Frederick II’s first act on assuming the throne of Prussia in 1740 was to take his state to war—a consequence, he later explained, of possessing a well-trained army, a full treasury and a desire to establish a reputation. For the next quarter century he confronted Europe in arms and emerged victorious, but at a price that left his kingdom shaken to its physical and moral core. As many as a quarter million Prussians died in uniform, to say nothing of civilian losses. Provinces were devastated, people scattered, the currency debased. The social contract of the Prussian state—service and loyalty in return for stability and protection—was broken…[more].