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Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries    by Rory MacLean order for
by Rory MacLean
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2015 (2014)
Hardcover, Softcover
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Berlin has to have one of the most fascinating and complex histories in Europe. The German city has had numerous books written about it and Berlin remains one of the most important, powerful, social, economic and political centers in the world.

How does one capture a sense of Berlin's past without turning the effort into a plodding document only historians will read and appreciate? Rory MacLean, in Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries, manages to do this by creating a number of intimate portraits of two dozen individuals who resided in Berlin over five centuries.

In this eclectic group of characters, you'll meet simple folks, like a medieval balladeer and a Communist Party functionary, as well as more illustrious people like Bertolt Brecht, Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie.

'Now, after forty years of visits, I've settled here to try to map this place, divided as it is between past and present, conformity and rebellion, the visible and the invisible,' explains MacLean in the book's Prologue.

'To chart both the seen and unseen, and to navigate the potency of Berlin's vigorous mythology, one needs to know the mythmakers, the artists, thinkers and activists whose heated visions have become no less real than the city's bitter winter nights.'

Using relatively short chapters, the author does just this as he offers an entertaining cross section of people who provide an interesting window into Berlin's past.

You can either read this book from cover to cover or skip around. No matter the approach, you'll find that once you have read a few sections these portraits will not only hold your attention but will also draw you back to the trade paperback until you have read all 432 pages.

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