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The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II
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Group Reads Archive > November 2014- The Last Kaiser by Giles MacDonogh

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message 1: by Jennifer W (new) - added it

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Welcome to November's group read of The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II by Giles MacDonogh.

Enjoy!


message 2: by Nigeyb (last edited Nov 01, 2014 12:23PM) (new)

Nigeyb I look forward to discovering what BYTers make of this book.

Due to difficulty in getting hold of it here in the UK, I tried reading Kaiser Wilhem II: Germany's Last Emperor by John Van der Kiste instead.

Although only around 200 pages long it was too much detail for my needs and level of interest. I decided not to read the whole thing.

So, with all that in mind, I will be very interested to discover what the rest of you make of The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II by Giles MacDonogh.


message 3: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments My library copy was due back so I am now awaiting delivery from Powell's. Any day now.


message 4: by Jennifer W (new) - added it

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
I hope to get a copy from the library tomorrow. I look forward to it!


message 5: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Nigeyb wrote: "I look forward to discovering what BYTers make of this book.

Due to difficulty in getting hold of it here in the UK, I tried reading Kaiser Wilhem II: Germany's Last Emperor by [a..."


How could an author cover the life of Kaiser Wilhelm in less than 200 pages???? He really had to cram a lot in so few pages.


message 6: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ It was very small type Jill :-)


message 7: by Jennifer W (new) - added it

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Just started The Last Kaiser tonight. While I'm not sure that I'm going to call this a "fun" read, it will certainly be informative- if I can keep all the names straight!!! There is a family tree in the front of the book, but I wish they'd also included a map. I'm not as on top of my late 19th/early 20th century European geography as I could be.


message 8: by Jennifer W (new) - added it

Jennifer W | 1002 comments Mod
Is anyone else reading this? I'd like to make so more progress, but I got myself into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month: nanowrimo.org) and it has eaten into most of my reading time.


message 9: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val I did read it Jennifer, but decided the rather dry, 200 page John Van der Kiste book was better as a non-fiction read.


message 10: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I am working on this. It is a little slow going at the beginning even though it is covering information that I learned in We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill.

My problem is that I am also reading Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne for a Civil War group.

They are both big books. So I have been alternating nights and thus making little progress in both books.


Barbara I'm reading it and finding it a bit of a slog. It's well written and certainly has lots of information, but it's a bit dry. I'm only a third of the way through. Just for "fun" (yes, I am a nerd) I'm also reading Tyler Whittle's The Last Kaiser. It is less scholarly and is a bit dated (written in the late 70s, it refers to East and West Germany for example) but seems so much more readable. I will eventually get through them both.


message 12: by Nigeyb (last edited Nov 13, 2014 02:54PM) (new)

Nigeyb Val wrote: "I did read it Jennifer, but decided the rather dry, 200 page John Van der Kiste book was better as a non-fiction read."

^ And I struggled with John Van der Kiste's book. Perfectly fine but I couldn't summon up enough interest or enthusiasm for all that information about the family and his life. More about my tastes and preferences than the quality of the book.

Interesting that you say The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II is not as good. With that in mind I am very relieved I couldn't get hold of it.


message 13: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb With six days of November left this discussion seems to have been somewhat underwhelming. I accept it might spark back into life as Jennifer, Jan or Barbara finish the book but the initial comments suggest this is unlikely.

So, with all that in mind, and with the proviso we might yet finish on a high, what do we learn from this experience?

Here's a few tentative suggestions:

Ensure we nominate books that are readily available in both the US and UK. This one was difficult to source in the UK.

If we're choosing books devoted to just one person then ensure that person has lived a life that it is interesting. The BYT non-fiction books I have enjoyed the most deal with aspects of our era in a more general sense, or a group of people, or the book's author used the person's life to explore more general aspects of the era

Thoroughly research your nomination (and indeed what you decide to vote for). Reading through reviews it's possible to get a good feel for a book's merits and what's perhaps less compelling

And of course, get involved, especially if you've voted in the poll, and more especially if you've voted for the book that ends up winning.


Please feel free to disagree and/or add your own suggestions, or indeed discuss other aspects of this book


message 14: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val There are people still reading this one. It is a long book and unless someone is very interested in the subject 560 pages is going to be a slog (and is one reason why I thought the 240 page one was better).


message 15: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I did bring the book on vacation with me. It hasn't made it out of the car yet but I only left yesterday. After much rain the sun is trying to poke through the clouds.


Barbara Nigeyb, I agree with your suggestions. Sorry I've been so silent on this discussion. It's been a tough month for me. First I got elected treasurer of my home owner's association and had to spend a solid week balancing the checkbook that the former treasurer had ignored for years and then I had a heart attack and spent several days in the hospital. You'd think that a hospital stay would lead to plenty of reading time, but frankly, I had more on my mind than Kaiser Bill (or Beware of Pity for that matter). I'll get caught up, but perhaps not by the end of the month.


message 17: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb ^ Oh Barbara - I am so sorry to hear about your heart attack, and your stressful new role. Get well soon. Here's to a happy and healthy 2015.


Barbara Nigeyb wrote: "^ Oh Barbara - I am so sorry to hear about your heart attack, and your stressful new role. Get well soon. Here's to a happy and healthy 2015."

Thanks, Nigeyb. I'm recovering well and have lots of help from family and friends, so I'll be fine.


message 19: by Val (new) - rated it 2 stars

Val Very best wishes for your full recovery Barbara.


message 20: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 931 comments Best wishes from me too, Barbara. Glad to hear you are recovering well.


Barbara Thanks, Val and Judy. I appreciate your concern.


message 22: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments Rough month. Here's to a speedy recovery. We'll have to pick lighter books.


Barbara Jan C wrote: "Rough month. Here's to a speedy recovery. We'll have to pick lighter books."

Thanks, Jan. Believe me, I'm looking forward to Jeeves!


message 24: by Barbara (last edited May 19, 2015 02:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Barbara I still haven't finished the MacDonogh book, but I did finally make it through Tyler Whittle's The Last Kaiser. He was fairly sympathetic to Kaiser Wilhelm and showed him to be quite a complex character.

Some points I found interesting--

His mother, Vicky, didn't sound like an easy parent to have. She never ceased to consider herself British and looked down on the German court and culture as inferior to Victorian Britain. Wilhelm compensated by becoming very nationalistic. Her exceedingly high standards meant that she saw Wilhelm as never quite good enough.

His father was out of step with public opinion too, being too liberal for the prevailing political climate. Once again Wilhelm over-reacted against parental views.

The author did not say this, but as I read, I kept wondering how much of the Kaiser's life was shaped by his withered arm--he seemed to be overly concerned with being accepted, with a need to prove himself. I sometimes saw him as a child who never grew up.

There was quite a lot about his father's illness. He had cancerous growths on his vocal cords. Vicky insisted he be treated by a British doctor who felt an operation would kill him. There was a lot of dissension among the doctors and rivalry between the German and British doctors. (Reminded me of the infighting of the doctors caring for President Garfield that I read about in Destiny of the Republic.) While there were plenty of political reasons for the growing antipathies of Germany and Britain, this certainly didn't help. Meanwhile, his father suffered and died a painful death.

Wilhelm II was more of a social reformer than I'd imagined. Apparently he was a great admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, with whom he had much in common. The author said that they both "killed mosquitoes as though they were lions" and that they both "wanted to put an end to all evil in the world between sunrise and sunset." That really gave me a sense of the Kaiser's personality.

I got the impression that his ministers/politicians did quite a lot behind his back, deliberately keeping him in the dark. His eldest son also caused him a lot of political problems.

Although he had difficult relationships with his parents (especially his mother), it sounds like family meant a great deal to him. He was very close to Tsar Nicholas and offered him and his family asylum. He was also very friendly with George V.

He was a big fan of PG Wodehouse's writing.

I'm looking forward to finishing the MacDonogh book to see how his portrait of Wilhelm compares.

Both books have been difficult reads for me because there's been so much detailed German history with which I'm unfamiliar. I'm hoping that I'll have a better grasp of it all by the time I make it through the second book.


message 25: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Another wonderful review. Thanks Barbara


Barbara wrote: "Both books have been difficult reads for me because there's been so much detailed German history with which I'm unfamiliar. I'm hoping that I'll have a better grasp of it all by the time I make it through the second book."

I experienced something similar with the book I read - or rather tried to read and abandoned. I admire your persistence. I find it hard to stick with books that don't hook me in within 50 pages or so.


message 26: by Jan C (new) - added it

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments I have also been reading King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led The World To War and I recall it going pretty far into a discussion about his arm and how it affected him (tried to overcome it) and how it affected others (tried to baby him). A similar book, which I also have, is George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I.

I broughtThe Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II with me on vacation, managed to bring it out of the car but thus far have failed to open it. Have had to do more work than usual this trip.


Barbara I FINALLY finished this. It was interesting, but just too detailed for me. Several times I considered abandoning it, but I decided to keep reading. The other Last Kaiser book I read (by Tyler Whittle) was much more readable.

My favorite part of this book was toward the end, where Wilhelm's final years in exile were described. (Perhaps it was only my favorite because I finally saw that the end was near!) It was fascinating to see how someone who had always lived such a public life coped with a very shrunken world. He'd been called the "Reisekaiser" (traveling Kaiser) and for the last 22 years of his life he rarely went more than 15 kilometers from his home. He was required to get special permission to do so, and he felt it just wasn't worth it. He spent his time chopping down trees on his property (20,000 of them!!) and studying archaeology, among other things.

Like most of us, he was quite a complex character. He could be a saber-rattler one moment and a peaceful person who wanted diplomacy to work. He could be forceful at times, but was also often manipulated by his general staff. He loved poetry, music, and philosophy but also exulted in hunting and riding. I think he would have been a lot happier and effective if he'd been born into a more ordinary life, as a member of the minor nobility for example instead of the ruling house of Germany.

The final chapter about his relationship with Nazism was also quite interesting. For a while, he hoped that the Nazis would bring back the monarchy and he met with them in anticipation, but he soon realized that that would never happen. He wound up thinking of them as thugs and gangsters.


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