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Frederick the Great

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  237 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
In this biography of Frederick the Great, Nancy Mitford carefully unravels the complex character of one of Europe's brilliant rulers. She re-creates his unhappy youth; his reforming zeal, which paved the way for a united Germany; and his spectacular wars.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 1995 by Penguin Books (first published 1970)
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(showing 1-30 of 659)
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I am a bit sad to have finished the last of Nancy Mitford's wonderful portrait biographies, but I can't be sad I read this. Inimitable, as always, Nancy. My hat is off to you. Full review in a roundup of awesome books on my blog:
Luís Blue Coltrane
Frederick II (1712-1786) ruled Prussia from 1740 until his death, leading his nation through multiple wars with Austria and its allies. His daring military tactics expanded and consolidated Prussian lands, while his domestic policies transformed his kingdom into a modern state and formidable European power. As an enthusiastic patron of the arts and sciences, a gifted musician and a correspondent with the top minds of the Enlightenment, Frederick sought to embody the Platonic ideal of a “philosop ...more
Edwin Wood
Nov 16, 2014 Edwin Wood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nancy Mitford provides an in-depth insight into the personality of Frederick the Great, especially through the extensive archives of his letters. These, coupled with Mitford's analysis of his character, have the power to change one's perception of Frederick; such a detailed view of his life brings to light the aspects of the person and not just his actions. This is done through the author's heavily narratorial structure, which is apt for certain events in his life, such as Frederick's relationsh ...more
Nov 29, 2015 Manray9 rated it liked it
Shelves: germany-austria
Nancy Mitford's Frederick the Great is neither a complete nor scholarly biography of Prussia's most famous monarch. It is a popular chronicle written to be entertaining and not authoritative. As the reader would expect, Mitford displays a fine prose style, keen wit, and a gossipy flair – if occasionally stumbling over the facts. Her Frederick the Great is similar in tenor to Duff Cooper's biography of Talleyrand, but without Cooper's erudition. Although Mitford traveled around France, the former ...more
David Nichols
Sep 22, 2014 David Nichols rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, biography
An entertaining and edifying biography, skillfully combining political and military history with a wealth of amusing personal details about monarchical eccentricities. Did you know that Frederick II's father collected giants, sometimes by kidnapping them from their homes? Now you do.
Avis Black
Aug 06, 2014 Avis Black rated it liked it
Shelves: biographies, 3-stars
I enjoyed the book, but it's missing something that would give it more weight. Mitford's narrative skips along in a breezy, light-hearted fashion that's fun to read, but Frederick the Great happens to be a subject better examined with more depth and with more understanding of the dark side of his personality, his battles, and his era.

The great event of Frederick's life was the The Seven Years' War, which has been called a virtual 'World War' in its scope, with the participation of nearly all th
Apr 27, 2013 Bruce rated it it was amazing
I have a bit of a passion for historical biographies and this one did not dissapoint. Nancy Mitford's writng style is fresh and engaging. She definitely brings to life some of the complexity of Frederik the Great and in the end brings you to the conclusion that he was a significant and noble ruler of his time. I got interested in learning more about him while reading another biography of Napoleon. On Napolean's fated invasion of Russia he stopped in Potsdam, home of Frederik and the beautiful Sa ...more
Nancy Mitford is a favorite of mine, without a doubt, and her Frederick the Great is the last European Enlightenment biography that she managed to finish before her early death. Frederick was spared a lot of her razor wit and snide remarks, maybe because she related to the overbearing father and strict expectations. Whatever the reason, Mitford's last biography is simply wonderful.

Frederick the Great was challenged with problems early in his life (he had a brother die from the gun salute given
Charles Puskas
Mar 04, 2013 Charles Puskas rated it really liked it
This lively biography of a great and complex Prussian king, military genius, musician, and promoter of the arts (1712-86), is by a British novelist and biographer of aristocratic birth, Nancy Mitford, whose novel, The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949)gave rare inside glimpses of upper class society in England. Much has been written on the diverse interests, pursuits, and ideologies of Nancy and her sisters (e.g., of the four, one was a fascist and one was a communist). I e ...more
Jun 05, 2013 Cheryll rated it really liked it
I loved this piece of history especially as it ties in with Catherine the Great. At the end of the book Napoleon is quoted at Frederick's grave saying if Frederick were still alive he Napoleon would not be leader.
Frederick had an abusive father Frederick William, which like many stories of royal families could have suppressed him, but Frederick came out of it to be a great military strategist. He also had many good ideas about crop rotation, industrialization and reducing capital punishment as w
Sep 01, 2011 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Frederick II of Prussia attempted to escape his authoritarian father as a boy, but went on to become one of history's greatest rulers. He loved the flute, and devoted hours of study to the arts and French literature, forming a long-lasting but turbulent friendship with Voltaire. He was a military genius and enlarged the borders of his empire, but he also promoted religious tolerance, economic reform and laid the foundation for a united Germany. Nancy Mitford brings all these contradictions and a ...more
Eric Smith
Dec 07, 2015 Eric Smith rated it really liked it
This is a biography that reads a little like a British tabloid: opinionated, biting, and filled with juicy details. Frederick the Great was a remarkable man, a military genius, an astute ruler, and a great friend to many men. He got married, but never spent any time with his Queen, they never lived together, in fact, she was never invited to Frederick's palace, Sans Suci. HIs upbringing was filled with pain as his father tortured him almost daily. He grew up loving French literature and the flut ...more
Jul 15, 2014 Christine rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The writing style is very casual. But it is filled with facts and flows well. The titles and naming conventions were confusing to me, I believe partly because the book was published in 1970. And because it was written by an English author in a way that suggests her target audience would have some prior knowledge of the subject.

Having read Catherine the Great, by Robert K. Massie, immediately prior to Fredrick the Great, I was very entertained by the difference in feel
Jul 01, 2015 Sunjay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. It is clear that Mitford has digested a ton of primary sources on Frederick's life, and she is able to give a bird's eye view through the maze of largely chatty and gossipy diaries from Frederick's contemporaries that she brings to light. Her ability to engage in the minutiae and detail of the everyday, while at the same time keep the action moving at a quick pace with a steady narrative, is very impressive. I'm a fan and look forward to reading the other 3 18th cen ...more
Feb 26, 2014 Annalisa rated it really liked it
Seldom do I make it through a non-fiction history book, but Nancy Mitford managed to make it easy for me and in record time. This was Mitford's last book, and written while ill with the cancer that would kill her not long after she finished the book. What a strong note to go out on.

Much of the Frederick the Great is based on information gleaned from letters and what a fascinating read it is. I do wish Mitford had lived longer because she could have applied her deft touch to bring so many others
Subhav Bhatia
May 17, 2016 Subhav Bhatia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is exactly what I was looking for. A concise,to-the-point,no-nonsense biography. I did not want to spend a month reading about Frederick the Great,even though I did want to understand the reasons behind his good reputation among great military generals,particularly Napoleon. This book is not a one reference guide for all your Frederick trivia but it'll do if you just want to dip your toes in the water,so to speak.
Ray Duncan
Jun 29, 2014 Ray Duncan rated it liked it
I was not as impressed with this biography as most of the other reviewers here. The style is stuffy and old fashioned, and the reading is slow going. The author jumps from topic to topic and most are treated very superficially. We hear a lot more about Frederick's little spats with Voltaire and his correspondence with his various admirers, for example, than we learn about his strategic thinking or his reforms. You don't come away from the book with an understanding of why he is called The Great. ...more
Bronwyn Hope
Feb 08, 2014 Bronwyn Hope rated it really liked it
I am still in the middle of reading this book but find Mitford an engaging and engrossing biographer.

Frederick the Great himself is a colourful character and Mitford writes with such humour and irony there are parts of this book where you will laugh out loud.

Jackson Cyril
Sep 18, 2014 Jackson Cyril rated it really liked it
A delightful account of the king's life and reign abounding with anecdotes and stories that help the reader understand who Frederick was and how he came to be Frederick the Great.
Jun 03, 2016 Scott rated it really liked it
An interesting historical figure and ranks up there with the greatest generals and now I see why.
Jose Santos
Apr 29, 2014 Jose Santos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, 2014
Estive no final Março de 2014 em Sans Souci, a casa de Frederico o Grande. Berlim e Dresden, cidades por onde andou, também foram visitados. Ao ouvir a guia a contar-nos sobre o caracter surpreendente e enigmático deste personagem, senti uma grande empatia. Uma amiga tinha lido este livro, que me emprestou na viagem. Gostei imenso de conhecer mais sobre este grande Frederico, tão diferente dos alemães de agora, com uma personalidade tão difícil naqueles tempos conturbados em que não deve ter sid ...more
Blake Spraggins
Apr 05, 2016 Blake Spraggins rated it really liked it
A witty and enjoyable read.
Aug 11, 2015 Mason rated it liked it
A comprehensive, though occasionally obtuse, biography of a great European statesman. Mitford takes great care to paint a fair, thorough picture of the Prussian king, but the book is best appreciated with Wikipedia at the ready.
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NYRB Classics: Frederick the Great, by Nancy Mitford 2 7 Oct 24, 2013 04:42PM  
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Nancy Mitford, CBE (28 November 1904, London – 30 June 1973, Versailles), styled The Hon. Nancy Mitford before her marriage and The Hon. Mrs Peter Rodd thereafter, was an English novelist and biographer, one of the Bright Young People on the London social scene in the inter-war years. She was born at 1 Graham Street (now Graham Place) in Belgravia, London, the eldest daughter of Lord Redesdale and ...more
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“Frederick William’s oddest whimsy was the collection of giants for his Potsdam Grenadiers. They were an obsession; he would spend any money, even risk going to war with his neighbours, to have tall men (often nearer seven than six feet in height, and generally idiotic) kidnapped, smuggled out of their native lands and brought to him. Finally, he acquired over two thousand of them. His agents were everywhere. Kirkman, an Irish giant, was kidnapped in the streets of London, an operation which cost £1,000. A tall Austrian diplomat was seized when getting into a cab in Hanover; he soon extricated himself from the situation, which remained a dinner-table topic for the rest of his life.” 1 likes
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