspicuously absent. In fact, the only primary sources contained in the book are the reproductions of contemporary engravings and political cartoons, which contribute well to the effectiveness of the book and its message, as well as to its enjoyment. In contrast, however, the maps provided in the book are of poor quality, are not detailed, and do not provide the clarity necessary for the reader to successfully correlate historical events with their geographical locations. These minor flaws, however, do not detract from Fulbrook's overall success at producing a concise, informative, and readable chronicle of the history of Germany.
Mary Fulbrook's A Concise History of Germany effectively addresses the development of Germany beginning with the Medieval Period and continuing through the reunification of Germany in 1989. Fulbrook has successfully presented the reader with her interpretation of the "peculiar" history of the German lands through efficient use of a vast collection of historical material. After reading this book, one finds that the paradox of German history, as it relates to the social, political, and cultural traits of the region, has become much less enigmatic and that the complexities of German history seem less daunting. A Concise History of Germany should be required reading for all students of European history.