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The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One Paperback – 29 Jul 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1st Thus edition (29 July 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141019980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141019987
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 44,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Fascinating. A wonderfully fresh and beautifully choreographed work of history (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

Carter draws masterful portraits of her subjects and tells the complicated story of Europe's failing international relations well...a highly readable and well-documented account (Spectator)

Absorbing. Carter has a good eye for a quote and an ability to bring various personalities to life. A convincing and considerable achievement (Sarah Bradford Literary Review)

Carter's account of how an already dysfunctional family turned toxic is fresh and enjoyable...timely and welcome (Guardian)

Miranda Carter's story is full of vivid quotations...a romp though the palaces of Europe in their last decades before Armageddon (Sunday Times)

Well-paced, a thoroughly polished, professional piece of work. A macabre family saga (A. N. Wilson Evening Standard)

An entertaining study of power and personality portrays the strutting absurdity and grotesque glamour of the last emperors on the eve of catastrophe (Simon Sebag Montefiore Financial Times)

Fascinating. Carter is a gifted storyteller and has written a very readable account


Carter's intelligent, entertainging and informative book folds dynastic and political narratives into a panoramic account of Europe's road to war (London Review of Books)

In her group biography of three monarchs, Carter has succeeded in painting their personalities in vivid colours...she brings an excellent biographer's eye for the telling detail...the great appeal of this book lies in it narration and comparative analysis of the life and personality of her imperial subjects...well-researched and expertly engaging and remarkably even-handed portrayal (The Times Literary Supplement)

That these three absurd men could ever have held the fate of Europe in their hands is a fact as hilarious as it is terrifying. I haven't enjoyed a historical biography this much since Lytton Strachey's Victoria (Zadie Smith)

Miranda Carter writes with lusty humour, has a fresh clarifying intelligence, and a sharp eye for telling details. This is traditional narrative history with a 21st-century zing. A real corker of a book

(History Today)

A highly original way of looking at the years that led up to 1914 (Antonia Fraser Sunday Telegraph Books of the Year)

Carter deftly interpolates history with psychobiography to provide a damning indictment of monarchy in all its forms (Will Self New Statesmen Books of the Year)

A depiction of bloated power and outsize personalities in which Carter picks apart the strutting absurdity of the last emperors on the eve of catastrophe (Financial Times Books of the Year)

Takes what should have been a daunting subject and through sheer wit and narrative élan turns it into engaging drama. Carter has a notable gift for characterisation (Jonathan Coe Guardian Books of the Year)

About the Author

Miranda Carter's first book, Anthony Blunt: His Lives, won the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Orwell Prize and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, the Duff Cooper Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The book was named as one of the New York Times Book Review's seven best books of 2002. Miranda lives in London with her husband and two sons.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jaylia3 on 8 July 2010
Format: Hardcover
Before World War I the belief that monarchs ruled by divine right was alive and well in Europe--at least among the monarchs themselves. George, Nicolas and Wilhelm were cousins who reigned in Britain, Russia and Germany during the years leading up to the war. By the end of the war Tsar Nicolas and his family had been assassinated, and Kaiser Wilhelm was in exile having been forced to abdicate. Interestingly, only the monarch with almost no political power survived the war with his title in tact, but the experiences of the war aged and haunted King George so that it is almost impossible to see the handsome young man he had been in the worn face of his post-war photos.

As the grandmother of King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicolas's wife Alix, Queen Victoria played a pivotal role in the lives of all three rulers. Though, like King George, her main functions in politics were decorative, Queen Victoria was able to strengthen her position by marrying eight of her nine children into European reigning houses, most of which had more real power than the British monarchy. All her scattered, royal children and grandchildren were brought up to believe that the close family relationships they maintained would ensure peace and harmony for Europe. Even as their countries bickered in an increasingly ominous way, the royals wrote each other loving notes, took hunting vacations together, and met on each other's yachts.

I really enjoyed this triple biography; all of its subjects are fascinating. Kaiser Wilhelm is Queen Victoria's first grandson, born to her eldest daughter.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ms. C. Wetwood on 16 Sep 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent investigation into what can happen when rulers equate divine right with competence and sound judgement. We see the results of a system of hereditary monarchy in three different cases and how their own personalities and the influences around them shaped not only their lives but their relationships with each other, which in turn filtered down to the general population and set up national prejudices which led to mass slaughter in the first world war.

The extraordinary thing is that none of these men were trained in any way for a job that required serious skills in diplomacy, political philosophy and history. It was assumed, not least by the protagonists, that just being royal was enough to carry them through. This is something unthinkable in the present age of job-training and specialisation. The author traces the development of each of the emperors within the contexts of their countries and their times.

The other extraordinary thing is that there was no REAL reason for the first world war, other than power games and juggling of alliances between countries. So much of this was influenced by the monarchs who chose their ministers accordingly.

There was the Kaiser with his war-mongering, which was just a lot of braggadoccio, and left him very distressed when the war did come. There was Edward VII who couldn't stand his nephew and tried to foster an entente cordiale with France. Then later there was George V who was sincere and decent but also boring and weak, who apparently loved his Russian relations. Luckily he was a constitutional monarch so couldn't do too much damage.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Walter on 24 Mar 2010
Format: Hardcover
Miranda Carter The Three Emperors

My wife gave me this book which for Christmas, I am so grateful to her - it's superb. Miranda has a gift for writing detailed history fascinatingly. Hereditary power is a killer - and in the cases of Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II, killers of millions of men in the vile conditions of WWI. Every other book purporting to describe the origins of the First World War starts with Archduke Ferdinand, and wanders on from there. THE cause was Wilhelm II - a physical and mental cripple. He stomped around in a variety of military uniforms, just wishing he could lead his armies to war. He started the Naval race against England, but his navy lost its only battle in Jutland, and was ordered not to fight thereafter. Wilhelm gave a constant stream of conflicting orders for years, until the Military ignored him and took over. Nicholas prevented his nobles from taking any part in Government in case they challenged him. They just decorated his Court. The British Aristocracy viewed participation in Government as an honour, and we were so lucky that George V just wanted to collect stamps and shoot birds. All three of the Emperors had almost zero grasp of the affairs of state. Neither Nicholas nor George really wanted anything to do with running their countries. And because of their rampant incompetence millions of fathers, sons, mothers, daughters died, families were ruined, and the whole World just lost lost lost. Whilst we in the UK appear to be run by a crooked Stupocracy, I'm so grateful it's them and not the three Emperors or their ilk.
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