After reading the biographies of two exceptional leaders from countries other than the United States, I find it astounding how different these leaders are from the conventional Western leaders, yet how effective they are.

Deng Xiaoping, known for his restrained demeanor and competent leadership, was able to steer China away from a road that would have kept the majority of its people impoverished and onto one that would have freed them.

Through a strategy that is unassuming, systematic, and modest, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been successful in establishing Germany as the most powerful nation in Europe, with a robust economy and a significant role in international politics.

These two leaders stand out from other well-known figures such as Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher, and others. They [Xiaoping and Merkel] are unique in that they do not seek fame, they are not showy, they are not charming, and they are not rockstars. Instead, they avoid the media because they want their work to be the one that speaks for itself. and boy oh boy, the work that they produced spoke the most loudly.

Asian culture emphasises collective success, while Western society promotes individual success. Asian leaders measure success by teamwork, while Western leaders look for superstars and weak links.

Merkel and Xiaoping emphasised teamwork. They’re calm, level-headed, sensible, and don’t want to be hero-worshipped.

But this review is about Germany’s Angela Merkel, not China’s Deng Xiaoping.

Here is a successful politician whose home has never been publicly seen, not even in photographs. Over the course of 16 years, her husband attended only a small fraction of the official events she did. The only time photos of her in a swimsuit appeared online was on a family vacation. But she was removed only after the German people demanded it.

“The advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”

Angela Merkel’s public service includes three “firsts.” First female German Chancellor. She was Germany’s first leader with a degree in quantum chemistry and substantial research experience. She was the first East German to lead a unified Germany after World War II.

Angela Merkel has always avoided giving exciting poetic and inspiring speeches in favour of straightforward delivery of the facts.

She was not a poetic or charismatic leader like Obama mainly because, given the history of Germany, particularly how Adolf Hitler used his charming and inspiring oratory skills to influence and encourage his followers to commit heinous crimes, Merkel views charisma and inspiring oratory skills as a potentially lethal weapon.

Hence she says:

“Language cannot be trusted. Words are weapons to be deployed cautiously.”

Moreover, she has accomplished a great deal, domestically, internationally, and in the European Union with her no charisma or inspiring talks. It’s no surprise that she’s so brilliant, given that she also holds a Doctorate in Physics.

In this book, Kati Marton gives an accurate peek into her life, and what it’s like to grow up in a country that can’t forget its past. Kati’s ability to describe German history allowed her to explain how Angela Merkel was shaped and how it affected her rule.

Kati Marton deals with how she rose to power, the contrast between growing up in East vs West Germany, her leadership style, how private she is, dealing with various leaders such as Obama, Putin, Xi Jinping, Trump, the issue of the Dalai Lama.

Merkel was born in Hamburg, West Germany, and moved to East Germany as an infant when her Lutheran pastor father was assigned to Perleberg. She earned a PhD in quantum chemistry in 1986 and was a researcher till 1989.

She was so much of a technocrat that if tough decisions needed to be made, she would invariably say:

“The advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”

Her lack of pride and egotism has always struck me as one of the most incredible things about her. She never wanted to be the centre of attention, so she led a quiet and unassuming life.

She was always of the opinion that one’s responsibilities, rather than their position, were the most important things in life. It’s like she’s living proof of what author Ryan Holiday writes about in his book Ego Is the Enemy.: It’s the job to be done not your title that’s important. Always focus on the task at hand, not on yourself.

She always believed that:

“A woman in power has more urgent business to attend to than her ego.”

Focus more on the task ahead of you and less on yourself.

She is the first head of government from Germany to ever speak in front of the Knesset [the Parliament] in Israel. Given what we know about the Holocaust, it’s difficult to imagine this happening.

Merkel said Germans are ashamed of the Holocaust and she bows before the victims.

To speak to you in this honourable assembly is a great honour for me,” Merkel said in Hebrew. “I thank you all that I am allowed to speak to you in my mother tongue today,” Merkel continued in German.

“The Shoah fills us Germans with shame,” she said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were killed. “I bow to the victims. I bow to all those who helped the survivors.”

She is a naturally serious person, but she is also smart and has a sense of humour. She’s apparently good at mimicking others. Something I wouldn’t have thought about her.

Apparently, She mimics Vladimir Putin after a frustrating phone call with him. That would be hilarious to see.

Rating

9/10

There is nothing more fascinating than reading a book about a nerd.

Intelligence, hard work, a good set of values and humility are very attractive.

Angela Merkel’s work ethic and attention to equipping oneself with knowledge and comprehension of the issues at hand reveal the low standards of governance to which too many of us currently hold our leaders.

She serves as a reminder of what may happen to a nation when it elects a president who is less dramatic, less ego-driven, and more focused on getting things done. Less charisma, more results. She is a prime example of this.

This biography is both fascinating and easy to read. It’s honest to point out that Angela Merkel isn’t perfect, but she’s done a lot of good work for Germany, Europe, and the world over her 16 years as chancellor.

Overall, this is a book that will stick with me for a long time.

Favourite Quotes

  • “In her experience, language cannot be trusted. Words are weapons to be deployed cautiously.”
  • “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” —Marie Curie (1867–1934)”
  • “If everyone just sweeps outside their door, the whole village will be clean,” Merkel said sometimes, quoting Goethe.”
  • “Never hate your enemies; it affects your judgment.”
  • “This is her power move: letting an alpha male keep talking and waiting patiently as he self-destructs.”
  • “With statistics, graphs, and charts, the country’s highest-ranking soccer fan proposed a training plan for the speechless coach.”
  • “War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace. Thomas Mann, German-American author [1875–1955]”
  • “There is strength in calm”
  • “Both Merkel and Obama read Yuval Harari’s somewhat ponderous Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind for pleasure. And though their tastes are widely different, both find escape and relaxation in music.”
  • “The advantages outweigh the disadvantages.”

One thought on “Book Review: The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton

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