cover image Berlin


David Clay Large. Basic Books, $40 (736pp) ISBN 978-0-465-02646-3

""This book is a narrative history of the city of Berlin framed by the two German unifications--Germany's unification by `blood and iron' in 1871,"" and that of 1990, ""which of course was achieved not by war but by the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the implosion of East Germany."" Large (Where Ghosts Walked: Munich's Road to the Third Reich), professor of history at Montana State University, has written a lively, rich and engaging work, full of his passion for his subject, that puts the question of Berlin's future in the context not only of its past but also of the past of the entire nation of which it has long been an ill-fitting part. As he explains, Berlin has suffered for most of the last 100 years from a ""municipal inferiority complex,"" but with the most recent reunification, Berliners are hopeful that their city ""will finally make the grade"" as a world-class city. Likewise, Germans outside the capital have long maintained a love-hate relationship with Berlin, which Large equates with most Americans' ""wonderful, terrible"" opinion of New York City. But while its political history during the last century has been tumultuous and dangerous, the city's ability to influence the world in positive ways has been sustained by Berliners' adaptability in embracing the new, intellectually, artistically and culturally. Large cites examples including efforts to get rid of ""the ghosts of Berlin"" such as the Reichstag, ""the war-scarred fossil... so laden with conflicting, mainly depressing, historical associations""--which was accomplished when the artist Christo was given permission to ""wrap"" the building completely. Large claims that the city's hosting of the April 1999 European Union summit marked Berlin's ""debut on the stage of international diplomacy,"" and that a renewed Berlin may be among the world's leaders in embracing an era of globalization. Readers interested in the history of Germany or of European culture in general will find much to enlighten them. Agent, Agnes Krup. (Nov.)