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Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Concise Life Hardcover – August 21, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


"This ranks as one of the greatest political biographies of our time. Superb, important, magisterial - sometimes even hilarious and as compellingly fascinating as it is academically definitive."
Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

"Rohl's scholarship and authority still shine through the pacey narrative. And what a devastating portrait it is."
The Economist

"The sharp, distinctly unflattering portrait of the Kaiser which emerges from this brilliant short book is the more convincing because of the scrupulous fairness with which John Rohl has treated his unappealing subject and the extraordinary circumstances that shaped him."
Lord Lexden, House

Book Description

This is a concise edition of John Röhl's prize-winning three-volume biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. It sheds new light on the Kaiser's troubled youth, his involvement in social and political scandals, and his role in foreign policy decisions that led to the outbreak of the First World War.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (August 21, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107072255
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107072251
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,379,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
German historian John CG Rohl has written "Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Concise Life". When I ordered it, I didn't know just how "concise" the book was, but after reading it, I realised that it was exactly what I was looking for. The book is relatively brief, but Rohl does an excellent job in distilling Wilhelm's life to manageable size without leaving much out.

Wilhelm II was a problem-child who grew into a problem-adult. He was born with a withered arm - the result of a difficult birth - and suffered emotionally and physically. His mother - the eldest child of Queen Victoria - was cold to him and Wilhelm intensely disliked her his whole life. He was given a good education but concentrated on military issues. He considered himself a "warrior", despite his physical handicaps. Wilhelm came to power in his late 20's when his father, Frederick, died soon after assuming the throne on his father's death. He was an undisciplined ruler; often asking and then disregarding advise from people who knew far more than he did about the military and economics and politics.

Most of the Rohl's book centers on the pre-WW1 and war years. Wilhelm had been preparing for war against Russia, France, and England since the late 1800's. The Balkans - that "tinderbox" - had been waiting to explode long before the Austrian heir Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June, 1914. Building up his army and navy, as well as his delusions of what he wanted after defeating England and France and Russia, Wilhelm was outplayed in the Great War. He abdicated and went into exile in the Netherlands in 1918. He lived until 1941 and was a great proponent of Hitler and his Nazis.

John Rohl's shortish book gives you a good look at Wilhelm. But if you'd like a longer book, order his three-set volume of Wilhelm's life. That set of books has 3884(!) pages and is available on Amazon/UK. I think this "concise" version might be more "doable".
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Teemacs on December 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
Professors Röhl and Clark have a fundamental disagreement. It's interesting and unusual that Prof. Röhl mentions both Prof. Clark and his acclaimed book "The Sleepwalkers", and says on occasion "he got this bit wrong". Clark regards the start of the First World War as the world's biggest traffic accident, in which everyone was to blame. On the other hand, Röhl, while not completely blaming Wilhelm II for the war, attributes a sizeable proportion of that blame to him, his attitudes, the positions he took and the atmosphere he engendered.

This slender book, a condensed version of Prof. Röhl's definitive three-volume biography of Wilhelm II, makes it clear that Röhl really doesn't like Wilhem II. This is not surprising; Wilhelm II comes across as a most unpleasant individual. It's clear that he was damaged goods, starting with the difficult breech birth, which left him with a crippled arm and possibly brain damage (after some of his more outrageous pronouncements (and there were many), many of his contemporaries, including his own ministers, actually wondered whether he was several fries short of a Happy Meal). The combination of a mother who was repelled by his crippled state (and who couldn't hide it), the treatments bordering on torture to try to correct his deficiencies, the burgeoning nationalistic pride of the unified Germany led by Prussia and his love-hate relationships with his English relatives, especially uncle Bertie (Edward VII), finished the job.

Röhl basically saddles Wilhelm squarely with much of the blame for the First World War.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Comment Man on January 23, 2015
Format: Paperback
John Rohl has condensed his authoritative three volume biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II to a mere 194 pages for a single purpose--to refute Chris Clark's argument in The Sleepwalkers that World War I was caused by the machinations of the Serbs and their notorious black hand. Rohl's Wilhelm comes across as a less innocent, more powerful Kim Jong Un whose rabid hatreds and unbalanced machinations led directly to World War I. Here again is the mad Kaiser urging his troops on the brink of embarking to the Boxer Rebellion to behave like "Huns"; here is the man the Allies wanted to try as a war criminal and escaped at the last moment to fulminate in anti-Semitic ugliness in the Netherlands.

Wilhelm's life is by turns pathetic, hilarious and horrifying. Born disfigured in a breech pregnancy and alienated from his English mother, he grew to be a brittle unbalanced monarch who, in Rohl's view, had no business being the ruler of a modern European nation. Rohl's short biography has all the information about Wilhelm I think I will ever want to know. Rohl's concise book is written in an opinionated and hard hitting style. His style is both direct and clear. Compared to the average academic work, which is written in a passive voice and eschews anything like an opinion, Rohl's work is a breath of fresh air.

Unfortunately, I feel the book is too concise. Rohl introduces major international incidents without any additional explanatory material. Most people reading this book (including your favorite reviewer, moi) do not know that much about say, Bismarck's unification of Germany or the Morocco crisis. I would have enjoyed the book more if Rohl lifted his focus from Kaiser Wilhelm II to have short explanations of 19th century history.
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