Sir David Fraser is an experienced military biographer: in his earlier days he was one of the most senior generals in the British army, so he knows a thing or two about military leadership. He has now turned his attentions to the Prussian military dictator Frederick the Great. There have been other, more analytically acute portraits of the contradictions and the negativities of Frederick's character: the most recent being Giles MacDonogh's superb Frederick the Great
, which saw Fred as a deeply divided man. Fraser isn't interested in that: his Frederick is unambiguously "a genius", "one of the most extraordinary men ever to sit on a throne or command an army". Any contrary view is "prejudice", for instance the "prejudice" which "regards Frederick as some sort of spiritual progenitor of Adolf Hitler", a view Fraser calls "ignorant".
From its opening fairy-tale-esque sentences ("There once lived a prince, an eldest son inheriting from a father, whose attributes of mind and taste were recognized throughout Europe") this biography gives us a glittering, shining, marvellous Frederick the Great. When he achieves military success Fraser praises his genius; but even when he endures terrible military failures Fraser praises his genius. "The second Silesian war was now going badly for Frederick", we are told; nonetheless he "showed greatness of mind, however, in recognizing that his 'grand design' had failed". Throughout, though, the verve and the bright colours of Fraser's narrative energetically carries the reader along. This book is best, as we might expect, in its cinematic descriptions of military engagements; and if sometimes Fraser's prose style errs on the side of the overly brisk ("Frederick, with wars to run and a kingdom to rule, had been very busy"), his enthusiasm for his subject is extraordinarily infectious. --Adam Roberts