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

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  1,419 ratings  ·  177 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published March 23rd 2010 by Knopf (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Matt
I have a joke for you: hereditary monarchies.

That’s it. That's the joke.

Of all the ways that man has devised for cornering power, none is as breathtaking as the hereditary monarchy. For centuries, kings and queens have ruled vast nations based solely on the notion that their blood is somehow “royal.” It’s utter wash, of course, as countless failed leaders have proven. There is nothing special about royal blood. It is the same blood as runs through our veins. Except for the hemophilia. The roya...more
Eric_W
Mar 23, 2010 Eric_W marked it as to-read
OK, I haven't read this book -- I will -- but I was pissed after reading a review. Here's part of a review that demonstrates why I often hate reviews in the NY Times Book Review. Last two paragraphs:

“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 about Günter Grass — “chews it enthusiastically before our eyes.”

You turn this book’s pages with interest, however, but rarely with eagerness. It’s a
...more
Chrissie
Dec 22, 2013 Chrissie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chrissie by: Gundula
I highly recommend this book. What it does in an exemplary fashion is show the reader who George, Nicholas and Wilhelm were. You learn not only of their actions, but also of there varying temperaments. This is a biography, not a dry history book. It is well researched, and will be fascinating to those of you who want to look at the personalities of these three cousins. At the same time you will come to understand why WW1 occurred; why in fact it was practically inevitable. Political disputes and...more
Dorothy
This was brilliant. For anyone interested in the road to WWI this is a wonderful synopsis from the perspective of the exhaustion and decline of autocracy, monarchy and empire. Using the familial relationships among Victoria, Edward, George, Wilhelm and Nicholas Carter pulls the reader into the conflicting pulls on the leading monarchs of their day amid the challenges of nationalism, republicanism, socialism and the last gasps of aristocratic and colonial entitlement. Along the way we are provide...more
Grady
The Impact of Queen Victoria on History

Queen Victoria of England not only had one of the longest reigns in royal history (her reign of 63 years and 7 months, which is longer than that of any other British monarch and the longest of any female monarch in history) but her progeny produced leaders in disparate countries that focused on three names in the pre-world War I period - King George V of Great Britain (an India), Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. In a manner of...more
Louise
Other reviews have noted that there is little new here, but the point of this book is not to bring out new information; It is to explore the origins of World War I from a different point of view. In examining the character of these three cousins, their upbringing and education, their role in the structure of their respective governments and the issues and attitudes of their counties, Miranda Carter shows how they did and didn't influence the course of events that led to The Great War.

The cousins...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
First-class analysis, and really well-written.
Elizabeth
King George V, Tsar Nicholas, and Kaiser Wilhelm were cousins (talk about dysfunctional families). Of course thanks to Queen Victoria everybody was related to each other through blood or marriage. But these three men held the future of Europe in their hands. Fortunately for George, his duties in a constitutional monarchy involved being the figurehead--something he could handle. He and Nicolas were first cousins as their mothers (Danish royalty)were sisters. They looked uncannily alike and people...more
Andrea
A readable history of the royal families of Britain, Germany and Russia in the period leading up to WW I. Carter focuses to some degree on the personalities of King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas, which gives the book an engaging narrative flow, but she also brings in important political movements and events that influenced not only these three "major players" but also public opinion in the three countries. I think it would work equally well as an introduction to the period or as a sou...more
Dvora
It's not that this book is so well written, although it isn't bad. It's the story of the three cousins, George V of England, Nicholas II of Russia, and Wilhelm II of Germany that earns my 4-star rating. Carter's book is well researched (I discovered her through watching a BBC documentary on King Edward VII (Bertie, who is far more colorful and interesting than his son George V) although I did notice a few contradictions. Then again, she does much better than Catrine Clay with her encyclopedic bo...more
Cynthia Haggard
I do not usually care for biographies, they often seem to consist of the boring trivia of a person’s daily life. But GEORGE, NICHOLAS, WILHELM: THREE ROYAL COUSINS AND THE ROAD TO WORLD WAR I is different. Miranda Carter deftly weaves together the biographies of the three cousin-emperors who together stood on the brink of the abyss in 1914: George V of England, Nicholas, the last Tsar of Russia, and Wilhelm, the last Kaiser of Germany.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way in which it...more
Susan
The first time I did my family genogram, I saw family patterns passed down through generations, and the ways that significant family events had life long impact. My mother often tells the story of how she cared for her youngest brother when she was 10 years old. Her mother and older sister were both in the hospital, but her newborn brother was sent home to be cared for by a 10 year old. She says that she and her next two brothers (8 and 6) would get ready in the morning and then take the 3 young...more
April
Oh, families. If you think your family is crazy, you haven't met the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Romanovs. This academic-style text is a discussion of the familo-political interactions from about 1860 that lead to World War I. I left this book thinking that perhaps we could "blame" WWI, not on the Germans, but instead on Queen Victoria. Why? She was the grandmother from hell. She insisted that all of her children were raised in an extremely severe style favored by her husband, Prince Albert; some of her c...more
Mike
This is a 4.5 stars read. I really enjoyed this book! It is a biographical look at George V of England (also his father Edward and grandmother Victoria), Nicholas II of Russia, and Wilhelm II of Germany. The book basically looks at all three people from birth to death, with the obvious focus being on the lead up to World War I. It is a fascinating look at the last decades of true autocratic monarchies in Europe and leaves the reader feeling that none of these leaders were up to the task of actua...more
Michael Llewellyn
Miranda Carter’s "George, Nicholas and Wilhelm" is an incisive, thoroughly documented look at a trio of cousins who helped shape the world’s destiny at the turn of the last century. The three, King George V of England, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, were, along with the lion’s share of European royals, related through Queen Victoria. Family ties are explored along with the men’s distinctly different temperaments and a host of fascinating personal minutiae. For all h...more
James
"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," was Zadie Smith's response to Carter's book, and it's as apt a comment on it as I could make. The deaths and suffering that resulted from their collective ineptitude for the task their births bestowed upon them is, of course, truly horrific. Yet it is also an absurdist, at times comic story. If that's a paradox, it's one of life itself, and a sign of how much life Cart...more
Lizinka
I enjoyed this book. Miranda Carter has done an incredible amount of research and creates very complete personas for these three deeply flawed leaders. Her style of writing is very easy to read and follow, especially for such a complex subject. There are great moments of dry humour as she paints for the modern reader a picture of the strange, sheltered, and distorted existence of late-nineteenth century monarchies. The three emperors are treated fairly by the author - perhaps more fairly than th...more
Licking County Library
Recommended by Deirdre M. , Hebron Library

Deirdre's Review:

Excellent title that covers the three dominant European monarchs who ruled during WW1. It demonstrates how family dynamics and rivalries influenced major world events before, during, and after this period and how their words and actions affected millions of their citizens for years to come.
Narrator does an excellent job of conveying the personalities of these rulers , made even more impressive by the fact she is a woman portraying mostly...more
Harriet Steel
This is a fascinating account of the four men who ruled Britain, Germany and Russia in the decades leading up to WWI. Tsar Nicholas, a family-loving man who knew from the first that he wasn't up to the job his powerful father had bequeathed him; the Kaiser, energetic, intelligent but fatally flawed with an overweening sense of his own infallibility, and our own Edward VII and George V.
Carter exposes these men to our view in accessible, lively prose. Knowing what happened to Nicholas and his fami...more
Heather
Thoroughly enjoyable - I didn't know a lot about this area of history and the book left me with the desire to learn more!

I would have thought trying to tell the stories of three (five, really) heads of state simultaneously was a recipe for confusion and disaster, but the author manages to make their tales distinct and interesting.

I don't want to give anything away, but I was left hugely saddened by the fate of the Russian Imperial family, despite knowing the events before reading this book. I...more
Paul Garrett
Queen Victoria's three grandsons who reigned over the major combatants in Word War I are shown in this book as all-too-human and yet taken by the illusions of their own power. They left Europe in ruins, two of them lost their thrones (and one his life), and set up the world for an even worse conflagration a generation later. As we still live with the effects of the "war to end all wars," which ended nothing, we who read need all the insight we can gather. This thick tome captures a lost era and...more
Jaylia3
Before World War I the belief that monarchs ruled by divine right was alive and well in Europe—at least among the monarchs themselves. George, Nicolas and Wilhelm were cousins who reigned in Britain, Russia and Germany during the years leading up to the war. By the end of the war Tsar Nicolas and his family had been assassinated, and Kaiser Wilhelm was in exile having been forced to abdicate. Interestingly, only the monarch with almost no political power survived the war with his title in tact,...more
Robin
I listened to this as an unabridged audio book and really enjoyed it. I think that if I had been reading it I would have been tempted to skim through some parts. On the other hand, I bet that there are some really great photos in the book that I missed, of course.

The title is a bit misleading. Through most of the time period covered, the interaction was between George's father, the Prince of Wales, Bertie/Prince Eddie, who dwelt in the shadows of long-lived Queen Victoria for many years, and his...more
Jay Connor
Roundtrip flight to Berlin? No better way to pass the hours than a book about these three grandsons of Queen Victoria who helped to bring on WWI and the fall of monarchy.

A better title might have been: "Self Love among Kooks." This is a fascinating story of not only an end of a way of life but of how tone-deaf and inbred the monarchies had become by the turn of the last century. Queen Victoria, described by Tsar Nicholas (Nicky) as "a big round ball on wobbly legs," saw to it that her children...more
Sweetwilliam
I have managed to write a review that is longer than the actual book but I found the subject matter so interesting that it was hard not to talk about it. If you are interested in the monarchs that ruled pre-WWI Europe and how these royal cousins ushered in the war than this is a must read for you. The beginning of the book focuses on Queen Victoria - probably the last effective monarch in England. At the time of Victoria, the English Monarchs still had sway and a veto. In Germany and Russia, the...more
Jodi
Great book! What stops it from being a five, are some arbitrary sentences dotted throughout the book. Easiest example would be when discussing the meeting between Edward VII and Nicholas on the Russian yacht, Carter in a two sentence paragraph reports a British diplomat Charles Hardinge “came upon Alix, sobbing alone on deck. She declined his offers of help.” What does that mean? No footnote was connected to it, no explanation of why she was sobbing or even what Hardinge’s memoirs speculated… zi...more
Steven
I love the way this focuses its topic, European great power diplomacy from the mid-19th century through World War I, through the lens of family relationships. What would make for some pretty dry reading about international talks and intrigue is spiced up by by looking at the personal relationships amongst George V of the British Empire, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany -- plus their parents and nearly ever 19th-century European royal's grandmother, Victoria.

The books...more
Kathy
The author has written an excellent comparative account of the lives of Nicholas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England. These monarchs all reigned in pre World War I Europe in a time of great change. They are all related - Wilhelm and George are grandchildren of Victoria and Nicholas is married to Victoria’s favorite granddaughter. What a dysfunctional family! The author recounts the lives of these monarchs from 1858 until after WWI. Both public events and private family ga...more
ladywallingford
First of all, the title of the book is very misleading. It really should also include Victoria and Edward VII because the bulk of the book discussed events during their reigns. George was mentioned here and there and his childhood and marriage were discussed but his role in politics wasn't really discussed until almost the end. Now, I do understand that George didn't come to the throne until 1910 whereas both Nicholas and Wilhelm assumed their thrones before the turn of the century. However, if...more
Clarice
Sadly, the formatting of the Kindle version of this book was such a mess that I had to return it.

I broke my "no kindle book over $9.99" rule for this one because ever since I saw a photo of the three cousins together at a family gathering, with George and Nicholas looking like twins, I developed an almost obsessive interest in these 19th Century rulers. Nicholas, of course, gets LOTS of exposure in literature and film - George and Wilhelm not so much. So, I was excited to find this book which fo...more
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Are these the same book? 3 14 Mar 13, 2014 04:23AM  
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  • From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women, 1847--1928
  • Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of The Original People's Princess
  • Queen Victoria: A Personal History
  • The Court of the Last Tsar: Pomp, Power and Pageantry in the Reign of Nicholas II
  • Michael and Natasha: The Life and Love of Michael II, the Last of the Romanov Tsars
  • Bismarck: A Life
  • Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Tsar and Tsarina
  • The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World
  • Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947
  • A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story
  • The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914
  • The Camera and the Tsars: The Romanov Family in Photographs
  • Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III
  • The Flight Of The Romanovs A Family Saga
  • Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandra
  • The Crimean War
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