In This Review

The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel
The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel
By Kati Marton
Simon & Schuster, 2021, 368 pp.

In a few months, Angela Merkel will step down after a decade and a half as the chancellor of Germany. Polls show she remains the world’s most respected political leader, perhaps because she cuts against the stereotype of modern politicians as egotists pandering to public opinion. She is unglamorous and reserved, instinctively moderate, slow to make decisions, and prone to communicate in cerebral, fact-based monologues. This is the best English-language biography of her rise from a tough and traditional family, through her career as a physical chemist in communist East Germany, to her current renown—but it is far from definitive. As with most traditional journalistic accounts, Marton’s book focuses a great deal on what Merkel said and did at various critical meetings, attributing her success to her intelligence and tenacity and her failures to her idealistic moral courage. The reader learns far less about the electoral, partisan, diplomatic, and technical constraints under which Merkel acted. The picture is further limited by the author’s curious decision to focus almost exclusively on German relations with the United States and Russia, thereby excluding economic diplomacy, climate change, China, the European Union, and the developing world—not to mention German domestic politics, about which the book says hardly anything.