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European History / Biography / Politics

A Duel of Giants
Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian War
David Wetzel

"David Wetzel's study is an extremely well-crafted analysis of this dramatic episode of European history, and it is a pleasure to read."
International History Review

Combining impeccable scholarship and literary elegance, David Wetzel depicts the drama of machinations and passions that exploded in a war that forever changed the face of European history.

The clash of two extraordinary personalities
Otto von Bismarck and Napoleon IIIdrives 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 eraFrance, 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.

"This is diplomatic history with a difference. Out of the dry bones of the diplomatic documents David Wetzel has created a fascinating story that illustrates the supreme importance of personalities in the making of politics and, more important, the making of wars."—Sir Michael Howard, Regius Professor of Modern History, emeritus, Oxford University

"David Wetzel provides a clear narrative of the diplomatic background to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. . . . the book can be recommended as a useful introduction to a major theme in European history which, because of changes in historiographical fashion, has suffered from neglect for some forty years."—Times Literary Supplement

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, and has lectured in history, at the University of California, Berkeley.

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cover of A Duel of Giants is an old photograph of two war generals seated beside each other.

Fall 2003

264 pp.   6 x 9
8 b/w photos, 5 line drawings

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Paper $18.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-17494-1
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The 2001 cloth edition,
is out of print

"Above all, it is personal relationships that are most deeply, wisely, and vividly described here. . . . It is Wetzel's distinction to remind us again how important single individuals can be in affairs of honor between great powers."
Central European History

"David Wetzel has produced a readable and praiseworthy book . . . a solidly researched, soundly argued account of the events leading to the outbreak of war between France and Prussia in July 1870."
Journal of Military History

"A clear and persuasive case against the kind of determinism that sees individuals, even leading statesmen, as mere puppets of overriding forces."
Peter Gay, author of The Bourgeois Experience

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Updated May 11, 2012

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