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Frederick the Great Paperback – July 23, 2013


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Frederick the Great + Napoleon: A Symbol for an Age: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford Series in History & Culture) + The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford Cultural Editions Series)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (July 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590176235
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590176238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“It is written with all the author’s skill, is really hard to put down once its rhythm
and energy take hold, and yet imparts an astounding quantity of information.” —Guardian
 
“Mitford’s felicity lies in capturing the spirit of a society and an age.” —The Times Literary Supplement

“Nancy Mitford seems to have brought a new talent to the study of history: that of the sophisticated, worldly wise observer, who is able to penetrate old archives with a fresh eye for qualities in the dead.” —Louis Auchincloss, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Her style is skillfully succinct . . . and her wit proceeds from uncommon shrewdness.” —Sunday Times
 
“Apart from Miss Mitford’s special interests in the fun and fashion department, one may admire her most for her power to condense and explain the most complicated events.” —The New Statesman

About the Author

Nancy Mitford (1904–1973) was born into the British aristocracy and, by her own account, brought up without an education, except in riding and French. She managed a London bookshop during the Second World War, then moved to Paris, where she began to write her celebrated and successful novels, among them The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, about the foibles of the English upper class. Mitford was also the author of four biographies: Madame de Pompadour (1954), Voltaire in Love (1957), The Sun King (1966), and Frederick the Great (1970)—all available as NYRB classics. In 1967 Mitford moved from Paris to Versailles, where she lived until her death from Hodgkin’s disease.

Liesl Schillinger is a journalist, critic, and translator. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review and has written on literature, culture, theater, politics, and travel for many publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Daily Beast, and The Independent on Sunday. Among her translations are The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas (fils) and Every Day, Every Hour by Nataša Dragnić. Her illustrated book of neologisms, Wordbirds, will be published in October 2013.

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Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in history.
bethwindsor@earthlink.net
If you are familiar with Mitford as a biographer, then you should expect this to be written with her usual style.
frumiousb
You may want to read more of her books for a fuller background.
bernie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 31 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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24 of 27 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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24 of 29 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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13 of 15 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 kymmuller@usa.net on August 12, 1997
Format: Paperback
Enjoyable, detailed, lively and fun - as ever, Nancy Mitford is a pleasure to read. Fred becomes a person, not just a long-dead king
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4 of 5 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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2 of 2 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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