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The Last Kaiser: William the Impetuous Paperback – 21 Jun 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix Press; New edition edition (21 Jun. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842124781
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842124789
  • Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 4.1 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Giles MacDonogh is a British writer, historian and translator. His blog may be read on

He has worked as a journalist most notably for the Financial Times (1988 - 2003), where he covered food, drink and a variety of other subjects. He has also contributed to most of the other important British newspapers, and is a regular contributor to the Times. As a historian, MacDonogh concentrates on central Europe, principally Germany.

He was educated at the City of London School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read modern history. He later carried out historical research at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris.

MacDonogh is the author of fourteen books, chiefly about German history, but also on gastronomy and wine. In 1988 he won a Glenfiddich Special Award for his first book A Palate in Revolution (Robin Clark) and was short listed for the André Simon Award. His books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Chinese, Slovakian, Russian, Bulgarian and Polish.

Writing in the Spectator Magazine, Graham Stewart said "Giles MacDonogh has repeatedly shown himself to be in the front rank of British scholars of German history. The depth of his human understanding, the judiciousness of his pickings from source material and the quality of his writing make this book at once gripping and grave. Graham Stewart, playing for high stakes, Spectator Magazine, 15 August 2009.
His latest book is The Great Battles (Quercus 2010).

Product Description

Amazon Review

Most families quarrel, but few family quarrels lead to world war. Grandson of Queen Victoria, cousin of the Russian Tsar, and related to a whole host of minor rulers throughout Europe, Kaiser Wilhelm II was the man whose chagrin, vanity and above all imperial ambition are often credited with pitching Europe into the First World War. With his ridiculous moustache, glitzy pomp, and haughty treatment of successive chancellors from Bismarck to Bethmann-Hollweg, Wilhelm the "sudden" also accelerated the declining popularity of the Prussian dynasty--the Hohenzollerns--to the point where they were swept away in 1918. Wilhelm's reputation has been ripe for reassessment for some time, and revisionist views of his foreign policy are already well underway. Giles MacDonogh, biographer of another famous Prussian, Frederick the Great, makes out quite a good case for his subject, especially in his introduction. He suggests that Wilhelm aspired to a European union, idolised rather than envied Britain, was poorly served by self-seeking ministers, and made mistakes only from the best of motives. The biographical narrative that follows is packed with information and anecdote, but is not an easy read. The author's train of thought is sometimes as difficult to follow as the contradictory impulses of the Kaiser. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

The Story of William II, a war monger whose sabre-rattling over Serbia brought about the First World War which cost him his own throne and his country's defeat

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr Colin H Harnett on 2 Mar. 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a book of uneven quality. It is strong and insightful on the Kaiser's upbringing and goes some way to explain his contradictory and complicated personality. Giles MacDonough offers a persuasive account of the Kaiser's relationship with his mother. Many accounts portray Vicky (and Fritz - the Kaiser's father) as victims: liberals struggling against the harsh Junkerdom of Bismarck. This account shows Vicky's insensitivity towards her adopted country and the considerable damage she inflicted on her eldest son. I also found the accounts of the Kaiser's court, and his relationships with his Ministers, penetrating.
But there are two drawbacks. There is insufficient attention to the politics of pre-1914 Germany. That is to say, we are told about the key events - the visit to Tangiers, the Moroccan and Panther incidents - but not enough about the political undercurrents. I wonder if the author assumes too much knowledge of these issues by his reader. For example, in the middle of a section about the Crown Prince's behaviour in 1913, we are suddenly referred to the Fischer thesis. I suspect many readers at this point will not know about Fischer, and the significance of his work about the origins of the war.
The second drawback is, I'm sorry to say, a clumsy written style. The author frequently gets the subject and object of his sentences confused. I sidelined in my copy a reference in the chapter on Bulow about the Kaiser's naval designs. I had to read one paragraph several times to work out who was supposed to be doing what! The book is full of these confusions of style and I found it extremely irritating.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Susan Normanton Old Spot on 9 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
This fascinating insight into the psychology and life of one of Europe's leading players at the turn of the century had me glued to every word.
The extraordinary and sad relationship with his mother, which, just as a queen cat sometimes rejects the last of a litter he was the runt in her eyes. To Vicky he was always a pale imitation of Fritz, his father.
His sexuality, his passion for Britain and his Grandmother's affection, his outrageous behaviour, his bewildering demeanour makes for one of the most compelling reads I have had in a long time.
I urge you to give this biography top billing on your wish list as it will lead you to ask questions such as - would the Great War ever have been declared if William hadn't had been on the German throne?
Without giving too much of this human plot away, you can explore the mind and spirit, or lack of both, of a man who's fate it was to be the last Emperor in a changing world that saw the end of dynasties from Russia to Austria to Germany.
If you enjoy historical biography they don't come better than this - treat yourself.
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Format: Hardcover
A thoroughly researched and well-written life of the last Emperor of Germany. It neither apportions blame nor seeks to detract from the enigmatic character of this unpredictable ruler. The human side of the Kaiser comes across without seeking the reader's sympathy. It makes no excuses. This readable book explains the circumstances and politics of the period and guides the reader down the road, which was to overwhelm the Kaiser in his attempt to glorify his nation and reputation. We see a man who was not really in control of events but who behaved and believed that he was. We see a man posturing as a warlord but who was genuinely afraid of the consequences of war, which in the end lead to his downfall. His arrogance, unpredictability and pompous behaviour over compensates for his own disability, distrust in others and inability to form meaningful, loving relationships. The Kaiser was a man in awe of his own reputation and afraid of being seen as in any way weak but those weaknesses are shown in this book and help to form an all round picture of the Kaiser. In recent years there has been speculation and discussion about the Kaiser's sexuality but this is not discussed in great detail here. However, the book does touch upon the affairs of the Kaiser as a young man and his supposed illegitimate children. The book gives a fascinating insight into the man behind the image of the Kaiser. Unlike other biographies this book recognises that the Kaiser's life did not end with his abdication and the later years of the Kaiser are well documented in this book. Personally, though, I wish that the names in the book had not been anglicised but kept to their more familiar spelling (e.g. Wilhelm instead of William).
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Format: Paperback
I was quite surprised at how badly written this book is- indeed, at one point I checked the blurb to see if the author was a native English speaker. I suppose the fault lies with the editor- still, it's a pity that such an interesting subject should be written about so poorly. The author has an annoying habit of assuming we already possess quite arcane information. Thus he tells us that the Kaiser affronted his cousin the King of Bulgaria in some obscure way- I think the book mentions 'the postern gate'- and I couldn't for the life of me guess at what the Kaiser had done to make his cousin so angry. My interest piqued, I Googled the incident and found out that the Kaiser had slapped his cousin on the bottom while the latter was looking out of a window.
I suppose people who know a lot about the Kaiser are already familiar with the story but I don't see how an ordinary bloke like me was supposed to guess what this sinister sounding 'postern gate' business was about.
The book leaves a lot of questions unanswered. What was the Kaiser's reaction to the killing of the Tzar? Did he know his people had sent Lenin over in a sealed train to foment trouble for his cousin?
Anyway, hope someone can suggest a better introduction to a fascinating subject.
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