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 of the Great War.
The predominant image of this first world war is of mud and trenches, barbed wire, machine guns, poison gas, and slaughter. A generation of European manhood was massacred, and a wound was inflicted on European civilization that required the remainder of the twentieth century to heal.
But with all its sacrifice, trench warfare did not win the war for one side or lose it for the other. Over the course of four years, the lines on the Western Front moved scarcely at all; attempts to break through led only to the lengthening of the already unbearably long casualty lists.
For the true story of military upheaval, we must look to the sea. On the eve of the war in August 1914, Great Britain and Germany possessed the two greatest navies the world had ever seen. When war came, these two fleets of dreadnoughts - gigantic floating castles of steel able to hurl massive shells at an enemy miles away - were ready to test their terrible power against each other.
Their struggles took place in the North Sea and the Pacific, at the Falkland Islands and the Dardanelles. They reached their climax when Germany, suffocated by an implacable naval blockade, decided to strike against the British ring of steel. The result was Jutland, a titanic clash of fifty-eight dreadnoughts, each the home of a thousand men.
When the German High Seas Fleet retreated, the kaiser unleashed unrestricted U-boat warfare, which, in its indiscriminate violence, brought a reluctant America into the war. In this way, the German effort to “seize the trident” by defeating the British navy led to the fall of the German empire.
Ultimately, the distinguishing feature of Castles of Steel is the author himself. The knowledge, understanding, and literary power Massie brings to this story are unparalleled. His portrayals of Winston Churchill, the British admirals Fisher, Jellicoe, and Beatty, and the Germans Scheer, Hipper, and Tirpitz are stunning in their veracity and artistry.
Castles of Steel is about war at sea, leadership and command, courage, genius, and folly. All these elements are given magnificent scope by Robert K. Massie’s special and widely hailed literary mastery.
From the Hardcover edition.
©2003 Robert K. Massie (P)2012 Random House Audio
Praise for Robert K. Massie’s Dreadnought:
“Dreadnought is history in the grand manner, as most people prefer it: how people shaped, or were shaped by, events.” (Time)
“A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era...engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
“[Told] on a grand scale...Massie [is] a master of historical portraiture and anecdotage.” (The Wall Street Journal)
I'm glad I did. I stopped listening a few different times, went on to other newer books, but always returned once complete. I flew through the second half of this book....once Massie gets the main characters introduced it really picks up. I am a history enthusiast, but admittedly knew next to nothing about WWI naval engagements aside from the famous sinking of Louisitania and perhaps one other. This book is the "soup to nuts" overview of WWI naval power, ship types, war strategies, key players and specific battles. I have read one other Massie book (Peter the Great), though I had not read Dreadnought prior to this (I’m not sure if that would have made the experience better or worse, but I have heard excellent reviews of that book as well). Like with Peter the Great, Massie finds a way to take what would normally be dry textbook type material and bring it to life so it reads like an extremely well written piece of fiction. The narration for Castles of Steel was some of the best I have heard; I am well over 50 audiobooks and this was near the top. He does a masterful job with all three main accents- British, German and American. If you find this subject matter even remotely interesting, give it a try-- you won't be disappointed!
Robert Massie served a tour of duty onboard a US aircraft carrier. That may account in part for his remarkable ability to describe in vivid and insightful detail the weather conditions, shipboard activity, and battle capabilities of the naval vessels that took part in World War I. His eye for insightful detail extends to his descriptions of the high level strategic debates that took place in the British and German war cabinets and admirals’ councils that made the crucial decisions which in the end determined the outcome of the war. In particular, the German decision finally endorsed by the Kaiser in 1917 to authorize unrestricted submarine warfare against all neutral merchant shipping in an effort to bring Britain to its knees through lack of supplies and foodstuffs instead led to the decisive entry of the US into the war that year.
Most interesting throughout the book are the decisive roles played by minor incidents of incompetence, hesitation, miscommunication, or misjudgment based on human foibles or the confusion and fog of war. These include Admiral Milne’s failure to block the battle cruiser Goebben from escaping to the Dardanelles; Captain Thompson’s careless handling of critical intelligence that could have turned the tide in the Battle of Jutland; the failure of Admiral Beatty’s flag officer to assure clear and proper signaling of the Admiral’s orders; the British Admiralty’s failure to immediately pass on critical intelligence during the Battle of Jutland to Jellicoe because the communication room was left in the hands of a clueless low level officer.
All in all, a very interesting account that will provide a rich source of lessons on the critical decisions made by the naval leaders in World War I.
Battleships in their golden age, titans of the sea going head to head. What's not to like?
Take note: this book is well worth the listen. It's long. It's technical in many places and it's slow developing. It's like a grand chess match. This book takes patience. It's worth it.
Military History and Archaeology
One of the Best
The narrator does a wonderful job with bringing Winston Churchill to life.
This book keep me interested in the events discribed
This is one of the best books you'll find on the subject
1. Production--Not only are there various spots where sentence is annoyingly repeated, but in Chapter 21, during a naval battle scene, it skips frustratingly past a key scene. Audible needs to re-master the book to fix this.
2. Narrator---Richard Matthews does a good job narrating and keeps story flowing despite the headaches described above and even the dry parts. Tis only reason I give performance 4 stars
3. Massie and his story:
A. My knowledge of this area was very little--knew a little about Goeben from Guns of August but he goes into more detail, especially with regards to the subsequent courtmartial...loved Milne's quote! Rest I knew of WWI focused more on diplomacy, air battles, tanks, and the trench warfare. Knew very little of WWI naval history -subs and Jutland. This is why I picked this up.
B. Massie starts off in great detail on the personalities...I have a feeling I missed out on more of the leadup and creation of the fleets as I didn't read Dreadnought(would be great if Audible adds it). He puts in quite a bit of extraneous material and I can see why someone said he needed an editor--trying too hard to be Tuchman. However...that said, later chapters go into his personal views/biases of these men so the early character backgrounds lend some support to his views. For example, describing Beatty as a browbeaten cuckold whose Lady MacBeth wife pushes his career comes across harsh until you get to chapter 34 and he lays out even harsher criticism making it clear his distaste for the Admiral.
C. His battle scenes are a bit drawn out, nowhere near as exciting as Neptune's Inferno(if you haven't listened, pick it up!) but he goes into great detail of the decision making.
D. If you are interested in leadership, like I am, this is why he is worth a listen. The actions themselves are overall very unimportant in history of WWI, but he explains each choice the commanders on both sides faced, all their options based on what they knew.
His analysis is spot on, if a little biased.
E, For one thing while he could have done some cutting, glad he included Churchill's complete response to one of Fisher's threats to resign. Beautiful prose that could be included in any business writing course!
the book needed some editing. it would repeat various basic facts more than once. the organization was also unclear, jumping backward and forward in time. the performance had similar issues from a strained attempt at an American accent (think the American version if dick van dyke cockney) to repetition of sentences and paragraphs. sloppy audio editing.
Engineer the Bass Player
This is a very good book, with lots of details on the operations of the British and German navies. It tends to focus a lot on the politics and personalities of each. The narrator is superb, and is able to use distinct voices when quoting different people. My one major issue is that this book has some serious production issues. In a lot of places, the audio repeats the same sentence twice. At one spot, the audio skipped, although it did not greatly impact the narrative.
The navel history of World War I is critical to understanding the war and therefore all of early 20th century history. This book does an excellent job of presenting this story in a factual but interesting manner. The level of detail makes it plod a bit but overall it is well worth the time.
The narrator is great. Although listed as Richard Matthews, I recognize the inimitable Simon Vance, one of my favorites. Lots of detail about naval tactics and personalities, especially British.
A really interesting topic, one I've honestly never given much mind to, and Massie has clearly done his research. He writes a smooth, clear narrative and does his best to provide color and flesh to the characters who inhabit the story. The narrator, Richard Matthews, does a fantastic job creating small differences in accent to accentuate nationality, and even does decent impersonations of major characters who had distinctive voices (looking at you, Churchill).
My main complaint is that the story seems to focus mostly on the lead-up to the war, and the first year or two. After the Gallipoli Campaign, the book pretty quickly reaches the end and feels a bit hurried.
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