The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel, by Kati Marton

Nine stars

While I love all things political, I have come to realise that I ought to expand my knowledge related to some of the world leaders outside North America. When I noticed that Kati Marton penned a biography of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, I leapt at the opportunity to learn more about her and how Europe’s most powerful leader during her tenure kept the trains running on time. Marton does a fabulous job explaining the life of Merkel, as well as those topics that make her tick. Well worth a read by those who love political biographies.

Angela Merkel spent her early years as a pastor’s daughter in East Germany, behind the Berlin Wall. Her time living in a communist regime allowed Merkel to see how she did not want to live life, but would also provide insight in the Russian ethos, which would prove useful when dealing with the likes of Putin. Merkel used her time behind the Wall honing her life skills and becoming a top-rate scientist, choosing to question the world around her.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Merkel sought a new career for herself, finding a spot in the first united German cabinet. Merkel may not have had a great deal of political experience, but she made up for it in determination and a passion to see change in the new and fragile German Republic. Merkel was known for not fitting in and challenging norms, but never stopped trying to make changes that would help those around her. One of her key attributes that followed Merkel throughout her public life was a push to remain private. Many did not know the personal Angela Merkel, nor did she try to flaunt her life. She remained grounded and quiet, keeping to herself outside the role as Chancellor, which would baffle many as time progressed.

As she rose through the ranks of her party, Merkel found herself in a position of power and would become a rarity in German politics, a woman in a position of power. Merkel climbed into the role of Chancellor while others around her whispered their doubt that she would last. However, Merkel was less concerned about what others thought, choosing to turn her attention to fixing many aspects of the German state. As Marton explains throughout the tome, Merkel made an impact as she moved to change the way Germany was seen within the European community, as well as on the world scene. She stopped at nothing to push for economic reforms and a stronger sense of equality within the German Republic, turning away from the dark stain that was the Nazi regime.

One thing that Marton makes clear throughout the biography is that Merkel would stop at nothing to ensure the world did not slip back into the perils of authoritarianism or leave any part of the population homeless. Her own experiences resonated loudly and she would not stand for any bullying. Facing off against the likes of Putin and Trump, Merkel stood her ground and made sure not to let their snide remarks go without a response. Marton does contrast this with a softer view on China, one of Germany’s great trading partners. One can suppose that economic output would supersede human rights violations.

While Merkel never saw herself staying in power forever, she did have a list of things that she wanted to accomplish. Merkel served four terms as chancellor, buoyed by parliamentary governments who supported her enough to stay in the job. Merkel saw a great deal of change in the warld, in Europe, and even in Germany throughout her tenure, but also saw the next generation slink onto the scene in the latter years of her fourth term. Merkel may have been very involved in Germany’s progress, but she also had passions all her own that she wanted to share in the latter portion of her public life. Marton hints at some, but is clear that Angela Merkel is a private person and would likely enjoy her privacy as well. A public life well lived, Kati Marton has shown me a new and intriguing side to this woman who appeared to hold Europe together at the seams for long periods of time, while also providing compassion to those around her.

While there are many who purport that they can pen a political biography, only a handful are usually successful. Kati Marton does a formidable job exploring the life and times of Angela Merkel, breathing life and personality into a politician known primarily for her hard-line approach to governing. The tome exemplifies a much more personal side to the woman and her rise to power, as well as the topics into which she delved to keep the country and world together. Pulling on both professional and as many personal experiences as Merkel would allow to come out, Marton builds a strong and all-encompassing narrative well worth the reader’s time. An easy to follow format keeps the book from becoming too sluggish and there are many wonderful anecdotes woven into the larger tome. I must applaud Kati Marton for her detailed approach, which offers a personal side to a woman thought to be all work and little play in the eyes of the world.

Kudos, Kati Marton, for this stellar piece. Your time with Angela Merkel is shown in the great political biography I’ve just finished.