This was an extraordinarily interesting book. It tells the history of Berlin from its earliest years in a series of sketches of individuals. From poor men and women to historical figures, some of which you recognize but most of which you don't, it puts together a puzzle of what Berlin is and what is has been.
For some reason, when we visited Germany and Berlin a few years back it was far and away my favorite place. Not because of the history, because compared to the rest of Europe there isn't much left standing of it, but it just felt like home. I literally forgot I wasn't in East Texas while riding the train through the pine forests back to the ship. So while the stories are usually horrible ones, the underlying theme is that people lived here and tried to make a life for themselves, and their stories aren't so different from those in other places – at least at times.
I frequently note that a book is well-written, but still isn't a particularly good book. This book is not like that at all. It's well-crafted, startlingly original, and tells a memorable story.