I had my choice of reading either "Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma" by Robert B. Asprey" or "Frederick the Great: King of Prussia" by David Fraser. I made a mistake by choosing the latter.
Before explaining why I was mistaken, I'll briefly compare the extras that each book--hardcover edition--has to offer. If you don't want to sweat this small stuff, skip to the bottom half of my review.
Fraser's book was published in 2001, Asprey's in 1986. Fraser's has whiter, thicker pages with 627 pages of narrative. Asprey's pages are duller and thinner, but his 5 pages of introduction and 629 pages of narrative are more densely printed (his pages have about 70 spaces and 44 lines; Fraser's have about 70 spaces and 33 lines).
Both books have battle maps and world maps, but Asprey's are significantly better. Both have photos, but Fraser's are glossy photos whereas Asprey's are printed on ordinary pages. Both have an index, many footnotes, and long bibliographies. Fraser threw in a genealogy tree of the House of Brunswick; Asprey has nothing like that.
A few final words before I explain my mistake. What about the believability of the author? I say don't worry about it unless you have some special need; for example, you're planning to write another biography of Frederick the Great. I'm confident that both Asprey and Fraser know their material well enough for average Joes like me. We finish reading either book, and for the next few days--before we forget almost everything we've read--we are neighborhood authorities on Frederick the Great. On controversial matters about whether Frederick was homosexual, whether he was anti-Semitic, or whether he was a benevolent conqueror or an imperialistic aggressor, we use our own judgment regardless of which book we have read.
Now for what really matters.
WHY MY CHOICE OF FRASER OVER ASPREY WAS A MISTAKE:
Fraser had too little consideration for his readers. Here's why:
1) Except for the first thirty pages, Fraser stopped translating the French quotations he made of Frederick. I didn't go through the whole book, but for the next fifty pages, I counted twenty-one passages in French--about 140 words--and there were no translations. If someone tries to tell you I am quibbling here because you can get a good enough idea of the meanings of these French passages by their context, don't believe them. You might get a vague, rough idea, but if you're like me, that's not good enough. I want to understand with confidence, and with rare exceptions, I want to understand every word I read. Yes, Frederick spoke and wrote in French, and maybe he thought in French, but that does not excuse Fraser. His failure to translate is rude.
2) Fraser is noticeably harder to read than Asprey. Fraser's sentences are often long, sometimes too long, sometimes tedious. An occasional, awkward expression doesn't help. Also some of his diction is stilted; for example, "auguries" (instead of "signs") and "diplomatist" (instead of diplomat), and fancy expressions like "comte du four," "à outrance," and "contra mundum."
If you want to read about Frederick the Great and you can't get a copy of Asprey's book, go ahead and read Fraser. Otherwise read the author who is friendly to his readers. That is Asprey.