Monday, 31 March 2014

Review: Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815

Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815 by Peter Paret

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book on the Prussian reforms before and after Jena-Auerstädt. Shows that it was not just a case of noble and visionary reformers vs dumb reactionaries, but a struggle in which military theories and practice were linked to but also conflicted with legal privileges, social attitudes and personal rivalries.

Considering the opposition it is amazing how much was achieved and one wonders what might have happened if Scharnhorst hadn´t died so young and peace hadn´t come so soon. In any case, the reforms turned the Prussian army from a laggard into a front runner, despite the rough edges.

Yorck´s role in all of this is much more interesting than many historians have it (and that includes recent historians who have simply repeated the myths of the past). Yorck was in many ways closer to the reformers than most, looking at his practice as a commander of the Jäger and the infantry regulations and training programmes he helped to write. On the other hand, he was quite aware that the consequences of the social change not only undermined his status and legitimacy as a noble, but thereby also that of other institutions. And he was a pain in the arse to work with.

All this lovingly analysed and extensively researched by the author.

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