As a study of three equally significant figures, Carter's book was perhaps always doomed to failure. But as a study of the kaiser…and of his passionate love-hate relationship with England, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm succeeds magnificently.
The New York Times Book Review
Ms. Carter…relates history on a large canvas here, and it's a story she mostly tells with vigor and parched wit…George, Nicholas and Wilhelm is an impressive book. Ms. Carter has clearly not bitten off more than she can chew for sheas John Updike once wrote about Gunter Grass"chews it enthusiastically before our eyes."
The New York Times
Historian Carter (Anthony Blunt: His Lives) delivers an irresistibly entertaining and illuminating chronicle from Queen Victoria's final decades to the 1930s through linked biographies of the emperors of England (George V), Germany (Wilhelm II), and Russia (Nicholas II). Anachronisms presiding over courts that were “stagnant ponds of tradition and conservatism,” the three possessed average intelligence and little imagination. All were unprepared for their jobs and didn't improve with on-the-job training. Most fortunate was George, who performed his purely symbolic royal role dutifully, avoided scandal, and, alone of the three, reigned until his death, in 1936. More colorful but also tactless and unpredictable, Wilhelm took the German throne in 1888, dismissed his long-serving, brilliant chancellor, Bismarck, and launched an erratic reign that contributed to the onset and loss of WWI. Czar Nicholas showed little interest in governing except to oppose reform. In the end, the most violent reformers, the Bolsheviks, murdered him and his family. 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. 32 pages of photos, 2 maps. (Mar. 28)
Carter (Anthony Blunt: His Lives, 2002) examines the well-worn but endlessly fascinating history of the tight, treacherous ties that bound the royal families of Europe in the early 20th century. Queen Victoria's "secret weapon" had been to manage world affairs through the intricacies of her far-flung familial relationships, and all three reigning monarchs by the start of World War I were bound to her by blood and marriage: Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, was her first grandchild via daughter Vicky; George V, King of England, was another grandson, via her son Edward VII; and Tsar Nicholas II was married to one of her granddaughters, Alexandra. All three cousins spent time together when they were young, and more or less got along. Carter creates elucidating snapshots of their respective dysfunctional upbringings. Wilhelm, who resented his pushy English mother, exhibited symptoms of "narcissistic personality disorder" and went through a period of Anglophobia (he had insulted his grandmother and the English regarded him as a "bumptious Prussian"), before relations improved with his accession to emperor in 1888. Nicholas had suddenly become tsar with the early death of his father in 1894; terrified and wholly unprepared, he was comforted by his English royal cousins before his inscrutability and "opacity" isolated him in Europe in terms of affairs in Africa, the Ottoman Empire and Manchuria. George, probably dyslexic as well as given to bursts of private rage, became the reluctant king in 1910 and was deeply attached to his entitlement and hostile to change such as socialism and trade unions. When the war in the Balkans broke out, the three cousins found themselves entrenched in"deepening cracks of mistrust and tension," as events slipped beyond their control. Carter sharply sorts history in terms of the personal ruling styles of these three fallible monarchs. First printing of 50,000
From the Publisher
“History on a large canvas. . . . Carter writes incisively about the overlapping events that led to the Great War and changed the world. . . . Impressive. . . . 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.’”
—The New York Times
“Splendid. . . . This is history on a vast scale written on an intimate level, and it is immensely rewarding. . . . [Carter’s] portraits of the men are razor-sharp. She places each monarch in his unique context, providing a tapestry of the age and the maneuvering that led to the outbreak of war. . . . The reader is swept up in the pageantry, pathos and glory of an era that makes our own seem remorselessly venial and vulgar.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Engrossing and important. . . . While keeping her focus on the three cousins and their extended families, [Carter] skillfully interweaves and summarizes all important elements of how the war came about. . . . An original book, highly recommended.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“A fascinating biographical saga. . . . The personal, hidden history of King George V, Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s relationship [is] incomparable, haunting and unforgettable.”
“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.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times
“Some wars are inevitable. Others, such as World War I, could have been avoided. . . . Relying on apt quotations and instructive anecdotes, Carter, in this always readable history, persuasively relates [the royal cousins’] role in beginning a war that was supposed to end all wars.”
—Richmond Times Dispatch
“Entertaining and well-researched, with acute pen portraits of the major players.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“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.”
“History at its most entertaining, full of scathing and often witty descriptions of the follies and tragedies of royalty, and the way in which the three royal cousins’ lives, despite the deep social divide between the royals and ordinary people, became intertwined with the changes and the dangers confronting the major European powers in the early years of the 20th century. It is a splendid picture, splendidly narrated.”
—Michael Korda, The Daily Beast
“Fresh and enjoyable. . . . Carter’s thoughtful reintroduction of the vividly human to late 19th-century international politics is timely and welcome.”
—The Guardian (London)
“Carter deftly interpolates history with psychobiography to provide a damning indictment of monarchy in all its forms.”
—Will Self, New Statesman
“An attractively written, extensively illustrated work.”
—The Washington Times
“Masterfully crafted. . . . Carter has presented one of the most cohesive explorations of the dying days of European royalty and the coming of political modernity. . . . [She] has delivered another gem.”
“An irresistibly 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.”
“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.”
Britain, Russia, and Germany's rulers were first cousins with personal and political ties. Carter shows how these old-world rulers operated blind to the new century's realities. (LJ 3/15/10)
Read an Excerpt
Ten Surprising Facts from GEORGE, WILHELM AND NICHOLAS
by Miranda Carter
1. King George V of Great Britain was first cousin through his mother to Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, and first cousin through his father to Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last Kaiser of Germany. In fact, by the
time he was 31 his grandmother Queen Victoria had ensured that he was related by blood or marriage to every royal family in Europe.
2. The British admired Queen Victoria, but the rest of Europe was less keen. In the 1880s a member of the Imperial German court described her as 'an undersized creature, almost as broad as she was long who
looked like a cook, had a bluish-red face and was more or less mentally deranged. But she is very rich…' On the streets of Berlin an old lady told an English journalist that everyone knew Victoria was an inveterate
tippler who drank whisky out of a teapot.
3. 'I look upon you…as one of my oldest and best friends,' George wrote to Nicholas, though they met only infrequently and for much of their lives their two countries were arch-enemies. They also looked
extremely alike: when Nicholas came to George's wedding in London in 1893 he was constantly congratulated on his upcoming marriage, while George was asked how he liked London!
4. When Wilhelm was fourteen a group of doctors concluded he would never be 'normal,' but would succumb to rages when he would be 'incapable of forming a reasonable or temperate judgment on the subject
under consideration,' and while 'it was not probable that he would actually become insane, some of his actions would probably be those of a man not wholly sane'.
5. Nicholas and his German wife Alexandra (another granddaughter of Queen Victoria) spoke and wrote to each other in English.
6. George's greatest passion-apart from stamp collecting-was shooting. The quantities of game shot at his home, Sandringham, were positively obscene, and he personally could bring down 1,000 pheasants in
a single day.
7. Though George's father King Edward VII is now primarily famous for his extramarital adventures, by the end of his reign he was regarded as a highly successful international statesman, and credited with
having revolutionized British foreign policy. Edward and Wilhelm utterly loathed each other, and the Kaiser became convinced his British uncle was out to get him. 'He is a Satan, you have no idea what a Satan he is,'
he ranted to his entourage after one argument.
8. Wilhelm only ever wore military uniform-often four different ones in one day. He collected hundreds of them, and was constantly fiddling with and redesigning details. Even his closest entourage thought he
took it too far and was 'obsessed…with clothes and externals'.
9. In March 1917 the Russian Provisional government asked the British government if it would grant asylum to the ex-Tsar and his family. The British government at first said yes. It was George, scared that his
unpopular cousin's arrival would cast him in a bad light, who personally campaigned to have the invitation withdrawn-and it was.
10. Wilhelm took Germany to war with Britain, but during the war and even afterwards he couldn't shake off his life-long addiction to all things English: he read English papers, drank English tea, laughed at P.G.
Wodehouse, and wore a tie pin with a miniature of his dearest Grandmama, Victoria.
What People are saying about this
"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."
"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."
"A wonderfully fresh and beautifully choreographed work of history."
--Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
"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."
--Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times
"Fresh and enjoyable . . . Carter's thoughtful reintroduction of the vividly human late 19th century international politics is timely and welcome."
--Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian
"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."
--Margaret MacMillan, The Spectator
"An absorbing book . . . a convincing and considerable achievement."
--Sarah Bradford, The Literary Review
"She handles her themes with skill and aplomb."
--Anthony Howard, Daily Telegraph
"Intelligent, entertaining, and informative . . . Carter is a shrewd and observant guide . . . She tells her story with verve and impressive synthetic reach."
--Christopher Clark, London Review of Books