Quentin Peel at The Financial Times:
There is no single German story. Political centralisation came early to Britain and France; Germany, by contrast, assumed something like its modern form less than 150 years ago. Prior to this, it was a hodgepodge of little kingdoms, principalities and dukedoms, for many centuries owing a loose allegiance to the ramshackle Holy Roman Empire. German history, according to Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, is “a composite of different, sometimes conflicting, local narratives . . . inevitably, enrichingly and confusingly fragmented”.
The existence of such multiple narratives explains much about the behaviour of modern Germany: its instinctive federalism and commitment to European integration, its readiness to compromise combined with a stubborn insistence on fiscal discipline, its deep-rooted pacifism and, above all, its unwillingness to lead. Nationalism came late to Germany, and led to the disaster of the 1930s. It is a lesson the nation has learnt more bitterly than any other. In three recent books that reflect on how Germany’s past is shaping its future — MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation, Stephen Green’s Reluctant Meisterand Hans Kundnani’s The Paradox of German Power — this fragmentation and belated nationhood provide the backdrop.