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

In This Review

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

By Michael Knox Beran
Free Press, 2007
496 pp. $30.00
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Creating an American historical narrative that integrates events and ideas into the broader global story is the most urgent task facing American historians today. Beran's Forge of Empires is a substantial contribution to this emerging literature and deserves the close attention of every student of American affairs and of every working historian. Beran combines vast erudition and great narrative gifts to create a mosaic that not only illuminates the stories of the statesmen he follows (Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck, Tsar Alexander II, and, to a lesser degree, Napoleon III) but also provides readers with new insights into the ways world events affected the United States. Beran's narrative strategy is a gamble that pays off. Sweeping pictures emerge from short mini-narratives that function like pebbles in a mosaic -- or like the dramatic brushstrokes of the impressionist painters active in the era he so brilliantly portrays. Like Lincoln, Bismarck engaged in a project of national consolidation; like Alexander II, Lincoln was a liberator who freed millions of human beings. In Beran's skilled hands, the similarities and differences between the situations these statesmen faced and the consequences of their decisions gradually build up to form a revealing and insightful portrait of a vital historical era that will increase American readers' understanding of the relationship between U.S. domestic history and events in the rest of the world.