On December 18, 1940, Adolf Hitler issued “Directive 21,” authorizing what would become the largest military campaign in human history. The Führer’s attention to detail regarding the German invasion of the Soviet Union even extended to the plan’s code name, which he chose personally: Operation Barbarossa. It is with that decision that John Freed’s weighty new book Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth both begins and ends.1 It is not a story of Nazis, however, but of one medieval ruler, Frederick I Barbarossa, whose life and reign would cast a long shadow across centuries of German history.

Born in 1122, the young Frederick...


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