100 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Miranda Carter has produced an excellent biography of three prominent men of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. King George V of Great Britain, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were the rulers of three of the most powerful states in the world. George and Wilhelm were first cousins as grandsons of Queen Victoria, while Nicholas II was George's first cousin (their mothers were sisters), married to another of Victoria's grandchildren, and a more distant blood relation of Wilhelm's. Their tangled family trees meant the three men, who were all about the same age, grew up knowing but not necessarily liking each other, and their personal feelings affected their nations' political and foreign policies during their reigns.
The biographies of all three men have been written many times, but Carter's comparative approach allows for many new psychological and other insights to be made. There are many anecdotes, including many that I, though I have enjoyed reading about that time period for many years, had not previously come across. Some of the stories are hilarious, particularly those dealing with the Kaiser's madcap efforts to make and unmake alliances and wars. In the end Wilhelm seems to have been the most intelligent (but also most erratic) of the three, while Nicholas, although more perceptive than he's generally assumed to have been, was still far too passive and ignorant of his country's troubles. George was the most enigmatic to my mind, primarily because as a constitutional monarch he took care not to make his opinions (if he had any) well known.
While this book primarily deals with the three monarchs and their families, there is also a wealth of information about the many politicians and advisors who guided (or at least attempted to guide) their rulers safely through the minefields of European diplomacy. The finest sections deal with the outbreak and conduct of World War I, which led to the collapse of the German and Russian monarchies and the execution of Nicholas and his family.
I've read many biographies and histories dealing with these three monarchs over the years, but I found much that was new and interesting in Miranda Carter's new work. I believe it will become one of the standard references for the period. I certainly intend to reread and enjoy it many times.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2010
I rather expected this heavy tome to be heavy going. I was pleasantly surprised to find it moved at a brisk pace, was skillfully written, and told a ripping good tale. The period covered - the events of the last decades of the 19th century and leading up to the first World War - has not been the focus of much literary attention in recent years. Miranda Carter, using a plethora of primary and secondary sources, brings this period to vivid life. The three royal personages of the title, George V, Tsar Nicholas, and Kaiser Wilhelm, prove remarkably interesting considering they were either ordinary or worse than ordinary. They ruled during the last years of European royalty, and only the English king managed to survive the Great War. I look forward to finding some of the historical sources listed in the comprehensive bibliography for further reading. This book is an excellent starting point on the origins of World War I and the characters of its royal protagonists.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
This book is a most interesting description and viewpoint of the era preceeding and leading up to WWI. The perspective taken is one seen through the eyes of the 3 main hereditary rulers of the time ( The rulers of Great Britain, Russia and Germany). This gives an interesting insight into the bungling and lunacy which delivered WWI to the world.
The premise of hereditary right to rule is completely destroyed by this book. One is appalled that the system ever existed to begin with. There have been many books written about each of the 3 monarchs, as well as the times before and during WWI. This is the first book that I have read that takes one behind the scenes of the personal rivalries of the rulers of Russia, Great Britain and Germany and allows one to view their stilted and limited capabilities, along with the "enabling" of the royal courts and the politicians .
At times, the feeble workings of the mind of Kaiser Wilhelm lead to utter disbelief that such an unfit individual was allowed anywhere close to the seat of power. His cousin, the equally clueless Tsar Nicholas of Russia, was equally well-endowed in the area of brain power. The British royal family demonstrated a complete lack of ability and came across as childishly as their cousins abroad. But,as they had no real power, they were easier to regard as mere performers of an ancient ritual. The royal family served to amuse and entertain the people,their ridiculous antics filled the gossip papers of the time, they were the equivalent of the "stars" of the reality shows which are so esteemed by some today.
Do read this book for a most interesting perspective of just how the vanities and falsehoods of relatively few individuals, led to the disaster that was World War I
52 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2010
I am a librarian who depends on professional journal reviews AS WELL AS general reader reviews and I almost did not purchase this book for the library based on the "reviews" below." I understand the frustration about the cost of the Kindle books, but your 1 star reviews show up on all versions of the book and this harms the author - who doesn't have control over pricing.
57 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2010
What I did not like about this book was the often snarky; occasionally impatient, definitely non-professional-historian, attitude that this author takes to her three subjects and the times they lived in, throughout the book. It's an almost blog-ish style of authorship: the quick reveal about one and then it's onto the next. The research this author has done is apparent, but the superficial intonation she brings to her writing is very hard to take. This is a shame, because GEORGE, NICHOLAS AND WILHELM, I will grant, is more substantive than Catrine Clay's similar (but truly terrible) "King, Kaiser, Tsar"; has fewer errors than that book (although at least twice within the first pages, this author refers to one of her sources, Princess Marie Louise, as Princess "Mary" Louise. Sheesh...) and has better chapters about the beginning of the First World War. These qualities earn my stars.
But principally I felt this author was merely regurgitating everything she's read about the three rulers. There's no new information and it's certainly not very compellingly presented.
For better written, and more insightful views on these men and their times (and also their mothers, or the women they married), I would suggest reading these biographies instead (some of which are cited by Ms. Carter):
Hannah Pakula - An Uncommon Woman
John Van der Kiste - Kaiser William II
Greg King - The Last Empress
Greg King & Penny Wilson - The Fate of the Romanovs
Rosemary & Donald Crawford - Michael & Natasha (good chapters on the characters of Nicholas II, Alexandra; the parenting methods of Empress Marie & Tsar Alexander III)
Kenneth Rose - George V
Dennis Friedman - Darling Georgie (I don't agree with all of the conclusions of this author, a psychologist, about George V, but this is a very interesting book)
Georgiana Battiscombe - Queen Alexandra
James Pope-Hennessey - Queen Mary
I would also strongly recommend that the interested reader go to the letters between, or are about, William, Nicholas & Alexandra; George, et al., such as are collected in the books "A Lifelong Passion", ed. Sergei Mironenko; any one of the series of Roger Fulford's edited collection of letters between Queen Victoria and her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria (the Empress Frederick); "The Empress Frederick Writes to Sophie" (ed. Arthur Gould Lee), and "Advice to My Granddaughter", ed. by Richard Hough. "Darling Loosey" ed. Elizabeth Longford, also has some good letters about these people.
I would also recommend the book, "Purple Secret", by John Rohl, which has an intriguing chapter on the Empress Alexandra's health and its effects on her mental state (which in turn had an impact on Nicholas II's state of mind and his actions).
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2010
I have long held the belief that, had Queen Victoria lived until she was 95 instead of dying in January, 1901, at the age of 81, she might have boxed the ears of two (Georgie of England and Willy of Germany) of her grandsons and the husband (Nicky of Russia) of one of her grand-daughters - 'George, Nicholas and Wilhelm' of the title - and many millions might not have died in the 'Great War.' But Victoria was obviously as ignorant and tiny-minded as the rest of the royals and may well have been as unwilling to call the others to order as they were to call themselves to order.
This well-researched book provides plenty of proof of the ignorance and tiny-mindedness of these people and, is therefore, fascinating and rewarding in its own right. But it also gives a disturbing insight into what many of us know already, namely, that Victoria's family carried on a long royal tradition of being dysfunctional. Not to put too fine a point on it, many members of the family were quite nasty, probably certifiable by modern standards and positively dangerous because of the power that they wielded.
Of course, two of the emperors, Willy and Nicky, were autocrats running autocracies and that has grave and inherent dangers. But Georgie was a would-be autocrat, too, not only in his outlook on the world but also within his family. Thankfully, he was kept in check by successive Prime Ministers under our British 'constitutional monarchy' system, unlike the other emperors, who were barely checked at all.
As to the most notorious of all of the extraordinarily awful episodes involving the cousins - that of Georgie's selfish refusal to extend succour and sanctuary to Nicky in 1917 - the author expresses her revulsion in a manner that is restrained whereas I would have gone for the jugular. King George V, Emperor of India but of German blood like his imperial cousins, disgraced his adopted British Empire and brought everlasting shame on his adopted imperial subjects.
Miranda Carter also mentions briefly another curious and seemingly cowardly act of King George V, that of changing his family name from the German 'Saxe-Coburg-Gotha' to the 'stick-a-pin-in-a-map-of-England' one of 'Windsor.' So much for this family's love of heritage and history.
It is interesting to speculate, too, that given the mad and dangerous examples of this family that Ms. Carter has studied in such depth and given the importance that they and others attached and attach to heredity, if it is wise for anyone nowadays to place much store by the sanity and safeness of those of the descendants still living? I don't intend to divulge for this review those whom I might have in mind, but readers can infer what they want from my words.
The downside of this otherwise excellent literary effort is that the author seems to have set out to entertain her readers as well as to educate them and, sometimes, just sometimes, her language is too slanted towards entertainment and is not as elegant as that used by more experienced historians. Nevertheless, I give it five stars and recommend it without hesitation.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2010
Miranda Carter's research is impeccable, her observations first rate and her writing is excellent especially in the details (perhaps a little too much so). I read "King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War" by Catrine Clay when it came out - and find Ms. Carter's scholarship to be superior (though Ms. Clay's book is a entertaining read).
The problem with this book is that the three cousins are not really interesting enough to carry them through all 400+ pages. Wilhelm is quite frankly a nut (and Carter does an excellent job in explaining why he way the way he was - including his complicated relationship with his mother and grandmother, Queen Victoria). Nicholas II is an excellent father and probably would make a good friend and neighbor - but he is totally out of his league as Emperor. George V is colorless - and comes to the party rather late in the game (he becomes King of England in 1910 - Wilhelm had already Emperor of Germany for 22 years).
One choice that Ms. Carter made that I question is that she devotes each chapter to one of the cousins (up until WWI) - which leads to the same event told several times. It is more annoying than insightful.
The strongest part of the book (besides the obvious scholarship) is how Ms. Carter shows how family relationships complicated European diplomacy. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria thought that a related Europe would further peaceful relationship - and did just the opposite - leading to the war that killed Nicholas, dethroned Wilhelm and shorted George's life.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Before World War I the belief that monarchs ruled by divine right was alive and well in Europe--at least among the monarchs themselves. George, Nicolas and Wilhelm were cousins who reigned in Britain, Russia and Germany during the years leading up to the war. By the end of the war Tsar Nicolas and his family had been assassinated, and Kaiser Wilhelm was in exile having been forced to abdicate. Interestingly, only the monarch with almost no political power survived the war with his title in tact, but the experiences of the war aged and haunted King George so that it is almost impossible to see the handsome young man he had been in the worn face of his post-war photos.
As the grandmother of King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicolas's wife Alix, Queen Victoria played a pivotal role in the lives of all three rulers. Though, like King George, her main functions in politics were decorative, Queen Victoria was able to strengthen her position by marrying eight of her nine children into European reigning houses, most of which had more real power than the British monarchy. All her scattered, royal children and grandchildren were brought up to believe that the close family relationships they maintained would ensure peace and harmony for Europe. Even as their countries bickered in an increasingly ominous way, the royals wrote each other loving notes, took hunting vacations together, and met on each other's yachts.
I really enjoyed this triple biography; all of its subjects are fascinating. Kaiser Wilhelm is Queen Victoria's first grandson, born to her eldest daughter. That daughter, Vicky, tried so hard to make Wilhelm venerate all things British that he alternated between rebellion, antagonizing his English family with his bombastic and pseudo-militaristic ways, and supplication, wanting only to be loved and admired by those same relations. He'd threaten dire consequences when he thought he had been disrespected, but he became happy as a child with a new toy when presented with foreign military uniforms. These were honorary tokens that he seemed to believe gave him real decision making power in the British navy and Russian army. Though he lived a cushy, royal life Wilhelm always considered himself a strong, disciplined military man. He had a withered, unusable arm from a difficult birth that was never allowed to appear in pictures. He encouraged and strengthened the Germany military--a group of men who believed in a warped social Darwinism that saw war as a necessary tool to cull the continent's population--to the point that his armed forces became so powerful they ruled themselves, unanswerable to him or the civilian government. He felt betrayed by them when he was forced to abdicate.
Tsar Nicolas was a family man who wanted nothing more than to be secluded with his wife and five children far from the seats of power. He was mainly ignorant of the devastation the Russian people were experiencing and the rebellion that was causing, and when he did have a glimpse of it he truly did not understand what he was seeing. One reason for this was that he was worried and distracted by the ill health of his only son, who had hemophilia. Also, his very religious wife kept him convinced that he alone, as the divinely appointed ruler, knew what was best for Russia, so he wouldn't listen to advisors and kept weakening and dissolving the Duma, Russia's representative assembly. The chaos this produced led to Russia's disastrous participation in World War I and then to revolution and his own death.
King George looked so much like his first cousin Tsar Nicolas that in photos of the two of them it is hard to tell them apart. Though George loved and admired his father, the rotund but stylish King Edward, he was embarrassed by his father's dalliances and so his court was much more conservative. Well into the new century he continued to dress in the fashions popular when his grandmother Queen Victoria was alive, and he insisted that his wife wear the old styles too. Miranda Carter credits his war activities--stoic visits to the front, hospitals and factories--with a resurgence in popularity of the British monarchy. His frayed ordinariness was seen as a rebuke to the claims of divine right made by the absolutist monarchies his country felt it was fighting against.
I didn't know much about this period in history before I read the book and one of the things that surprised me was the large role that Austria--land of edelweiss--played in instigating the First World War. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated Austria saw it as an opportunity to crush Serbia, the self-proclaimed leader of the southern Slavs. Empire building was seen as a key to wealth and power and Austria considered Serbia, which had doubled its size after the Balkan war, a threat to the Austria-Hungry Empire it had built. Austria's military leaders were just as enthusiastic about war as Wilhelm's German generals were, and the German military encouraged Austria to ignore all the appeasements and concessions the Serbs made in its fruitless effort to secure peace.
I became interested in the pre-WWI era while reading Juliet Nicholson's The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm. While Miranda Carter's book focuses on different aspects of that era--there is nothing about socialite Diana Cooper who has a prominent role in Perfect Summer--it is just as captivating and we do learn more about some of the other interesting characters in the earlier book. There is a little bit more about George's dutiful wife Queen Mary for instance, and the sections dealing with Lloyd George, who was the first and so far only Welsh Prime minister of the United Kingdom, were new to me. I'm looking forward to reading Nicholson's new book about the post-war period--The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2010
First, I want to mention that I have the hardcover edition and not the "Kindle" edition. Some reviewers have mentioned omissions and sentence fragments in the hardcover text. I did not have this problem, but the prospective purchaser might want to thumb through a bookshop edition and make sure printer's errors are absent.
The book is very well-constructed for its size. It will bear "tenting" and shelving very well.
I enjoyed the book itself. First, I think the writing strives for clarity, which is not particularly easy to do when dealing with the convoluted familial and court politics of pre-World War One Europe. It is a long but readable work, and the author does an adirable job of keeping narrative flow going without flitting off into marginalia, keeping focus square on her three subjects and their interwoven lives. I was also very impressed with her determination to make certain that anytime she was speculating or interpreting based on available facts, she made this crystal-clear. And, on those occasions when she does interpret or speculate, they are conservative and well-reasoned thoughts, not seat of the pants "what ifs?" Her opinion does not become "history as fact." Always, this is appreciated and, to me, shows a disciplined and honest mind at work. And she deals with these men very fairly, in their own words and without distortion, bringing them "up to date" with a modern sensibility, making them all too comprehensible.
The research is very, very well done. Excellent individual biographies of George V, Wilhelm II, and Nicholas II are, of course, going to be far more comprehensive and detailed than this work, but the leading biographies are cited as auithorities, and the author is plainly familiar with their content and conclusions. This means many "kitchen details" will be sacrificed in service to the main hypothesis, and readers looking for those would likely find better choices than this book.
And, I believe her main hypothesis was simply that these crowned heads, without realizing it, had become almost completely incapable of influencing events. In George's case, this is something he already likely knew, the British monarchy having long since lost any real power to affect domestic policy, and George personally, woefully without the personal resources his grandmother and father could marshal in informally affecting foreign policy. Nicholas and Wilhelm had gradients of "real power," but the book shows them as little more than captives of a Victorian, tea-party world, stage managed to the point where they had no concept of "realpolitik" on any level, making their amateur-hour political blunders far, far worse than they would have been in the hands of competent, practical and non-sycophantic ministers. Each, for all of his merits and flaws, was a prisoner of his class, incapable and even unwilling to explore and see how their empires had begun social and economic transformations on every level and - in a sense - had grown beyond the romance of kings and "the monarchical principle." And this anti-intellectual myopia is as much to blame for the Great War as anything else, the "romance" - emotion as substitute for reason - leading to mass destruction. Like one author wrote - "I can think of nothing more poisonous than to rot in the stink of your own reflection." And this is especially lethal when no one is willing to point out or even acknowledge the "stink" to begin with.
Nothing in this book is especially new. And, I do not think that it is the author's purpose. She wanted to blend what is known in our time to remind us that these people lived, functioned, and made decisions not so very long ago. "George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm" is, at heart, a cautionary history about the consequences of using power when it is wrapped in illusions, what happens when the romance fails and the emperors truly have no clothes. And in this, she succeeds admirably.
Excellent book, recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2012
I have been wishing for some time to read a book that would help me understand how Queen Victoria's "one big happy family" ended up the leaders of a ghastly, world-convulsing mess that left 8 1/2 million soldiers and a least a million civilians dead.
This is the book.
Carter has provided a carefully braided history of three remarkably similar cousins. King George, Tsar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm lived in a transitional period of world history. Each led a country out of the Victorian age and into a modern world that none of them was equipped to handle. Each, in his own way, was fond of the others, yet they were also highly-influenced by the press, the adulation of the crowds on feast days, and the politicians that surrounded them.
The cousins were Victorian men of average intelligence. They were neither villains nor saints. They lived sheltered lives and did not, and could not, fully comprehend the cataclysmic social changes taking place in an evolving industrial world. National and economic stresses, manipulative political leaders, and an inbred disability to distinguish truly important issues from trivia, seemed to impact each cousin in much the same way.
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm presumed they were the spokesmen for their individual countries. Because their advisors and staff often deliberately left them out of the political loop, the cousins' naive judgment calls and unanticipated royal pronouncements sometimes caused both hurt feelings and international crisis.
The horrors of war took all three by surprise. They dutifully supported their troops during World War One, pinning medals on soldiers while obliviously living well. George as the figurehead of a Constitutional Monarchy made it through the war all right. The monarchies of Nicholas and Wilhelm, both whom actually had some political power, were destroyed.
About 2/3 of the way through the book I began to get bored with these all too-human cousins and their very real family feelings--of love, quibbling, and one-upmanship. Whenever I got restless I would leave the book and come back to it later. The ending and the epilogue were the story we are all familiar with--Nicky and his family are brutally murdered, Wilhelm is exiled to Holland, George is a minor player.
"George, Nicholas and Wilhelm" is definitely worth reading. The book is well-written, has excellent footnotes, abundant period photographs, and a good bibliography.