Castles of Steel
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Castles of Steel

4.37 of 5 stars 4.37  ·  rating details  ·  1,172 ratings  ·  79 reviews
s/t: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
In a work of extraordinary narrative power, filled with brilliant personalities and vivid scenes of dramatic action, Robert K. Massie, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Dreadnought, elevates to its proper historical importance the role of sea power in the winning o...more
Kindle Edition, 880 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2003)
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The thing about World War I that most sparks my imagination is its occurrence at a unique point in history, where the pre-modern technologies of the 19th century entwined with the familiar, modern technologies of the 20th. The result was quaint and disastrous and fascinating to behold. British officers still armed themselves with swagger sticks, important towns were still fortified, and the cavalry remained an important military branch. Meanwhile, poison gas, airplanes, high-powered artillery (a...more
One of Robert Massie’s books concludes with the line “When the last stroke fell, Great Britain was at war with Germany.”

Another one of his books ends with the sentence “The Great War was over.”

What lies between these two lines is an unparalleled work (more than 800 pages long) of history about the war at sea between Britain and Germany in the Great War. That book is Castles of Steel.

“Castles of Steel” is the sequel to Robert Massie’s 1000 page mammoth Dreadnought which chronicles the national...more
Bas Kreuger
A slight, but only very, very slight, disappointment in reading Castles of Steel. Massie again writes compulsive and with an eye for detail, but what I miss is the view from both sides as he did in "Dreadnought" where the thoughts and actions of the leading politicians and naval officers was examined. After finishing "Dreadnought" I had a much better understanding how WWI came about and how and why the Germans and Brits clashed over their naval policy.
"CoS" has less policy and diplomacy and much...more
Robert Massie's approach to understanding World War I through the naval battles is original and thought provoking. It is one of the best he has ever written and the prefect accompaniment to his book Dreadnought. The book tracks how the German and British navies reacted during the war and the strategies employed by both. Whether it is the chasing of cruisers around South America or the battles between the Grand Fleet (Great Britain) and the High Seas Fleet (Germany) the detail and analysis is top...more
This is a hefty volume, but it covers WWI naval history better than any I've read before. Robert K. Massey writes with more color and illuminates more character than Barbara Tuchman (The First Salute and Guns of August) such that the details behind and concerning the build-up to these engagements at sea and the engagements themselves read more like "story" than "history." Frankly, I read Alexander Fullerton's novel about the chase of the Goeben into the Dardanelles and on into the Black Sea, but...more
Garick Black
Massie has quickly become one of my favorite writers. His blend of technical detail with the human drive really appeals to me. For an American, Massie tells the story the way a European would. There is no quick exposition or future telling of future American glory. Massie understands both the German and British mindset before and during the war. He does not condemn the Germans for being the 'bad guys'. He does point out more flaws in the German thinking than the British, but that can also be att...more
Jill Hutchinson
This is a "must read" if you are a Massie fan, a student of WWI history or interested in the developing stages of modern sea power. This is a wonderful narrative of the war at sea between the Grand Fleet of Great Britain and the High Seas Fleet of Imperial Germany. Massie weaves a fascinating tale of the tug-of-war between the politicians and the naval commanders on one side, and the power of the Kaiser over the Navy on the other.
Massie gives interesting insights into the personal and profession...more
Everyone’s recipe for cooking up the First World War is slightly different, but one essential ingredient is that of the arms races between various countries, especially the Anglo-Germanic quest for naval supremacy. England’s island status and naval tradition meant possessing the mightiest navy in Europe, if not the world, was a must, but Kaiser Bill’s fondness for boats meant his empire kept acquiring bigger and faster dreadnaughts. What’s worst, all of them were parked right outside Germany, wi...more
At it's best when describing the actual ship movements, dispositions and actions during various engagements. As with "Dreadnought" analysis of political developments are somewhat tedious. Very good bibliography and will soon read Gorden's "Jutland" from 1996.
After having the tremendous pleasure of reading "Dreadnought", Massie's book which deals with the decades immediately preceding outbreak of World War I, I had very high expectations for this book. I am absolutely delighted to announce that they have not been disappointed, but actually exceeded.
When it comes to history books, I try to evaluate them from two perspectives - content and narrative. In regard of content, "Castles of steel" - a single volume naval history of World War I - covers admira...more
I came to this very well written piece of popular history after reading the author’s previous book “Dreadnought” which covered Anglo-German naval rivalry up to the outbreak of the First World War. “Castles of Steel” (a phrase from Churchill) takes a largely strategic view of the conduct of the war at sea and in particular the struggle between Britain and Germany.

There are some exciting stories here and the author tells them well; the chases across miles of ocean, the often terrifying battles and...more
This tome is an in-depth history of the naval war between England and Germany during World War I. England had staked its national security and that or its empire on the Royal Navy. Germany's chronically insecure Kaiser had tried to build a fleet to match that of his cousin, the English King, but had diverted so much of his budget to his Imperial Army that his goal was not achieveable before the War overtook his efforts. The British strategic plan was to take advantage of the Royal Navy's numeric...more
Paul Foley
The centenary of WWI is near, and Robert Massie's fat book on the naval aspect of the war caught my eye. Honestly I didn't know WWI had a naval aspect. Trenches, biplanes, poison gas, yes... but dreadnoughts? Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea is a comprehensive account of the naval surface actions of that war. It is told mainly from the British (or at least anglophile) perspective: the extensive bibliography lists almost no sources in German. It is also...more
Unfamiliar with most of the naval aspects of the war except for Jutland, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this. And Massie does provide us with an excellent account of the arms race and buildup to the war as well as an exhaustive study of the war at sea. Please be aware, this is not really a comprehensive look at the entire naval war of 1914-1918. Other than the North Sea actions, the U-boat war, and the Dardanelles, all other aspects are left out. The Russians, Italians, Austrians, Turkish an...more
Robert Massie's sequel to his superb Dreadnought, Castles of Steel depicts the epic naval struggle for command of the seas between Britain and Germany, culminating in the massed naval showdown at Jutland.

Massie's command of his material is superb. He writes clearly, making the most complex situations crystal clear. I particularly enjoyed his description of the running naval battles with the Goeben and other German commerce raiders at the beginning of the war. But Massie's real strength is his de...more
Nov 27, 2007 Curtis rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians Military Naval
Shelves: history
This book is essentially volume two of Massie's work on the development of the dreadnought class warships. This book follows up with their deployment in World War One and consequent strategies that proved unrealistic and how the new and fast developing technology of the submarine affected them. The British Navy had traditionally considered it's role to be that of making a land invasion of the home isles impossible and had planned on a close blockade of the continent in the case of Germany in par...more
Excellent book, Massie is so good. Sequel to "Dreadnought," tells the story of the naval battles of World War I. World War I was really the first opportunity for a full fledged fleet-level engagement between modern, steel, big-gun battleships, but the German fleet avoided such a confrontation until it accidentally happened at Jutland. Even then, the Germans broke off from the full Armageddon battle sought by the British (and by readers) before it could fully unfold. It never happened again, and...more
Bob H
The logical sequel to Robert Massie's Dreadnought, which chronicled the Anglo-German naval arms race, a proximate cause of WWI. Here, the navies built for such an unimaginable conflict now stalk each other, and although the book focuses on the British and German parts of the war it still is valuable for those interested in history or in vivid historical writing. Particularly valuable are the little-known but critical clashes outside Europe, notably the battles off Chile and Argentina that aren't...more
Mr. Massie is unquestionably a genius with regards to historical narrative. At almost no point throughout the nearly 800 pages of this book did I feel bored or disinterested. Massie has a distinct skill for weaving personal accounts, letters, and impressions into a framework of immense quantities of technical data. The structure of the book, generally focused on individuals and their personalities, allows Massie to construct an epic work of panoramic scale and yet keep the reader intrigued with...more
Although I'm more of a tank man, there is something majestic and powerful about the battleship - like a Tyrannosaurus Rex of the seas. World War I was simultaneously their peak with the new dreadnought class ships, and the harbinger of their extinction with the rise of submarine and air warfare. Robert Massie does an amazing job of describing the war from the point of view of the British and German navies. Do not think this is just a book about big boats - there are prime ministers and politics,...more
At close to 800 pages long, and with small-size print, ‘Castles of Steel’ is a hefty read, but an enjoyable one. Given that the First World War is better known for the war in the trenches, it is interesting to learn more about how the conflict was fought on the seas. This book covers the battles and skirmishes that took place off the coasts of Britain and Germany, the battle at the Falkland Islands, the British attempt to force the Dardanelles, and the effect that new technologies – such as subm...more
Jul 01, 2008 Hotspur rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: adults, with some grounding in the history of WWI
The natural successor to DREADNOUGHT, Castles is an overview of the significant naval campaigns of the Great War, 1914-1918. From the Escape of the Goeben to the Scuttle at Scapa Flow, Massie informs and entertains the reader with a straightforward depiction (from a noticeably Anglo-centric view, of course) of historical naval battles. Massie being Massie, he can't avoid some of the gossip and behind the scenes stories concerning great events. The section concerning the maneuvering of Beatty to...more
May 02, 2009 Sam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Yes
This was the book that got me hook on WW I naval warfare. It is brilliantly written and the pages fly by. Since I knew so little of the history going into it I found it exciting and a page turner as I could not wait to see what happened. The very first chapter grabbed me as the nations of Europe one by one declared war on each other and the naval forces of the med postured for war. It made for a tense setting as the British navy hunted for HMS Goeben.
Massie does a brilliant job of discussing th...more
Chris Chester
This book confirmed my conviction, originating after Peter The Great, that Robert Massie is the best author of narrative non-fiction that exists.

He brilliantly uses small bits of correspondence and individuals' stories to illuminate larger trends and the true nature of WWI, a landmark moment in history.

He's also amazing at spinning a yarn between some of the world's most influential figures, whether it's the bromance between Fisher and Churchill or the complex Beatty/Jelicoe relationship.

The nar...more
This book had been on my to-read list for several years, yet every time I hefted the print copy in the library I imagined myself leaving it sit on the nightstand. When I found the audio version, read by Richard Matthews, I felt I had a chance.
This book is outstanding. While I initially found the sheer length of this daunting (33 CDs) it was like returning to visit an old friend every time I got in the car. Matthews voice and Massie's writing brings to life a period in history that isn't much ta...more
This was a remarkable book. When I picked it up, I didnt think that there was enough naval action in WWI to merit an entire book. Nonetheless, this book is exhaustive and meticulous in its detail and addresses every aspect of WWI Naval activity from raids in the Indian Ocean to battles near the Falklands to the major naval battle of WWI: Jutland. What emerges is the fact that WWI was framed by the naval campaigns and that had it not been for the British fleet, the Allied victory in WWI may have...more
Adam Tyler
This was an excellent account of the British-German naval war during WWI.
I was fascinated by the level of detail in the book, which comingles the political, strategic, tactical, and technical aspects of naval warfare. I hadn't thought about the practical aspects of operating a steam battleship, and it was impressive to read about all of the issues that have to be addressed. The story of the evolution of ships is also continued from Massie's earlier book, Dreadnought, as are the stories of the German and British governments' quirks and machinations.
Chris Watson
Excellent overview of naval operations in WW1. I admit my knowledge of the period is woeful and so I was very pleased that Massie included a great deal of information that put the war and naval battles into context.

The book comes across as very well researched and the style is fluid and (surprisingly) not at all dry.
This was a well researched and well presented book. (I listened to it on CD.)
If I was more interested in the topic at large I would have been enraptured.
The book takes incidents and lets you know information about the ships involved as well as the commanding officers. It doesn't overwhelm you with minutiae and it keeps your interest. Even mine.
For those with an interest in WWI naval actions I would suggest rushing out and getting this book.
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Robert Kinloch Massie (born 1929) is an American historian, writer, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and a Rhodes Scholar.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1929, Massie spent much of his youth in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in Westchester County, New York in the village of Irvington. He studied American history at Yale University and modern European history at Oxford University on his Rhode...more
More about Robert K. Massie...
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman Nicholas and Alexandra Peter the Great: His Life and World The Romanovs: The Final Chapter Dreadnought

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