I've read three reviews so far of Jonathan Steinberg's new biography of Bismarck
See link, link and link, and don't overlook link. All were favorable, and all succeeded in explaining a matter that eluded me when I took 19C history from (the excellent) Jim Sutton at the University of Louisville. Namely, not just that Bismarck was important but precisely why he was important. A complex of answers, of course, but sum it up with way: (a) though he took risks, he picked his risk with great care; (b) he could turn on a dime from left to right, so as to cement one alliance while confounding another. Add also this: he bore the seeds of his undoing. He created a Germany so strong that it scared the daylights out of everybody around him. Naturally they sought to gang up in defense--and inevitably, he spent the rest of his career in a frenetic display of crockery-juggling so as to outmaneuver them. One thing I do remember from Jim Sutton: Bismarck created a system so intricate that only a Bismarck could hold it together, and once the new boy shunted him off stage, matters went to hell in a hurry.
One can only admire such clarity of analysis. Yet I can't escape the fantasy that all over the world there are power-hungry amoralists poring over their fresh-minted and still-damp copies of this masterwork, and making their plans. Now we know how Dr. Frankenstein felt when he heard the rumbling in the basement...
Disclaimer: To be clear, I am entirely willing to concede that Sutton taught all this, but that my callow youthful self was just too callow and youthful to absorb it.