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Frederick the Great Paperback – International Edition, October 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"He is everything I like, brave, funny, no nonsense, marvellous taste, common sense, interested in everything" -- Nancy Mitford on Frederick II of Prussia "The unmistakable Mitford trill, in whose light, bright cadences an entire hard-to-shock and easy-to-bore view of life is made manifest" -- Zoe Heller Daily Telegraph "Elegant and entertaining" Chicago Tribune "Witty and atmospheric" Sunday Times "[Her books] have the air of having been talked on to the page, in a voice as direct and intimate and clear as a child's" -- Laura Thompson Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Nancy Mitford was born in London on November 28 1904, daughter of the second Baron Redesdale, and the eldest of six girls. Her sisters included Lady Diana Mosley; Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire and Jessica, who immortalised the Mitford family in her autobiography Hons and Rebels. The Mitford sisters came of age during the Roaring Twenties and wartime in London, and were well known for their beauty, upper-class bohemianism or political allegiances. Nancy contributed columns to The Lady and the Sunday Times, as well as writing a series of popular novels including The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, which detailed the high-society affairs of the six Radlett sisters. While working in London during the Blitz, Nancy met and fell in love with Gaston Palewski, General de Gaulle's chief of staff, and eventually moved to Paris to be near him. In the 1950s she began writing historical biographies - her life of Louis XIV, The Sun King, became an international bestseller. Nancy completed her last book, Frederick the Great, before she died of Hodgkin's disease on 30 June 1973.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009952886X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099528869
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,992,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on June 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am well willing to believe that this may not be the most complete or scholarly approach to Frederick the Great. However, I also do not think that it positions itself to be. If you are familiar with Mitford as a biographer, then you should expect this to be written with her usual style.

Mitford's voice is laconic and dry. One of the best things about her biographical writings is that despite that dryness, her affection for her subjects is clearly visible. Certainly she is one of the few historical biographers who regularly make me laugh out loud when I read the work.

Frederick the Great was a monarch that I knew very little about from a period of which I had only vague knowledge. I shut the book feeling that I had gained a good high level understanding as well as a real desire to read further. It is difficult for me to assess how satisfying it would be for someone who is a real scholar of the period.

A Mitford biography is always a great gift for armchair historians, or for general readers who do not think that they will enjoy biographies. Reading this kind of entertaining work might also be a good way to tempt younger readers into exploring history.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J E Andranian on December 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Mitford's treatment of Frederick the Great is good for those readers who have little to no background on his life and times, since it is a very fluid read and is loaded with humorous anecdotes. It also is relatively non-partisan in its treatment of the subject, although Mitford clearly admires Frederick. Nevertheless the book tends to be very light on important details surrounding Frederick's campaigns, and not nearly as good an introductory piece to Frederick's life as Asprey's >The Magnificent Enigma<. Serious Frederick fans can bypass this book altogether.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By medelliana on November 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Although this book is very well-written (at times it feels like a novel), I cannot help feeling that at times there was something missing. The sections that deal with Frederick's upbringing and home life are compelling, but as soon as Mitford dives into Frederick's battles (which were so numerous they almost defined his later life!) the discussion becomes very dense and hard to follow. While I loved hearing abour Voltaire's visit to Potsdam, and the interaction between the two luminaries, I felt that this short time was dwelt upon for a bit too long, perhaps to the detriment of other events in Frederick's life. The book is very sympathetic to Frederick William I (Frederick's father), who I feel is one of history's least likable characters. When it gets to Frederick's later life (after the Seven Years' War), the coverage becomes sparse. However, because at times it is so readable, I recommend this book to those who have little to no knowledge of Frederick and his times.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By bethwindsor@earthlink.net on June 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is, in my opinion, the essential starting point for anyone interested in the life of Frederick the Great and his times. More of an in depth personal and at times extremely heartrending portrayal of a complex, to say the least, and enigmatic figure. At the end of this study, it is as though you have gotten to know and then, tragically, lost a great friend. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. A Newman VINE VOICE on December 19, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nancy Mitford wrote history almost in the same manner that she wrote fiction. Her eye is always on the telling anecdote or characteristic. In this book on Frederick the Great she probably has more of a character than even she is used to dealing with. He was the King of Prussia who was more comfortable with the ideals of the French enlightenment, but with the morals of the Medicis (as he would have described it himself).

Mitford is the author of a series of wonderfully composed comic novels which feature the comings and goings of the upper classes in Britain. She is probably the 20th century's answer to Jane Austen, since no one wrote better comedies of manners other than perhaps the recently departed Louis Auchincloss.

Critics have alleged that her histories owe a great deal to this sensibility. In her books on Louis XIV, Madame Pompadour, and Voltaire, the notion is that she uses her own highly placed social connections to form a template of mores that is somewhat anachronistic. Aristocratic culture in 18th century France was different from that of between the wars England.

I think that most of Mitford's critics are being too hard on her mainly because of her other literary endeavors. Few academic historians or even popular ones have ever achieved the sort of success that Nancy Mitford has. It is impossible for even the greatest of historians (Gibbon, Macaulay, and Carlyle) to divorce themselves from their own ages and world views. Why should Miss Mitford be required to do otherwise?

The choice of Frederick the Great is a natural one for someone with Mitford's love of eccentricity. The well-documented incidents of her own rather interesting family probably ensure that this is something less than a choice and more than an inclination.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Andy Lowry on July 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
As the more perceptive reviewers have already noted, this brilliant, charming book paints a superb portrait of the strange, sympathetic, cold Frederick. Years after I've read it, I still remember some of her masterfully chosen details, like Frederick's reaction when asked to approve the execution of a cavalryman convicted of sodomy with his horse: "you fools, put him in the infantry!"

Many other books will tell you everything and more about the details of Rossbach and Leuthen, but few will give you the impression of having known the man. Lovers of history and biography should read this, and all of Nancy Mitford's other biographies.
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