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Frederick the Great [Hardcover]

Sir David Fraser
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Feb 2000
Frederick the Great was, in David Fraser's description, "one of the most extraordinary men ever to sit on the throne or command an army", and in this biography, Fraser explores every aspect of Frederick's career.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (24 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713993774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713993776
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 16.6 x 6.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 406,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

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


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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Fraser has produced another biography full of detail, particularly with regard to the military aspect of Frederick's life. Whilst he makes an attempt to cover all the different facets of a complex ruler, it is really his description of the many battles of the Seven Years War where the narative shines. With a soldier's eye for the details and chaos of battle, combined with a fluid narrative, this brings to life the key battles of Frederick's reign, making them eminently approachable to the everyman.
This is ultimately a book that needs to be read in conjunction with Giles MacDonogh's work, in order to understand the wider aspect of Frederick's character, and his key formative experiences. That work also goes some way to establishing the difference between the myth and the reality of Frederick as seen over time. Finally, albeit in only a single chapter, it also succeeds in painting a better picture of the Prussia to which Frederick acended the throne.
For those with real interest in Frederick, it would be necessary to read in more detail about the Seven Years War, in order to gain a better understanding of the political, dynastic and territorial background to that conflict. Fraser's book, whilst touching on these aspects in reasonable detail, is understandably constrained by its subject matter. As a result, much of what appears taken for granted within the work may seem a trifle mystifying to readers unfamiliar with the history of the wider conflict. This also occasionally undermines some of the justification Fraser seeks to give to Frederick's policies. For a book that is clearly seeking to be both admiring and supportive of Frederick's reign, this can sometimes leave the reader in an uncomfortable quandry.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography! 5 Oct 2000
Format:Hardcover
Once again, David Fraser, author of 'Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel' has produced another masterful biography. This beautifully told story of Frederick the Great is an outstanding account of a great military leader. You can certainly feel that Fraser has a love for this subject, even when Frederick has committed a terrible blunder the author tends to put the best light on the event as possible. This is one of the best biographies I have read on Frederick the Great and superior to most that have been available to date. In over 700 pages the author tells the story of Frederick, his conflict with his father, his love for the arts, his role as a military commander, as a King, a diplomat, as the creator of the great Prussian Army.
The author's accounts of the battles fought by Frederick are excellent and you can understand why Fraser has such a deep respect for this man. There are many accounts of Frederick leading his troops in the thick of the fighting. Losing horses under him, his aids and Generals being killed alongside him, bullet holes through his clothing. This is a commander who led from the front. Fraser also shows the many mistakes made by Frederick which led to some of the bloodiest and costliest battles in Europe during this period. After reading of some of these battles you wonder why his men followed him into others, but they did and that is what stands out about this man. He actually cared for his troops, his people and his country.
This is a great story and covers all aspects of Frederick. I believe that the maps could have been a bit more detailed but they were good enough to follow the narrative. In all 18 maps were supplied and they assisted the reader in following the battles and movements of Frederick and his armies.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By HBH
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Frederick the Great by David Fraser is a very good book about the leader who took Prussia from being a middling northern power to being a major European power. It is well-written, interesting and very detailed about an interesting period in European history. The figure who emerges from this book is a brilliant general, an efficient administrator, an intellectual and a skilled musician. However, what it also shows is a very eccentric individual with very troubled relationships with a number of people. Overall this is a very good book about a brilliant military leader who raised his country to the status of a major power by being taken on by most of Europe and holding firm but also shows that Frederick the Great was more than just a military leader but in fact a most interesting man and a brilliant administrator and lawmaker.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prepare for a long and arduous march! 27 July 2001
Format:Hardcover
The book tells the life of Frederick the Great in 630 pages. Frankly, the book felt too long. Perhaps it had to do with the use of language, perhaps the book just lacked the life. David Fraser is clearly sympathetic towards Frederick. In his account Frederick is tireless workaholic with Teutonic care fore detail. Still, the man is not all boring. He had wealth of hobbies, best known of them are flute playing and philosophy. The author gives good account of his relationship with Voltaire. It seems that one of the Voltaire's objectives was to gather intelligence for the France. Besides other duties Frederick the Great excelled as a general. It is admirable that he shared all the hardships of the marches and lead his soldiers by example. He was probably the last German ruler who could afford to be in war with most of the Europe and come cleanly out of it. A difficult read but worth a try!
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read 3 April 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"It wasn't the army that protected Prussia for seven years: It was Frederick the Great." - Napoleon.
Frederick the Great is undoubtedly one of the most elusive characters of the 18th century: like Napoleon, historians and biographers will have to duke it out for a few more centuries before we can accurately assess who he was and what kind of ruler, and man, he was. Unlike Napoleon, he doesn't get a whole lot of attention (oddly enough, because hes been overshadowed by Napoleon). Who was Frederick? A philospher-prince, a diplomatic genius of the Enlightenment -- or a monster, an aggressor who tore apart continental Europe for his own ambitions on no legality other than "... he could" ? Obviously, the answer is likely neither. Since German unification under the Great Elector, Frederick has been seen, most unfairly, as the root of militarist Germany that dominated Europe in the period of 1870-1945. Most modern biographies focus heavily on rehabilitating his reputation, as this one does.
This isn't a very good biography in most regards: it is highly readable and written well, but it lacks in greater research and insight. Sir David Fraser, himself a military man, writes most uncritically about a man he clearly regards very highly. The account is bordering on obsequious. Nevertheless, we can be blessed that, because the biography is so old-fashioned, it spairs us the sensationalism of "psychological speculation," limiting the discussion of Frederick's sexuality and the other rumors of the period to a few pages.
I give this biography four stars for its outstanding military edge. With helpful maps of key battles, Fraser explains the events with the clarity that only an old military man could write with. Military administration is also handled extremely well. No small thing, the biography is well worth the read for this alone.
Not a great biography, but it has its strengths.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Military Biography 15 April 2001
By Aussie Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Once again, David Fraser, author of 'Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel' has produced another masterful biography. This beautifully told story of Frederick the Great is an outstanding account of a great military leader. You can certainly feel that Fraser has a love for this subject, even when Frederick has committed a terrible blunder the author tends to put the best light on the event as possible. This is one of the best biographies I have read on Frederick the Great and superior to most that have been available to date. In over 700 pages the author tells the story of Frederick, his conflict with his father, his love for the arts, his role as a military commander, as a King, a diplomat, as the creator of the great Prussian Army.
The author's accounts of the battles fought by Frederick are excellent and you can understand why Fraser has such a deep respect for this man. There are many accounts of Frederick leading his troops in the thick of the fighting. Losing horses under him, his aids and Generals being killed alongside him, bullet holes through his clothing. This is a commander who led from the front. Fraser also shows the many mistakes made by Frederick which led to some of the bloodiest and costliest battles in Europe during this period. After reading of some of these battles you wonder why his men followed him into others, but they did and that is what stands out about this man. He actually cared for his troops, his people and his country.
This is a great story and covers all aspects of Frederick. I believe that the maps could have been a bit more detailed but they were good enough to follow the narrative. In all 18 maps were supplied and they assisted the reader in following the battles and movements of Frederick and his armies. The story flowed along smoothly and it was a joy to read, time slipped by effortlessly as Fraser helped you look into the man that was 'Frederick the Great'. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who enjoys a great history book. Well done to the author.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very old-fashioned biography 24 Sep 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For the most part, this book could have been written a hundred years ago.
To give it its due, it is quite readable and provides a clear, lengthy, detailed narrative of Frederick's diplomatic activities and military campaigns. (There is some virtue to making the reader spend a few hours on the Seven Years War, rather than whipping through it in a few pages. Part of its dynamic and importance is that it was a very long war.)
I'm not sure who will really enjoy this book, though. Casual readers will find it way too long. Serious historians will be very disappointed by its narrow focus and its inattention to the massive body of scholarship on Frederick and Prussia during his reign. (The bibilography is grossly inadequate.) Even military buffs will want to know more about the organization of the various combatants and the important battles fought by Frederick's armies (including those of his allies and those he did not personally participate in).
The treatment of military and diplomatic matters lacks meaningful context. The military history is battles and campaigns; diplomatic history is Frederick's letters to his ambassadors and his fellow rulers and relatives. There really is no broader understanding of the larger context of how diplomacy and warfare related to the society within which it was located, how they affected the relationship between that society and the state that governed it. This is creaky old diplomatic history as a chess game played by monarchs.
I did a lot of 18th-century European history in college, so much
of this was a story I've heard before, and one that I like. For some newcomers, it might be overwhelming; for others it will seem relatively pointless.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This is the one I should not have read. 23 July 2010
By Solipso - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Suitable Tribute to the Magnificent Prussian, Friedrich II 28 Feb 2006
By S. von Knasick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Fraser is reasonably clear and informative. This account is replete with important details such as troop strength and casualty numbers after battles, as well as economic data updated to current values (as of publication).

Fraser also does an effective job at conveying important political developments without digressing too far into the extraneous, especially in regard to European dynastic family/political ties. The greatest strength of this work is that the chronology is straightforward and well explained. Therefore it is an excellent general reference for that era in Prussian history.

Unfortunately for those well versed on the sublime greatness of Frederick II you may not find anything new. Also Fraser consistently uses allusions and references in French and German without always explaining them, which may be tantalizing to some.
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