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Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea Hardcover – October 28, 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 181 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Nicholas and Alexandra returns with a sequel to Dreadnought that is imposing in both size and quality, taking the British and German battle fleets through WWI. The fluent narrative begins amid the diplomatic crisis of July 1914 and ends with the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919. Massie makes a coherent if long narrative out of a sequence of events familiar to students of naval history but probably not to many other potential readers. The focus is on the two fleets that confronted each other across the North Sea, their weapons and tactics and their complex and controversial leaders, both military and political. As in his other books, the author describes his cast of characters with the vividness of a novelist, British Admiral Beatty's disastrous marriage being a painful case in point. What emerges from that focus is not only a number of outstanding battle narratives (Jutland is only the most famous), but a closely argued case for the German fleet having been a disaster for its country's war effort. Once built, the High Seas Fleet made war with England and the blockade of Germany inevitable. Unable to break the blockade with that expensive fleet, Germany felt compelled to choose between a negotiated peace and unrestricted submarine warfare. Once the Germans chose the latter course, American intervention and disaster become nearly unavoidable. It may seem odd to describe a book of this size as an "introduction," but readers will soon understand that the size of the topic requires a long narrative. "Castles of steel" was Winston Churchill's grand phrase for the Grand Fleet and its German counterpart, and this unusually fine military narrative lives up to it as well.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New Yorker

In "Dreadnought," Massie chronicled the buildup of the British and German navies in the years before the First World War. Here he continues the story, showing the fleets in preparation for their inevitable decisive engagement. When the clash finally came, in 1916, at the Battle of Jutland, it was a somewhat muddled affair and both sides claimed victory. This centerpiece battle springs to life, thanks to Massie's clear grasp of tactics and his suspenseful narration. His portraits of major figures—including Winston Churchill, then a brash First Lord of the Admiralty, and the death-haunted Admiral von Spee—are perceptive and enthralling, and he writes of war's casualties with grim directness. Jutland marks a fascinating juncture in naval warfare: when the gentlemanly sea battle gave way to a more technical type of encounter. Submarines, which the British considered "the weapon of cowards," had already begun to dominate. Massie poignantly describes the sailors on older ships, who, when they spotted a modern cruiser on the horizon, knew that they were doomed, hours before the enemy fired a shot.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (October 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679456716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679456711
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 2.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (181 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #597,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert K. Massie has produced another masterpiece of narrative history, comprehensive without being dry and fascinating in every detail. In Castles of Steel he takes up the story he started with his 1991 bestseller Dreadnought: the struggle between Britain and Germany for sea mastery during the Great War.
The book begins with the final days of peace in July 1914, when Europe realized that the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand was about to trigger a major war. Massie describes the calculations of the British and German leadership as they moved toward conflict. One of Massie's greatest skills as a writer is his ability to create short but thorough biographical sketches, seen here most vividly in his treatments of Jellicoe and Beatty, the men who were to lead the British Grand Fleet. Massie also has an eye for odd humorous moments, as in his amusing description of the trick a German ship played on an unsuspecting French colony soon after war was declared.
After the war actually begins Massie focusses on the manuevers of the British and German fleets as they prepare for action. Another narrative track traces the steps of the politicians like Winston Churchill and Prince Louis of Battenberg who are setting war policy. Massie's main focus is on the British, and he thoroughly analyzes successes like the Battle of Dogger Bank and disasters like the Gallipoli landings. The climax of the book is the Battle of Jutland in 1916, which was the only major clash between the two navies. Massie also documents the submarine war and details how it eventually brought the United States into the conflict. The last few pages of the book describes the scuttling of the surrendered German fleet at Scapa Flow, symbolic of the enormous waste caused by the whole conflict.
Castles of Steel is a fitting companion to Dreadnought and will certainly be considered one of the most comprehensive, yet accessible, histories of the Great War.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those of you who have read Mr. Massie's "Dreadnought," which detailed the German/British battleship "arms race" leading up to WWI, and who have been waiting for years for the sequel....here it is. And is it great! Fans of the author know that he is a master of narrative history. His books read like good novels, and he excels at capturing personalities with telling anecdotes. At the beginning of "Castles Of Steel" he explains how Kaiser William compensated for his withered left arm, and basically useless left hand, by building up his right arm. William also wore large rings on the fingers of his right hand. He would shake hands with a steel-like grip and watch with amusement as his victim winced. To quote the author "...the hand shaker said merrily, 'Ha ha! The mailed fist! What!' " This small episode not only tells us a lot about William's personality, but the expression he uses also reminds us of his Anglophilia (he was, after all, Queen Victoria's grandson). In a similar way, Mr. Massie conjures up the characters of other people who are important to this story. On the British side: Beatty, Jellicoe, Churchill, Jacky Fisher, David Lloyd George, etc. On the German side: Hipper, Scheer, Tirpitz, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, etc. The major pre-publication concern about this book would have been: could Mr. Massie satisfy not just the fan of narrative history but also the fan of military history. After all, unlike the author's previous books, this book was to be primarily about battles rather than personalities. It turns out that we needn't have had any worries on that score, either. In particular, the descriptions of The Battle of the Falkland Islands and of Jutland are brilliant.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I would think that anyone who read and liked Robert Massie's "Dreadnought" should appreciate his new "Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea". As in the earlier book, although the ships and navies of the two rival nations are always at center stage, it is the people who built those ships and directed their activities and operated them and - in this book - fought them that really make the text vivid. And what personalities! Winston Churchill, the extraordinary Jacky Fisher who was the true father of the Dreadnought-type battleships that defined the era, the glamorous Admiral David Beatty who captivated the British public, Kaiser Wilhelm, Admiral Franz von Hipper ... If anything, the narrative in "Castles of Steel" is even more compelling than that of the first book because it deals with the drama and chaos of World War One itself. Massie's narrative lucidly explains the course of the naval war from the very opening days until the German High Seas Fleet scuttled itself after the conclusion of hostilities to prevent its delivery to its enemies. Along the way, several complex, controversial episodes are examined, including the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign and the Battle of Jutland, the great clash of battle fleets towards which decades of naval technical development had been aimed. Massie does not shy away from exploring the bitter in-fighting that erupted after the guns of battle had fallen silent, and he appears to present the arguments on both sides of controversies fairly. Although his portrait of Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty is as an ambitious politician whose directives sometimes seeded chaos rather than order, Massie by no means holds Churchill solely or perhaps even chiefly responsible for the Gallipoli debacle.Read more ›
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