Prussia is perhaps best known to readers of military history, who will be familiar with her as a nation thanks to Frederick The Great, the Napoleonic wars, Bismarck and the Franco-Prussian war, and, of course, the two World Wars. This in itself says a lot about how we've thought of Prussia.
In the end his literal downfall is bought about, on one occasion at any rate, by that quintessential image of Prussian militarism, his pickelhaube helmet, the point of which bursts his balloon (during an aerial duel with a Frenchman). Behind this relatively recent iteration of the Junkers type as a harmless comical buffoon, there has long lain a much darker vision of aristocratic German elitism, whose paradoxical combination of rigid servility ('I voz only obeyink orderz' was still a comedic playground catchphrase in my childhood) and belligerent arrogance are still popularly seen as amongst the root causes of two world wars.
Amongst the many intriguing threads Frederick the Great appeals to me, both for the excitement of 'great captain' style military history, but also because he's also just generally very interesting. Amongst other things I'm very attracted to his blunt irreligiosity: Clark quotes him as saying of Christianity that it's an 'old metaphysical fiction, stuffed with ... absurdities... fanatics espoused it, intriguers pretended to be convinced by it and some imbeciles actually believed it.' Brilliant!
Thanks to Prussia's role in two world wars it is the largest of the modern European powers currently erased from the map. Will she, like Poland, make an eventual return? It doesn't look very likely at present. But who really knows, perhaps at some future point the Prussian national identity will return? Based on our most recent previous historical experiences, this could potentially be a very scary development!
Whilst Clark is in many respects thoroughly academic, there are flashes of wit and style which make works such as this a little more palatable to the lay reader, such as when he observes that 'William I was ... widely revered... a figure with the gravitas and whiskers of a biblical patriarch.' But all told I found this a somewhat uneven read, compelling and even exciting in places, but sometimes a little too drily or academically thorough.
Overall, however, Iron Kingdom was rewarding and informative enough that I enjoyed and would recommend it.
* Twice, once in the ballon, and once in his plane.