Top 11 Books: Prussia

Although the emergence and nature of the Prussian state are key subjects in the study of German history, the development of this once highly individual and dominant power is worthy of study in its own right. Consequently, a large number of books have been written on Prussia; the following is my selection of the best.

Iron Kingdom by Christopher Clark
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This very well received book became the go-to popular text on Prussia, and Clark went on to write a fascinating look at the origins of World War One. It’s the perfect starting point for anyone interested in Prussian history and is reasonably priced.


Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning
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A longer work but always readable, Blanning has provided a superb biography of one of the luckiest men in Europe’s history (although you could argue you have to make luck work for you.) Blanning’s other books are well worth reading too.


Brandenburg-Prussia 1466-1806 by Karin Friedrich
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This entry in the Palgrave ‘Studies in European History’ series is aimed at older students and examines how well the regions which became the Prussian state coalesced under this new identity. There’s plenty of material on how that union happened, drawing on debates from Eastern European writing.


This wide-ranging and comprehensive study of Prussian history covers politics, society, and economics, as well as urban and rural life; major conflicts such as the Seven Years' and Napoleonic Wars are also discussed. Dwyer has provided a solid overview of 'early' Prussia, and interested readers can continue with the companion volume: see pick 4.

This volume's distinctive cover marks it out as one of the more famous volumes on Prussian history, and within Haffner provides, what is in practice, an introduction to the overall sweep of Prussian independence. The text is certainly revisionist, and Haffner provides many intriguing, and often new, interpretations; read it independently, or alongside other texts.

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The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia 1618 - 1740 by Margaret Shennan

The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia 1618 - 1740 by Margaret Shennan
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Written for the mid-higher level student, this slim volume - you may see it referred to as a pamphlet - provides a very concise account of Prussia's emergence while tackling a deceptively large number of issues. These include ethnicity and culture, as well as economics and politics.

Prussia may have become part of a united Germany (whether Reich, state, or Reich again), but it wasn't officially dissolved until 1947. Dwyer's text covers this later, often overlooked, Prussian history, as well as the more traditionally studied period of German unification. The book includes a broad approach that might challenge any preconceptions.

Widely acclaimed as a great biography of Frederick the Great, Schieder's text provides many valuable ideas and insights into both Frederick and the Prussia that he ruled. Regrettably, this is only an abbreviated translation, although the reduced length has made the work far more approachable. If you can read German, seek out an original.

Fraser's biography is large, and it could have been even larger, for there is a wealth of material and discussion focused on Frederick 'the Great'. Fraser has concentrated primarily on the military details, the strategy, and tactics, while swatting away discussions of Frederick's personality and overall legacy. We suggest reading this in conjunction with Pick 5 for a masterful examination.

Prussia did not disappear when the German Empire was created in 1871; instead, it survived as a distinct entity until the aftermath of World War Two. MacDonogh's book examines Prussia as it existed under the new Imperial ideals, tracking the changes in society and culture. The text also tackles the important, but often badly handled, the question of how 'Prussian' ideas affected the Nazis.

Part of the Longman 'Profiles in Power' series, this biography focuses on Frederick William in his own right, and not simply as a stopping point on the way to Frederick the Great. McKay covers all the relevant subject matter on this important but often overlooked, individual.