Cover image for A duel of giants : Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the origins of the Franco-Prussian War
A duel of giants : Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the origins of the Franco-Prussian War
Wetzel, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Madison, Wis. : University of Wisconsin Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 244 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DC292 .W48 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The clash of two extraordinary personalities - Otto von Bismarck and Napoleon III - drives 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.

Author Notes

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, editor of International Politics and German History. He works in the administration of the University of California Berkeley.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Wetzel, author of The Diplomacy of the Crimean War (1976), turns the tables on those historians who, over the past decades, have argued against the "great man" school of history in favor of determinist, "bottom-up" forces. In this forceful work of history, the author illustrates how two dynamic statesmen--Napoleon III and Otto von Bismarck--epitomized the epic confrontation of striking personalities. This is the first book in English on the origins of the Franco-Prussian War in almost 40 years. Wetzel manages to present these two leaders--and a cast of influential underlings--negotiating their way into a war for which neither of them had the heart. Napoleon III was apprehensive about the consequences of a French defeat (and too sickly to care, frankly, by the start of the war), and Bismarck's victory was, indeed, a Pyrrhic one, because it gave the French a decades-long excuse to prevent total German unification. This is truly an important work in its refocusing of attention on a diplomatic struggle that has been long been ignored. --Allen Weakland

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite the title, the Prussian minister-president and the nephew of the first Napoleon have minor roles in abetting the war that would topple the emperor and unify Germany. The aging Napoleon III, after 22 years in power, was slipping. As the succession crisis in Spain (the ostensible cause of the war) played out, Bismarck was vacationing at his isolated estate in Pomerania. Wetzel's (The Diplomacy of the Crimean War) hero is William I of Prussia, who ultimately was willing to dissuade an ambitious young relative, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, from accepting the Spanish throne. Hotheaded French ministers had feared that Hohenzollerns might be on both major borders. France had its own candidate, a son of the discredited former French king Louis Philippe, but he hadn't a chance. What the opportunistic foreign minister, the Duc de Gramont, wanted was to have William I back down, and to disavow any future intention to propose Leopold. The king bridled at that indignity. Napoleon, incited by a chauvinist press and clamoring ministers seeing war as a way to prevent Prussia from absorbing such south Germany states as Bavaria, acted against his interests. He needed time to salvage his economy and to survive into the young manhood of his only child. He would have neither. His army was inept and the Prussians were professionals. Wetzel closes his complete narrative with the French declaration of war, after which his "duel" would begin but not in these pages. Napoleon would be taken prisoner and die soon after in exile in England. Prussia would absorb the German states on the sidelines and William would become emperor of Germany. Bismarck would be acclaimed as the clever statesman who hoodwinked France into a losing war. The losing French politicians would write self-serving memoirs. The pages on the Spanish succession are boringly complex and the tangled negotiations leading up to the war will interest only specialists in the period. 13 illus. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Wetzel (Univ. of California, Berkeley) has caught the essence of Franco-Prussian relations that led to war in 1870 in his examination of the two principal personalities of the conflict, Napoleon III and Otto Von Bismarck. Showing that diplomatic history is far more than the documents and reports it so often seems, Wetzel examines numerous incidents, negotiations, and reports of the various maneuvers of those on both sides. Of particular interest is the treatment of the "Ems Dispatch," which became a linchpin in the eventual declaration of war by France. The author clears up a number of some generally accepted misconceptions and puts the Dispatch in a very realistic setting. Alas, the book ends just as the conflict begins. One wishes that the author had taken the tale a step further, to really show how this war could have been completely avoided. Thorough documentation and an excellent bibliographical essay highlight this uncommonly competent and crisp writing for the scholar and layman alike. S. A. Syme Coastal Carolina University

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
1. A Bit about Personalitiesp. 3
2. Napoleon III and the Spanish Revolution of 1868p. 37
3. Bismarck and the Hohenzollern Candidacyp. 63
4. The Negotiations at Emsp. 95
5. The French Declaration of Warp. 138
Notesp. 183
Bibliographical Essayp. 198
Indexp. 237