How did WWI happen? Was it the inevitable product of vast, impersonal forces colliding? Or was it a completely avoidable war that resulted from flawed decisions by individuals? Clay (Princess to Queen), a documentary producer for the BBC, inclines strongly to the latter explanation, and she brilliantly narrates how just three men led their nations to war. Forming a trade union of majesties, King George V (Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany) and Czar Nicholas II (Russia) were cousins who together ruled more than half the world. They were a family, and thus subject to the same tensions and turmoil that afflict every family. They had "played together, celebrated each other's birthdays... and later attended each other's weddings," but still, while George and Nicholas were close, Wilhelm was something of an outsidera feeling exacerbated by his paranoia and self-loathing. Over time, his sense of exclusion and humiliation would avenge itself on the family and eventually contributed strongly to the murder of Nicholas and the loss of his own throne. Clay's theory does have a holethough not ruled by the "cousins," France and Austria-Hungary also played major roles in the outbreak of warbut that does not detract from the ingenuity and pleasure of her narrative. 35 b&w photos. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Did sibling rivalry lead to the slaughter that was World War I? This psychobiography makes a good case in the affirmative. BBC documentarian Clay delivers only a bit of news, but lights up some of the shadows in the lives of the cousins who would become George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II. Georgie was a bit of a thickie, Willie a born victim and Nicky pleasing but ineffectual. Each, descended from Queen Victoria, had unusual burdens, but young Wilhelm had more than his share. Mauled by a doctor's forceps on delivery, he could not easily do some of the things other boys of his age and class did, such as ride a horse or shoot a bow. When Nicky and Georgie came over to Germany to play, they often left Willie out of the proceedings; moreover, Nicky never liked Willie personally, and he "was snubbed by his English relations, again and again and often with relish, feeding his paranoia and playing right into the hands of the Anglophobes," the Prussian nationalists who came to dominate his administration. Small wonder that as early as 1910, Germany was spoiling to go to war to avenge the slights against its thoroughly militarized (if, we learn, gay) emperor; small wonder that Wilhelm took the Triple Entente, which hemmed Germany between England and Russia, as a personal insult. Clay ventures that, though Tsar Nicholas was no help, George might have been able to negotiate a workable peace, since some difficult episodes with Queen Victoria had already demonstrated that Wilhelm was well capable of reason. As it happened, George was the only one of the cousins whose rule survived the vicious war that followed; the Bolsheviks executed Nicholas and his family, Wilhelm went into exile on the coast ofHolland, railing daily against socialists and Jews, and the world lurched on toward a still greater catastrophe. Readable, if something of a footnote to history.
From the Publisher
“Clay expertly weaves the story…with remarkable expertise, she provides an intimate look inside the lives of these boys as they grew into manhood and became king, Kaiser, and tsar, bringing new pleasures and details to a well-known subject.” Library Journal (starred review)
“[Clay] brilliantly narrates how just three men led their nations to war.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Clay lights up some of the shadows in the lives of the cousins.” Kirkus Review