George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I (Hardcover)

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For centuries European royalty has ensured friendly relations with its neighbors by arranging marriages between sons and daughters.  Princes and countesses were sprinkled back and forth across borders to gain favors, bolster treasuries and simply solidify allegiances.  Queen Victoria was particularly effective on this front... so much so that, careening into the 20th Century, three grand children stood as the Tsar of Russia, Kaiser of Germany and King of England. What a group.  If any of you feel like your family is overly laced with dysfunctional relatives, you ain't seen nothin'.  Thanks to Miranda Carter, author of The Three Emperors, readers get to sneak in and out of courts and castles vicariously witnessing mountains of monarchical madness.  Each of these three spoiled little royals earns title to gold medals for being royally incapable of ruling nations and embracing the rapidly changing world around him.  Sadly, George, Willy and Nicky delivered verbal hugs to each other while crossing their fingers firmly behind their backs.  Each was consumed by pinning new ribbons on their uniforms and running around whacking Africans and Asians over the head, adding them to their territorial control. Peoples' rights were trampled.  Pettiness ruled.  Trust was nowhere.  National pride trumped honorable dialogue across borders.  The Kaiser the Tsar and the King each became detached in his own way and over time lost control of their empires.  The world drifted blindly toward a world war.  All it took was a mindless assassination and trigger-happy hawks on all sides overran peaceful intentions.  All three leaders wanted peace, but were unable to turn the tide of peoples itching for expressions of national pride. Even if you're not a history buff, you'll find this book an absolutely fascinating account of how European royalty lived in the latter half of the 1800's and first part of the 1900's.  You'll see how a powerful family of multi-national rulers coexisted and communicated with each other.  Foibles.  Weaknesses.  Incredible blunders and blind spots.  You might feel like you're reading a mystery novel -- except the words and deeds here are real.  And there impact cascaded down on all of us. I'll make a bet with you.  You'll have trouble putting this book down. Bob Wells

— From Bob's Book Talk


In the years before the First World War, the great European powers were ruled by three first cousins: King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Together, they presided over the last years of dynastic Europe and the outbreak of the most destructive war the world had ever seen, a war that set twentieth-century Europe on course to be the most violent continent in the history of the world.

Miranda Carter uses the cousins' correspondence and a host of historical sources to tell the tragicomic story of a tiny, glittering, solipsistic world that was often preposterously out of kilter with its times, struggling to stay in command of politics and world events as history overtook it. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm is a brilliant and sometimes darkly hilarious portrait of these men--damaged, egotistical Wilhelm; quiet, stubborn Nicholas; and anxious, dutiful George--and their lives, foibles and obsessions, from tantrums to uniforms to stamp collecting. It is also alive with fresh, subtle portraits of other familiar figures: Queen Victoria--grandmother to two of them, grandmother-in-law to the third--whose conservatism and bullying obsession with family left a dangerous legacy; and Edward VII, the playboy "arch-vulgarian" who turned out to have a remarkable gift for international relations and the theatrics of mass politics. At the same time, Carter weaves through their stories a riveting account of the events that led to World War I, showing how the personal and the political interacted, sometimes to devastating effect.

For all three men the war would be a disaster that destroyed forever the illusion of their close family relationships, with any sense of peace and harmony shattered in a final coda of murder, betrayal and abdication.

About the Author

Miranda Carter is the author of Anthony Blunt: His Lives, which won the Orwell Prize for political writing and the Royal Society of Literature W. H. Heinemann Award, and was chosen as one of The New York Times Book Review's seven Best Books of 2002. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

Praise For…

Praise for Miranda Carter's George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm:

“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.” ---The Dallas Morning News

"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." --Bookpage

"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.'" --The New York Times 

"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." —Publishers Weekly

"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

"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

“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.” – Zadie Smith

"[An] enterprising history of imperial vicissitudes and royal reversals." --The New York Times Book Review

Product Details
ISBN: 9781400043637
ISBN-10: 1400043638
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication Date: March 23rd, 2010
Pages: 498
Language: English