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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 20th-century Europe on course to be the most violent continent in the history of the world.
Miranda Carter uses the cousins correspondence and a host of historical sources to tell the tragicomic story of a tiny, glittering, solipsistic world that was often preposterously out of kilter with its times, struggling to stay in command of politics and world events as history overtook it.
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm is a brilliant and sometimes darkly hilarious portrait of these men - damaged, egotistical Wilhelm; quiet, stubborn Nicholas; and anxious, dutiful George - and their lives, foibles, and obsessions, from tantrums to uniforms to stamp collecting. It is also alive with fresh, subtle portraits of other familiar figures: Queen Victoria - grandmother to two of them, grandmother-in-law to the third - whose conservatism and bullying obsession with family left a dangerous legacy; and Edward VII, the playboy arch-vulgarian who turned out to have a remarkable gift for international relations and the theatrics of mass politics.
At the same time, Carter weaves through their stories a riveting account of the events that led to World War I, showing how the personal and the political interacted, sometimes to devastating effect.
For all three men, the war would be a disaster that destroyed forever the illusion of their close family relationships, with any sense of peace and harmony shattered in a final coda of murder, betrayal, and abdication.
This is a very good work of narrative, popular history. It reminds you that, not so long ago, in the lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents, the reign of kings, kings with real power. That was certainly the case for the kings of Germany (only so recently combined into a nation-state) and of Russia, much less so for Britain ... even still their Queen Victoria & her two successors had more apparent power than the current regime, if only on the diplomatic level, with their relatives elsewhere in Europe. The details of the lives of these various heads-of-state, their international networks and the political leadership, is a great story. I am not sure you can say the 3 leaders on the eve of World War I, together, had a great influence on the breakout and course of war, although the author does a great job showing that Kaiser Wilhelm (an extraordinarily peculiar person) did have a role in this.
The book is well organized, it does not have too many characters (although I am familiar with the general history) and is well narrated.
22 of 22 people found this review helpful
One hundred years ago this July, events began to unfold which would change the world forever. This book examines of some of the factors which led up to them as they relate to three of Queen Victoria's grandchildren.
Miranda Carter is outstanding and her book is likely to appeal to many. It is not that there is anything particularly new here in the way of information, but that she tells the story beautifully and with great attention to detail, which makes the book a welcome addition.
Those who have an interest in the era or enjoy biographies will love the detail and careful rendering of setting and time period. Characterization is skillful, descriptions apt, and the story unfolds with perfect timing and holds one's interest to the final pages as we witness the vicissitudes of royal lives.
For those with an interest in the foundations of World War I, the view from the monarchies, as it were, is of great importance. Without hesitation, I recommend it to anyone who shares my obsession with the Great War, or who would like to understand its foundations better.
I read the book long ago but returned for a re-listen this week. I think I liked it even more the second time around.
Rosalyn Landor was, as ever, superb. What a lovely voice that actress has!
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of George, Nicholas and Wilhelm to be better than the print version?
This is one of the best books I have ever listened to. The story is great - telling how the alliances that led up to the Great War shaped up in the 50 years preceding the war - it is the very best book I have ever read on the beginnings of the war. The story of the three cousins and their respective countries and families is so interesting and without any national bias that I really want to own the book. The narration is also a very pleasant listen. 5 Stars!
Who was your favorite character and why?
Nicholas , because of his tragedy and the contrary traits in his own character.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
"George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm" provides a unique perspective on the years leading up to the First World War. Miranda Carter focuses on the three related royal houses - the monarchs of England, Germany, and Russia - who were first cousins and who often addressed each other as "Nicky" and "Willy" (but possibly not "Georgie").
The characters of the three monarchs, especially the autocrats Wilhelm and Nicholas, are drawn with precision and dramatic detail. Nicholas, for example, was brought to the deathbed of his grandfather, Alexander II: Alexander had been mortally wounded by a terrorist bomb that blew his legs off and exposed his entrails. When Nicholas's father Alexander III died after a short reign, the family was in dire straits; Uncle Bertie - Albert Edward, Prince of Wales - took charge of the funeral arrangements and tried to coach Nicholas in his new role, a role for which the clueless young man had been given no preparation.
Carter's account of the death of Nicholas and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks is wrenching. Wilhelm II comes in for an unusual amount of sympathy as well: his terrible birth, with a dislocated shoulder that left his arm permanently disabled; and his flight to the Netherlands as the war drew to an end, where he puttered sadly about, tried to justify himself, and in later years sent congratulatory telegrams to Hitler (which Hitler received with scorn).
As a portrait of royal families, it's a first-rate listen. Rosalyn Landor, the narrator, speaks with exquisite precision and empathy but with an occasional hint of exasperated humor. As a study of the origins of the First World War, it's a bit lopsided: Austria-Hungary wasn't in the grandchildren-of-Queen-Victoria league, so there's not much discussion of that empire; the assassination of Franz Ferdinand is dispensed with in a sentence. And the political situation in France - horror of horrors, a monarch-free Republic - receives little attention.
But the book serves its purpose: these three remote, lofty figures of history are given a local habitation and a name, not to mention recognizable personalities. Their lives, like everyone else's, were a mixture of blessings and great suffering.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
It was very interesting to see the relationships of Europe's leaders before WWI. I did spend a lot of time on Wickipedia and other sites to keep the genealogies straight -- very good story to inspire more research in history
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Excellent blend of history and deep psychological insight into three fascinating and tragic figures. A great single source to the understanding of the end of the Victorian age of empire and the beginning of the 20th century.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The deep sadness and tragedy that was Wilhelm who never grew up and was forever a struggling & deeply flawed adolescent
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to George, Nicholas and Wilhelm the most enjoyable?
This is an excellent book revealing the personalities behind WWI. It is not a comprehensive book about WWI, but instead shows the characteristics that would eventually lead to the path of war. This is especially true when it comes to the personality of Kaiser Wilhelm II. An insufferable egotist and blowhard, Wilhelm fits the perfect character of a cartoon villain. But Miranda Carter points out early events that contributed to his faults. He barely survived birth, cripped with a useless arm damaged by the delivery (lack of oxygen during the delivery may have caused brain damage). His withered arm was a cause of concern in a culture that values perfection, leading to countless painful "treatments" to fix the unfixable arm. His mother Vicky (daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) who was frustrated with her role in German society, constantly stated how superior everything British was to everything German. Wilhelm constantly tried to impress his grandmother Queen Victoria and his uncle "fat" King Edward, cycling from love to hate when he didn't receive the desired reaction. He occasionally had breakdowns when he found he couldn't live up to expectations. His faithful decision to build a powerful navy was due to his admiration for the British navy, not understanding that the British govt would view his actions with suspicion rather than complementary. He was used to issuing threats (which others maneuvered around) without having to go through with them. After his friend Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated, he immediately backed Austria against Serbia with a promise for military action. But when he tried to back out later, he found his own govt and military would not listen. Tzar Nicholas II was also a complicated man. Deeply in love with his wife and devoted to his children, he would stubbornly disregard all the warnings people gave him about the jeopardy of his position. King George also wrestled with his position, a man happier hunting and collecting stamps. All three men flawed in their own ways, yet only King George would remain in his position. He would find a way by visiting battlefields and hospitals, by taking austerity measures in support of his countrymen to bring stability and continuity to Britain.
Who was your favorite character and why?
I like King Edward more than I thought I would. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert wanted geopolitics to be a matter of relationships between leaders. King Edward, the disappointment of his parents, managed this better than anyone in the family. The power of his personality drew people in despite his scandalous behavior (and sometimes because of his behavior). He brought a comforting ease to the role of monarch.
What does Rosalyn Landor bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
She is such a wonderful narrator.<br/>
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Part three of the book is where events move out of control towards war. It's when Nicholas moves closer and closer towards disaster. No one sees it until it is too late.<br/>
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
This book was recommended by one of the people I follow on Audible. Miranda Carter writes an artful and sometime lumbering new group biography. Carter shows that the three Royals were ill-equipped by education and personality to deal with the modern world, marooned by history in positions increasingly out of kilter with the modern era. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm two were Queen Victoria’s grandchildren and the Nicholas, was her grandchild-in-law. They were fond of each other and it was thought their blood ties, could affect long-term peace in Europe. The myth was shredded by World War I. This is a book about ideas as well as history. The big question Miranda Carter poses is “to what degree can close personal relationship between Royals or the world leaders, prevent war?” This is the question that leaders of the world today contemplate. Carter tells the story of each of the Royals and then writes incisively about the overlapping events that led to the Great War and a changed world. The way Carter wrote I felt as if I was at times reading a soap opera about a dysfunctional family. The book is attractively written and well researched by British historian Miranda Carter. I am impressed with her ability and will be seeking out more of her books. Rosalyn Landor did a good job narrating the book. If you are interested in history this is a book for you especially as next year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to George, Nicholas and Wilhelm again? Why?
I would listen to G, N and W again, but not for a while. It is a well-written book, with lots of quotations by the primary players, and those who were in positions of influence and power. It is an intimate look at the lives of three men who were thrown into circumstances beyond their control and their attempts, however futile, to mold events. The narration was excellent, well-paced, clear, but with emphasis when needed. It is a tragedy of men who were unprepared for the Twentieth Century. All were born in the previous Century and were not visionaries- far from it. They were mediocre men, thrown into a milieux that was beyond their understanding.
What did you like best about this story?
I was surprised by what a sympathetic character Kaiser Wilhelm (Willie) was. While the text and narration did not seem to intend for this result. I found myself feeling a bit sorry for this eldest grandson of Queen Victoria who nearly died at birth and because of obstetrical mishandling was left deformed and in pain (both physically and emotionally) for the rest of his life. His treatment of his mother, of course, is inexcusable. The portrayal of Edward VII was also eye-opening. I merely saw him as a narcissistic voluptuary, but he was actually a man of substance and vision.
Have you listened to any of Rosalyn Landor’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Sorry, no. I haven't listened to Rosalyn Landor's other performances but I give her 5 stars for this one. She read with equanimity and did a good job when quoting men. A lot of women narrators try to put it on thickly, but she didn't. Kudos!
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Any additional comments?
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed the audiobook but I wish I had read it instead. I had difficulty keeping up with many the names and nicknames. I don't think that would have been a problem with a book, which can be bookmarked and easly reread. Made me want to learn more history of the period.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful