Forge of Empires: Three Revolutionary Statesmen and the World They Made, 1861–1871

Michael Knox Beran, Author . Free Press $30 (477p) ISBN 978-0-7432-7069-4

Journalist and historian Beran (Jefferson's Demons ) provides a lively and entertaining look at a pivotal decade, in which three “revolutionary” leaders took actions that, he says, would shape world events “for a dozen decades”: Lincoln's role in the emancipation of slaves and winning the Civil War; Bismarck's unification of Germany and the rise of that country's continental hegemony; and Tsar Alexander II's part in freeing the serfs and the short-lived moderation of czarist rule. Making superb use of short vignettes, Beran provides fascinating insights on the importance of these events, noting, for example, that had Lincoln not triumphed, the institution of slavery “would have derived fresh strength from... 'scientific' racism, social Darwinism, jingo imperialism, [and] the ostensibly benevolent doctrines of paternalism.” However, the book gives insufficient background on the events covered, and there is only cursory treatment of Reconstruction and the Polish revolt against Russian rule in 1863. Nonetheless, Beran captures the decade's importance in a style that is both informative and dramatic. (Oct. 16)

Reviewed on: 08/20/2007
Release date: 10/01/2007
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