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George, Nicholas and Wilhelm

Cover of George, Nicholas and Wilhelm

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm

Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I
A story of the self-delusion of royalty: three monarchs who were also three first cousins--Wilhelm II, the last kaiser of Germany; George V of Britain; and Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia--and...More
A story of the self-delusion of royalty: three monarchs who were also three first cousins--Wilhelm II, the last kaiser of Germany; George V of Britain; and Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia--and...More
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Description-
  • A story of the self-delusion of royalty: three monarchs who were also three first cousins--Wilhelm II, the last kaiser of Germany; George V of Britain; and Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia--and their mistaken belief, on the very brink of World War I, that their family connection could save Europe from itself.

    In the years before the war, Wilhelm, George, and Nicholas corresponded and wrote about each other in their diaries. The Three Emperors uses these sources--a hidden history of how Europe went from an age of empire to a more democratic and more brutal one--to tell the tragicomic story of a tiny, glittering, solipsistic world.

    From the kaiser's tantrums to the tsar's indecisions to King George's stamp collection, Carter makes clear how anachronistic the three emperors were: marooned by history in positions out of kilter with their time and ill-equipped by education and personality to deal with the modern world. She delineates the responsibility they bore for the outbreak of the war, and explores the possibility that, had they been more capable men, they might have averted it.

    A remarkable combination of royal biography and keenly analytical history that is riveting, often comical, and ultimately tragic.


    From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book

    I

    WILHELM

    An Experiment in Perfection

    1859

    It was a horrible labour. The baby was in the breech position and no one realized until too late. The eighteen-year-old mother had been too embarrassed to allow any of the court physicians to examine or even talk to her about her pregnancy--a prudishness learned from her own mother. The experience of childbirth would cure her of it. To make matters worse, an urgent summons to Berlin's most eminent obstetrician got lost. After ten or eleven hours of excruciating pain-- the mother cried for chloroform, she was given a handkerchief to bite on (her screams, her husband later wrote, were "horrible")--the attending doctors, one German, one English, had pretty much given up on her and the baby. (There were bad precedents for medics who carried out risky interventions on royal patients: when Princess Charlotte, the heir to the British throne, died in childbirth in 1817, the attending physician felt obliged to shoot himself.) The child survived only because the famous obstetrician eventually received the message and arrived at the last minute. With liberal doses of chloroform and some difficulty, the doctor managed to manipulate the baby out. He emerged pale, limp, one arm around his neck, badly bruised and not breathing. The attending nurse had to rub and slap him repeatedly to make him cry. The sound, when it came, the boy's father wrote, "cut through me like an electric shock." Everybody wept with relief. It was 27 January 1859.

    At the moment of his birth, two, or arguably three, factors immediately had a defining effect on the life and character of Friedrich Victor Wilhelm Albert Hohenzollern--soon known as Willy to distinguish him, his father said, from the "legion of Fritzes" in the family. Firstly, the baby's left arm was damaged in the delivery --a fact which, in the relief and excitement following his birth, wasn't noticed for three days. It seems likely that in the obstetrician's urgency to get the baby out before he suffocated, he wrenched and irretrievably crushed the network of nerves in Willy's arm, rendering it useless and unable to grow. Secondly, and unprovably, it's possible that those first few minutes without oxygen may have caused brain damage. Willy grew up to be hyperactive and emotionally unstable; brain damage sustained at birth was a possible cause.

    Thirdly, an almost impossible burden of conflicting demands and expectations came to rest upon Willy at the moment of his birth. Through his father, Friedrich, one of the ubiquitous Fritzes, he was heir to the throne of Prussia; his mother, Vicky, was the first-born child of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, and he was the British queen's first grandchild. As heir to Prussia, the biggest and most influential power in the loose confederation of thirty-eight duchies, kingdoms and four free cities that called itself Germany, he carried his family's and country's dreams of the future. Those dreams saw Prussia as the dominant power in a unified Germany, taking its place as one of the Great Powers. For Queen Victoria, monarch of the richest and arguably most influential country in the world, Willy was both a doted-on grandchild--"a fine fat child with a beautiful soft white skin," as she put it when she finally saw him twenty months later-- and the symbol and vehicle of a new political and dynastic bond between England and Prussia, a state whose future might take it in several different directions, directions in which Britain's monarch and her husband took an intense interest. Three days after his birth the queen wrote delightedly to her friend and fellow grandmother Augusta of Prussia, "Our mutual grandson binds us and our two...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Although elegant in both its writing and production, this book's transition to audio poses the hurdle of "name overdose" for listeners. In Queen Victoria's family alone there were several Victorias and Georges, and the queen insisted that all her grandsons be named Albert. Add these names to the multiple Alexanders and Williams of the Russian and German relatives, and one's brain is in chaos by the third chapter. British narrator Rosalyn Landor speaks with a sovereign dignity befitting her historic subjects. Even when she inflects her voice to imitate children or foreigners, an aristocratic haughtiness remains. Landor speaks the author's vast vocabulary with a comfort sure to intimidate many listeners who may wish they had a dictionary next to them in the car or at the gym. J.A.H. (c) AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine
  • -The Dallas Morning News "Miranda Carter has written an engrossing and important book. While keeping her focus on the three cousins and their extended families, she skillfully interweaves and summarizes all important elements of how the war came about...Carter has given us an original book, highly recommended."
  • Bookpage "Masterfully crafted. . . Carter has presented one of the most cohesive explorations of the dying days of European royalty and the coming of political modernity. . . Carter has delivered another gem."
  • The New York Times "Ms. Carter writes incisively about the overlapping events that led to the Great War and changed the world. . . George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm is an impressive book. Ms. Carter has clearly not bitten off more than she can chew for she -- as John Updike once wrote of Gunter Grass -- 'chews it enthusiastically before our eyes.'"
  • Publishers Weekly "An irresistably entertaining and illuminating chronicle . . . Readers with fond memories of Robert Massie and Barbara Tuchman can expect similar pleasures in this witty, shrewd examination of the twilight of the great European monarchies."
  • Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday "A wonderfully fresh and beautifully choreographed work of history."
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times "A hauntingly tempting proposition for a book . . . The parallel, interrelated lives of Kaiser Wilhelm II, George V, and Nicholas II are . . . a prism though which to tell the march to the first World War, the creation of the modern industrial world and the follies of hereditary courts and the eccentricities of their royal trans-European cousinhood . . . An entertaining and accessible study of power and personality."
  • Margaret MacMillan, The Spectator "Carter draws masterful portraits of her subjects and tells the complicated story of Europe's failing international relations well . . . A highly readable and well-documented account."
  • Zadie Smith "I couldn't put this book down. The whole thing really lives and breathes -- and it's very funny. That these three absurd men could ever have held the fate of Europe in their hands is a fact as hilarious as it is terrifying."
  • The New York Times Book Review "[An] enterprising history of imperial vicissitudes and royal reversals."
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Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I
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