Steven's Reviews > George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter
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's review
May 31, 10

bookshelves: biography, family_tree, history, maps
Read from May 13 to 31, 2010

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 starts with a Europe filled with kings and emperors and ends 50 years later with pretty much George left after all the dust has settled. The contrasts and similarities amongst these three mens' personalities is striking. Wilhelm craves attention and power. George and Nicholas shun both, although Nicholas' position as an absolute autocrat requires that he use the power he has -- yet he prefers to avoid conflict. All these men are born with rights and privileges, yet Wilhelm uses his for foolish projects and a military fetish, Nicholas uses his to avoid the people of his country who so desperately need leadership, and George struggles to assert himself within his nation's constitutional limits.

Throughout the book Carter provides letters, telegrams and memoirs of eyewitnesses that testify to the relationships among these three cousins -- warm, often rocky and sometimes bizarre. It's interesting to watch how the ability of these three personalities to affect the world around them wanes just as the whole idea of absolutely monarchy is all but abandoned in Europe. If you like this period of history and have any interest in these men, you'll enjoy this.
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