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Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea [Hardcover]

Robert K. Massie
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 2003
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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679456716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679456711
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,592,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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
"Brilliant on everything he writes about ships and the sea. It is Massie's eye for detail that makes his nautical set pieces so marvelously evocative." " --Los Angeles Times
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Castles of Steel - by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Dreadnought -'is decidedly a battleship book: stately, immense and telling a mighty story mightily.' Jan Morris, New Statesman --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
On an afternoon in early July 1914, a middle-aged man with restless, bright blue eyes and curly, iron-gray hair boarded his yacht in the German Baltic harbor of Kiel, and the following morning departed on his annual summer cruise to the fjords of Norway. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive 6 Nov 2008
A magnificent book that should be read inconjunction with Dreadnought (the prequel to this tome).

Personally I preferred this book over Dreadnought as this focuses more on the personalities, 'action' and battles of the World War I rather than the politics that comprise the majority of Dreadnought, I thought this was the slightly easier read of the two. Reading some other reviews it seems that the preference between the books depends on which one you read first.

Overall a highly recommended read.

The best book on the subject by a (nautical) mile.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting 4 Dec 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an exhaustive study - it is also an exhausting one. But bear with the near 800 pages, because you will be richly rewarded and put down the book afterwards with the feeling that you yourself were involved in this chapter of the First World War. In itself, this is a true measure of a first rate writer's skill; Robert Massie again shows he is unquestionably that. He provides some astonishing revelations regarding the workings of the British and German Admiralties and very interesting explanations about the U-boat threat; how the `moving square' for convoys defrayed that threat; the real reason Americans joined the war (very late) and why the German naval forces came so close to mutiny in the closing months of 1918. Key dramatis personae such a Fisher, Beatty, Jellicoe, Hipper, Scheer and Ludendorff are less fully drawn than those Massie so comprehensively describes in his Dreadnought, which is perhaps a shame. However, one does get a workable indication of the personalities - Lloyd-George comes out as a petulant, unpleasant, `Welsh Windbag' of a man and Beatty seems a duplicitous fair weather friend. But Jellicoe is undoubtedly the true and modest hero whose grasp and retention, against all arguments, of the Grand Strategy is the true measure of the man who won the war at sea. That he was so shabbily treated at the closing stages does some of his colleagues plus British government generally, and Lloyd-George in particular, no credit whatsoever. Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Castles of Steel 16 Aug 2004
By Bigwig
I have been a fan of Massie since reading his superb book 'Dreadnought'. I bought his latest book as soon as I saw it was available. It is very informative about sea warfare during WW1, without getting bogged down in detail. No doubt fine detail may be necessary if the subject is being studied for an exam, but not for those of us who simply wish to enjoy our historical reading.
I found it particularly interesting to discover the extent of the role of submarines during WW1.
Whilst perhaps not quite up to the superb standard set by 'Dreadnought' (hence 4* instead of 5), I am sure it will not disappoint.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History should always be like this 23 Feb 2005
By A Customer
Having read Robert Massie's earlier book Dreadnought, which I enjoyed so much I read it twice, I waited impatiently for this promised sequel, and I was not disappointed. Some books you hope will never end and this is one of them. There is not a dull page in the book. Massie brings characters alive with amusing anecdotes. You have probably read other accounts of the WW1 sea battles but they are dry by comparison. His cannot be equalled for well-paced storytelling, scholarly research and balanced judgments. He uses official and unofficial publications and diaries from both the British and German sides to describe the dilemmas the opposing commanders and politicians faced and why they acted as they did, situating each battle in its strategic context. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book 27 Dec 2003
By A Customer
A marvellous evocation of the Great War at sea. Mr. Massie paints a breathtakingly broad canvas, filled with many characters with all their strengths and weaknesses, quirks and foibles. (He is unashamedly a fan of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the engineer of the victory at sea of the First World War who was as shabbily treated as was Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the winner of the Battle of Britain in the Second. Funny people, the British.) He also captures technicalities, tactics, places, events with prose that never drops below readable and which is at times as exciting as any novel. A must-read for anyone interested in the history of the 20th century and a worthy follow-on from Mr. Massie's excellent "Dreadnought".
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
To get the best out of Castles of Steel, it would be helpful to read Masssie's previous work Dreadnought, which charts the coming of the great war.

Castles of Steel is an impressive - and large - work, and offers the reader both the nuts and bolts of the naval battles and campaigns of the First World War, and a very strong insight into the political machinations that directed them. Massie's gift is that he can both narrate naval conflicts in gripping terms (and the complexity of Jutland tests any skills of narration), offer convincing analysis of both strategies and tactics, and simultaneously privide fascinating insight into the figures such as Churchill, Beatty, Jellicoe, Hipper, Scheer and the Kaiser - to name but a few of a very large cast. Few come out with much credit; the egotism and impulsiveness of Churchill and Beatty are there for all to see. Like Nigel Steel and Peter Hart, whose Jutland 1916 is strongly recommended as the next read for anyone hooked on the subject, Massie does vindicate the much maligned Jellicoe.

A couple of very minor niggles; the paperback edition is by no means full of illustrations. A few more, illustrating the differences between armoured cruisers, battlecruisers and battleships, given this is a time of unparalleled rapidity in warship evolution, would be very helpful. Whilst Castles of Steel has end-notes and a full bibliography, these are not referenced into the text, forcing the readers to break off and flick to the back, should they wish to investigate the source of a quote. As far as Massie's narrative is concerned, I have only one issue.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A good thick book for people who want to be swept alone in the narrative of the past.
Published 2 days ago by andy errington
4.0 out of 5 stars Very difficult to stop reading
Robert K Massie has a gift of providing detailed but very readable and measured accounts of complex historical events.
Published 4 days ago by Mr Andy Laughton
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A good overview of WW1 British naval policy and battles.
Published 11 days ago by Stephen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good read, informative, detailed and ejoyable. That the English is "American" is a minor detail, good acount all round.
Published 12 days ago by Robin Mcdermott
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
not yet read it. its in the Q
Published 17 days ago by Brian Murphy
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
An absolutely fantastic read, Robert Massie (an American) bringing home the characters involved in, and the floating power available to, two Nations sadly at war with each other. Read more
Published 25 days ago by martin gloyens
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book
This is a very well written and readable book. Massie covers the First World War from the point of view of the British and German fleets. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Tim
4.0 out of 5 stars A big book worth the time to read
Very interesting and enjoyable. As usual the author goes into great detail which makes his books interesting but very big with lots of pages and needs a lot of patience to plough... Read more
Published 1 month ago by martyn O'reilly
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on WWI at sea!
This is a superb analysis of the naval war between Britain and Germany in WWI, setting out very clearly the problems facing both sides, the strengths and weaknesses of the weapons... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Derek Pooley
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent contains a lot of information I did mot know
excellent contains a lot of information I did mot know . I found it very interesting
Published 1 month ago by badger
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