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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Royal Road to War
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...
Published on 8 July 2010 by Jaylia3

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too condescending to be an objective history
Unfortunately, I cannot rate Miranda Carter's book as highly as many of the other reviewer's have. And this is mainly for two reasons. First, the book is confusing. Although there is a general historical progression throughout the whole book, beginning with the births of these three rulers and ending with the aftermath of World War 1, within each chapter and sometimes...
Published on 19 Aug 2012 by R Helen


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Royal Road to War, 8 July 2010
By 
Jaylia3 (Silver Spring, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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. That daughter, Vicky, tried so hard to make Wilhelm venerate all things British that he alternated between rebellion, antagonizing his English family with his bombastic and pseudo-militaristic ways, and supplication, wanting only to be loved and admired by those same relations. He'd threaten dire consequences when he thought he had been disrespected, but he became happy as a child with a new toy when presented with foreign military uniforms. These were honorary tokens that he seemed to believe gave him real decision making power in the British navy and Russian army. Though he lived a cushy, royal life Wilhelm always considered himself a strong, disciplined military man. He had a withered, unusable arm from a difficult birth that was never allowed to appear in pictures. He encouraged and strengthened the Germany military--a group of men who believed in a warped social Darwinism that saw war as a necessary tool to cull the continent's population--to the point that his armed forces became so powerful they ruled themselves, unanswerable to him or the civilian government. He felt betrayed by them when he was forced to abdicate.

Tsar Nicolas was a family man who wanted nothing more than to be secluded with his wife and five children far from the seats of power. He was mainly ignorant of the devastation the Russian people were experiencing and the rebellion that was causing, and when he did have a glimpse of it he truly did not understand what he was seeing. One reason for this was that he was worried and distracted by the ill health of his only son, who had hemophilia. Also, his very religious wife kept him convinced that he alone, as the divinely appointed ruler, knew what was best for Russia, so he wouldn't listen to advisors and kept weakening and dissolving the Duma, Russia's representative assembly. The chaos this produced led to Russia's disastrous participation in World War I and then to revolution and his own death.

King George looked so much like his first cousin Tsar Nicolas that in photos of the two of them it is hard to tell them apart. Though George loved and admired his father, the rotund but stylish King Edward, he was embarrassed by his father's dalliances and so his court was much more conservative. Well into the new century he continued to dress in the fashions popular when his grandmother Queen Victoria was alive, and he insisted that his wife wear the old styles too. Miranda Carter credits his war activities--stoic visits to the front, hospitals and factories--with a resurgence in popularity of the British monarchy. His frayed ordinariness was seen as a rebuke to the claims of divine right made by the absolutist monarchies his country felt it was fighting against.

I didn't know much about this period in history before I read the book and one of the things that surprised me was the large role that Austria--land of edelweiss--played in instigating the First World War. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated Austria saw it as an opportunity to crush Serbia, the self-proclaimed leader of the southern Slavs. Empire building was seen as a key to wealth and power and Austria considered Serbia, which had doubled its size after the Balkan war, a threat to the Austria-Hungry Empire it had built. Austria's military leaders were just as enthusiastic about war as Wilhelm's German generals were, and the German military encouraged Austria to ignore all the appeasements and concessions the Serbs made in its fruitless effort to secure peace.

I became interested in the pre-WWI era while reading Juliet Nicholson's The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm. While Miranda Carter's book focuses on different aspects of that era--there is nothing about socialite Diana Cooper who has a prominent role in Perfect Summer--it is just as captivating and we do learn more about some of the other interesting characters in the earlier book. There is a little bit more about George's dutiful wife Queen Mary for instance, and the sections dealing with Lloyd George, who was the first and so far only Welsh Prime minister of the United Kingdom, were new to me. I'm looking forward to reading Nicholson's new book about the post-war period--The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Side of Absolute Monarchy, 16 Sep 2010
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This review is from: The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One (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.

But of course the greatest tragedy was Nicholas II of Russia, who was not only weak, but also had a deep sense of divine right, no notion of the real problems of his country,a German wife who interfered in government with actually no idea of what was appropriate, and a haemophiliac son whose disease they felt they had to keep secret, so they retreated more and more into themselves, heavily under the influence of the so-called healer, Rasputin.

These three families, all blood relations, show us family drama working out on a large scale. Miranda Carter takes us into the three households where we observe and start to understand the complex factors at work among these hugely privileged but fundamentally undistinguished, people. The story makes 'Dallas' seem trivial. This is an account of how individuals can contribute to world changes, just by being who they are, with their loves, fears, weaknesses and shortcomings. In this case there were massive implications for millions of people, both in Europe and even elsewhere. It is a riveting tale of love, hate, folly, intolerance and misguided self-confidence.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and revealing work showing incompetance lead to WW I, 24 Mar 2010
By 
D. J. Walter (Hereford UK) - See all my reviews
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good historical analysis..., 5 July 2010
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
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There seems to be a new trend among biographers and historians who are writing biographies-as-snapshots-in-time. Rather than take a long life, and write an exhausting study of the subject, they're taking a relatively small bit of time and concentrate on specific events. Of course, the writer fills in the rest of the subject's life, but not in the same detail. I happen to like books that "specialise". British author Miranda Carter has done this with great flair in her new book, "George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm, Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War One."

The three men Carter refers to are, of course, Britain's King George, Russia's Tsar Nicholas, and Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm. All were at the helm of their governments in the leadup to the war, but only one survived the war with his throne intact. That was King George, who ascended to the throne after the death of his grandmother, Victoria, in 1901, and his father, Edward, in 1910. The other two rulers, Wilhelm and Nicholas, had actually begun their rules in the 1890's. They were all cousins, in some cases, double-cousins - due to the rampant inter-marrying among European royalty - and all were descended from Queen Victoria. Two of the cousins, Nicholas and George, also looked alike and were often mistaken for each other at family get-togethers.

Carter - in her well-written joint-biography - points out that the similarities between George and Nicky were far greater than their appearance. Both were shy men who enjoyed the company and protection of their families much more than the actual work their positions called for. As George did not become King of England until 1910, this was not as much a problem as it was for Nicholas, who hid himself away from the governing process of Russia - a huge country with many, many problems - until it was too late. Shielding himself from having to govern by hiding away at Tsarsko Selo with his family, Nicholas had no knowledge of the vast problems his country faces. He saw himself as Russia's "Little Father", who thought, because he was told so, that he was loved by all his subjects.

Wilhelm, on the other hand, had not the shy, retiring personality that his Russian and English cousins had. Born with a withered arm due to a difficult birth, Wilhelm was loud, boisterous, and not someone who gave a lot of thought to understanding the situations he found himself in. Carter points out that maybe he'd have been diagnosed with ADD in today's world. His mother was the daughter of Queen Victoria and his father a Prussian kaiser. His two halves - English and German - were in constant battle his whole life.

Carter does an excellent job in defining the age by defining the three men most involved. Her book is long, but never boring. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to the casual reader, but if you're interested in well-told, well-analysed history, you'll enjoy her book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars imperfect but mesmeric, 6 Jan 2010
Like many books today Miranda Carter's account of the years leading to the First World War is not edited enough. Sometimes the crisp narrative becomes dull and one seems to tread old ground. The dating confuses every so often. As the extended royal family of northern Europe naturally communicates on Christian name terms it would be good to have consistency but nicknames intrude and force one pause for thought too many. But this is a pretty readable read. The influence of kings, as, in this case, it fades, but nonetheless with a glow, has something like a mystical resonance and, while other factors were critical - of course it was never uniquely the fractured personalities and poor education of the monarchs of the great powers that led to confrontation and disaster - the catastrophe of the 1914-18 War becomes plausibly an almost necessary consequence of the autocratic muddle in Russia (to which the Czar was committed), and the fatal separatism of the German military (to which the Kaiser contributed); and of the restrictive caste code of the era (which all supported). There is a hint that the political ambitions of royals, even the restricted constitutional royals of Great Britain, were tinged always with risk, given that Edward VII's European diplomacy contributed to the involvement of his country in continental stress, committing Britain ultimately to war. Anyone with an interest in Queen Victoria should certainly take a look, as Carter's account of Europe's grandmother is beguilingly tough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Book, 5 Jan 2010
The Three Emperors by Miranda Carter is a good book dealing with the relationships between the Royal Houses of Britain, Russia and Germany/Prussia and how personal animosity combined with a lack of understanding of each other's roles in the constitutional arrangements of their respective Empires helped lead towards war in 1914. It is well-written, very interesting and insightful and exceptionally well-paced. However, there are a few mistakes for example dates being wrong or the wrong way round which is annoying, and the structure does lead to different chapters skipping backwards and forwards in time. All in all though it is very good book about a dysfuctional family who just happened to rule three of the most powerful countries in the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Three Emperors, 18 July 2014
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One (Paperback)
This book offers an extremely engaging and readable account of the years leading up to WWI and a brief final chapter covering the War itself, and its final impact on the three cousins – Nicholas II of Russia, George V of Britain and Wilhelm II of Germany. Their lives are followed in the narrative from their births to their deaths, and the author uses the War which finally broke out in 1914 as a pivotal event in all three of their lives, as of course it was. Each man was born into royalty in their own country, each man had upbringings that were in some circumstances similar and in others very dissimilar to each others, and each had faults that did not allow them to extricate their countries and their people from a war that so many felt was pending in Europe. The sheer horror and scale of the carnage of World War I was something that nobody could ever have predicted, but it was indeed a war unlike any that had passed before. These three men led lives that were privileged in many ways, but in many ways were very sad and lonely. Nicholas never seemed to want to rule, and his father did not teach him anything other than strict autocracy before his untimely death, meaning that Nicholas was unsteady and unable to control his vast country with its huge population of different cultures and ethnicities. Wilhelm, in every account of his life that I have read seems to have been a very erratic and fixated man who was a trouble to his government ministers and who was unable to cope with the realities of war when it finally broke over his head. And George inherited a legacy from his grandmother Victoria and father Edward VII that already included the realms of Germany and Russia, and in many ways was fortunate to pull Britain intact (although greatly changed) through the early years of the twentieth century; he was changed by the War himself, but put in place many of the ‘popular’ institutions of British Royalty that seem to us today to have been in place forever.

This is an extremely interesting book; while it is not a strict or strongly scholarly political analysis, it endeavours in its breadth (and at over 500 pages it does well to cover a period from 1859 to 1918) to offer a narrative that is approachable, engaging, informative and goes some way to assist any reader in reaching some understanding of Europe, the last years of the nineteenth century and the tumultuous and deadly years that led to the War. In this it succeeds admirably. There is also a very comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book which offers plenty of opportunities for further reading. Definitely recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing, biased and highly entertaining, 23 Oct 2011
This review is from: The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One (Paperback)
"Three Emperors" by Miranda Carter tells the story of the road to World War I through the biographies of Nicolas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England. All three countries, courts and families had complex, cultural and historical links with one another. Both monarchs and cousins, all three represented an "Ancien Régime" clinging to the age of empires unlike the societies they ruled which were moving towards democracy.

Carter is convincing in her portrayal and analysis of the three cousins, all of whom appeared more and more out of touch with reality. The cousins failed to understand the rapidly changing nature of society both socially and economically; the role and power of the press and public opinion or indeed international politics, instead they seemed obsessed with uniforms, etiquette and appearances. Whereas George and Nicolas retreated from public life wanting to be left alone, Wilhelm, much to the embarrassment of the German politicians, claimed centre stage as sole head of the empire.

Carter's depiction of the three emperors is not flattering and she spares them little. Using diaries, anecdotes and other contemporary sources "Three emperors" brings to life their individual character as well as the era they lived in. Carter provides a revealing albeit somewhat biased study of the end of the age of empires.

All in all, I found "Three Emperors" a highly entertaining and easy to read book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in European monarchies or international politics during the late 19th and early 20th century.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A job well done, 25 April 2011
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This review is from: The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One (Paperback)
I thought this book was very well written, considering that it had to cover the lives of three rulers along with their relationships and descent into war.

The account of their lives was generally done sections at a time (i.e a few chapters on their respective childhoods, then their adolescent lives etc.)and I found that this method worked well enough, despite leading to some repetition and I also got a bit confused with names, nicknames and obscure family members. However, there were more than enough genuinely interesting passages, as well as good amounts of humour, to negate the imperfections.

Importantly, the author does not overplay the importance of the three Emperors, and indeed their waning influence on events leading up to war is discussed. Nonetheless, reading about the changing relationships between the Emperors and their respective countries is very interesting, with the occasional repetition being the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read!, 6 Aug 2012
By 
JJA Kiefte "Joost Kiefte" (Tegelen, Nederland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One (Paperback)
When I first encountered this book I hesitated buying it. Was I really in need of another heavy tome on the events leading up to WWI? Robert Massey devoted two huge, kaleidoscopic pageturners on the topic ("Nicholas and Alexandra" and "Dreadnought"), what more could possibly be said? Well, a lot, as it turns out. Massey's books could be called almost obsequious compared to Miranda Carter's irreverent attitude towards the crowned heads of Europe. No one is spared, not Queen Victoria, not Prince Albert or any of the other supporting roles. Russia's Nicholas comes across as a pathetic, almost autistic weakling who was more responsible for the terrible events in his country than Massey ever gave him 'credit' for; Wilhelm suffered from ADHD, at least that is how he would be diagnosed today, who should have never been allowed to run the German Empire. The one person who comes off the lightest is George, but that is mainly because his reign before WWI was so much shorter than that of the other two, and because his influence on government policy was all but non-existent. He too was an almost pathetically badly educated and, via inbreeding, almost autistically reserved recluse, who hated to take public office but, almost despite himself, turned in a great job, thus ensuring the Windsors a longevity among royal houses that is almost unparallelled.
The book is very well writen. It is true, as some other reviewers have noted, that every now and again Ms Carter repeats herself, and that her use of names is inconsistent and confusing, but never so bad that the thread of the narrative is lost. I found it a delightful, riveting read, as much a source of amusement as of amazement.
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