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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The old order changeth
As Michael Waterhouse reveals, Edward Grey (1862 - 1933) British Foreign Secretary 1905 - 1916 was a complex character: 'a veray parfit gentil knight' who dearly loved his wife, nonetheless who cheated on her and (probably) fathered two illegitimate children, a traditionalist but also - at least by the standards of his day - a political radical, a country lover who...
Published 22 months ago by E. J. Webb

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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Puzzling and Pointless
In looking at the inside cover blurb as to who the author is, the first question that would arise, (at least to me) is - how could someone seemingly so busy and not a writer/researcher or historian by trade - find the time to write a "serious" biography of such a large personality as Grey, his life overall and the complicated events of his time?

Of course the...
Published 20 months ago by jennifer12


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The old order changeth, 9 July 2013
By 
E. J. Webb "Eric" (UK) - See all my reviews
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As Michael Waterhouse reveals, Edward Grey (1862 - 1933) British Foreign Secretary 1905 - 1916 was a complex character: 'a veray parfit gentil knight' who dearly loved his wife, nonetheless who cheated on her and (probably) fathered two illegitimate children, a traditionalist but also - at least by the standards of his day - a political radical, a country lover who cordially detested 'town' but who spent the better part of his life - and his best energies - at the heart of politics. It was Grey, almost single-handed, who shaped British foreign policy over the decade leading up to the Great War, striving always for peace but at the same time to ensure that if war there must be, Britain should stand at a moral and material advantage. As we now approach the centenary of the war which eventually Grey could no longer prevent, for all his efforts, the time has come to revisit its political antecedents; all too easily obscured by remembrance of mud, blood and suffering in the trenches. 'The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.' said Grey to a friend, looking out from his office window above Horseguards on the evening on 3rd August 1914. The lights of that old Europe have never been relit, nor ever will be.

Nonetheless this is an account of Grey's life in the round, not merely of his political life, although that is bound to loom large. It is to the author's particular credit that he weaves all the strands so compellingly together: the fisherman, the bird-watcher, the dutiful husband, the paramour, the friend, the magnificently effective Secretary of State, trusted world-wide. (Save only in Germany!) We have here the man entire. We have too a particularly clear-sighted, fair-minded view, countering not a few former misconceptions, also sundry self-serving libels perpetrated by David Lloyd George in his egregious 'Memoirs': surely far and away our most mendacious Prime Minister within the past century, our most corrupt too, despite recent stiff competition on both counts. Along the way, Waterhouse scotches succinctly, efficiently, once and for all, from impeccable sources, the view still widely-held, widely promoted indeed, that the Great War was simply a dreadful blunder, no-one was to blame, or everyone. The facts stand stark and will not be denied: it was Austro-Hungary's fault, and Germany's, theirs alone.

This is however necessarily a brisk book with so much ground to cover, summarising much which must repay deeper reading, at the same time saying enough to stimulate interest. The Select Bibliography is comprehensive, albeit the Index a trifle thin.

There is no perfect man, nor any perfect book. Alas Waterhouse perpetrates one truly horrible error, when he states that in November 1915 Sir John French was succeeded as C. in C. of the British Expeditionary Force by Sir William Robertson. French's successor was of course Sir Douglas Haig - as any fule kno. Even Homer nods occasionally, as we are told, but Biteback's editor should be shot at dawn! Hopefully this is not symptomatic of a more general carelessness, beyond detection by the non-specialist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keeping the Lights On, 21 May 2014
By 
Justinian (Essex, England.) - See all my reviews
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Edwardian Requiem
This is a story of Sir Edward Grey or as Prime Minister Herbert Asquith referred to him as “E.Grey.”
He was a man for his times. He was an excellent Foreign Secretary whilst Europe obeyed the norms of the Concert of Europe. But once a belligerent power decided it wanted to dominate Europe through war the position became untenable. It seemed as it says in that excellent BBC drama 37 Days that everyone depended on Edward Grey.
E Grey did not court the limelight, but he kept the lights of Europe burning until it sank into the abyss of the Kaiser’s small Balkan war which his Chief of the Prussian General Staff interpreted as a general European war.
This book therefore provides a thought provoking introduction to Grey and to his times. It is worth reading to understand the basic trend of events that led to the worst war in history and the diplomatic entanglements that ensured it would be a great war. If Grey had any failing it was possibly that he did not anticipate the consequences of war although he was no stranger to its effects. But it was no failing of his that Britain did not have a continental army and that the strategy relied on the navy which would safeguard the Channel and save Britain from invasion. However he initiated Anglo French staff discussions and naval deployments relieving Britain of safeguarding the Mediterranean. He also significantly and perhaps most importantly inaugurated what became known as the “special relationship.”
These precautions he initiated because Germany had an army of four million men and a navy that was rapidly becoming a competitor to British supremacy at sea.
Lloyd George suggested that if Grey had been tougher with Germany it might have been deterred. That, according to the author is unlikely. Germany was fully aware of the British position as relayed to Berlin by prince Litchinovsky its ambassador to London.
It was not Grey’s diplomacy that failed it was the concert of Europe that failed: that European diplomatic system that kept the peace of Europe generally from 1815 after Waterloo. If grey has a diplomatic legacy it is that we shall never see his like again but it will always be envied.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Puzzling and Pointless, 1 Oct. 2013
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In looking at the inside cover blurb as to who the author is, the first question that would arise, (at least to me) is - how could someone seemingly so busy and not a writer/researcher or historian by trade - find the time to write a "serious" biography of such a large personality as Grey, his life overall and the complicated events of his time?

Of course the obvious answer is - he hasn't. And, oh-dear-me, how he hasn't.

This is at best - at best - the sort of book you would give to a first year undergraduate as a "starter'" so they could get general overview familiarity with who and what. Then you would direct them on to the more competent, organised, serious, informed, informative reading and research.

The "Acknowledgements" is barely 2/3 of a page and refers to 9-10 of the author's friends who helped him out.

Footnotes - totally non-existent. Not a one.

The "Select Bibliography" consists of barely just a 2 page long list of 2nd and 3rd hand sources, perhaps almost half of which are of the "personal memoirs" type written in the 1920s and 1930s. Quite a few of those books cited are furthermore not even really germane to the topic, such as reference to some general book about British foreign policy or Balkan events. EVERY book source cited(or indeed any source) is in the English language. There are no journals, periodicals or newspapers listed.

There is no work in, or reference to, e.g. the Public Records Office in Kew; UK Government papers or files; any person's personal papers; Foreign Office Files; War Office files.

No reference to, or noted use, of (Parliamentary) Hansard; or of any research or library archive.

The book is peppered with "quotations": as X, Y, Z said/wrote/reported... not a single one of these is footnoted or referenced to its source (unless a newspaper, and then no date, page or edition is given or when it is prefaced in the text with "As X says in his autobiography, "......" and is again not accompanied by any specific sourcing or page reference).

Little to be gained by commenting on the worth of the content. Other than to state the obvious - it is of course solely and purely narrative (X did this, then Y did that) rather than analytical, integrated or throwing out new ideas, interpretations or new information. It is also certainly not a critical analysis. Information presented from these weak sources is very rarely challenged or contradicted.

That is inevitable because unless original and expansive and critical work is being done - which it is not here - then what ends up happening is that the author writes about things already written about. He writes about things where there is at hand easily available and digestible material. So, in effect what the bulk of the book is about is not Grey per se but Grey in the 10 years lead up to WW1 and the opening war years. "The origins of World War 1" - simply because this is where the mass of easy information lies.

However - all this has been done much better elsewhere and before and by professional historians. Even in very recent works (pushed out for the centenary) it is covered and done extensively and comprehensively via consultation of each respective national record. See e.g. McMeekin's " July 1914" or "The Russian Origins of the First World War" or Zuber's "The Real German War Plan, 1904-1914"

What then are we likely to see in this work? Solely in English, focussed on interpretations by Grey, and using 2nd and 3rd hand sources, getting on for perhaps half of which are almost contemporaneous tales and memoirs written in the 1920s and 1930s by people with faulty memories and axes to grind? This is silly. This is of no value.

The weakness of only being able to write about things where there is easy available information can similarly be seen in the last chapter which in only 28 pages covers the last years of Grey's multi-faceted life outside of Government, 1916-1933, as well as supplying a concluding overview. 17 years+review; 28 pages. The author cannot do or is not interested in doing any, serious let alone original, research. He cannot find in the easy accessible or known sources very much on Grey post 1917 - so he just lets that stand. A comparative void. No new digging.

It is also worth adding that, as is also becoming very common with these sorts of books, the line spacing is not single but almost double-spaced. So, the nominal 400 pages, in fact amounts to really little better than 200-220 of (dare I say it?) "proper pages". So, in total, not a lot of text there for what is supposed to be a major new biography of a major player in interesting times and a supposedly fascinating man with many interests and involvements.

It should have been suspect from the start when you can see in the promo review puff-pieces rounded up that: Country Life, History Today, The House Magazine and The Oldie get cited.

How has his got through a publishing committee? Who is the target market for this? What are the sales expectations? But sadly this seems to be what much of publishing is about these days.

Interested parties can find better material Googling the Internet.

For something headlined as "the first biography of Grey in 40 years" - I think we are reasonably entitled to expect something better than a superficial early undergraduate essay.

File it away under "A" for Amateur or possibly "H" for Hobbyist - unsupervised and let loose.
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5 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Talk about a whitewash, 25 Sept. 2013
By 
JMB (UK / Africa) - See all my reviews
My understanding is that this "peace loving statesman" was the principal among the five British Cabinet members who started the First World War.
It was their decision, without reference to the full cabinet, the parliament, or the people, which led to Britain declaring war on Germany.

Grey had spent many years (from 1906) right up to the last possible moment in 1914, deceiving Germany into believing that there was no (secret) military alliance between the British and the French. This despite the fact that it was Grey himself who had put it in place!

What I don't understand is why Grey behaved as he did. Did he do it for money? Was he truly and utterly incompetent? Did he suffer from mild paranoia? Do we have to wait another 100 years to learn the truth? This book goes less than half way to answer these questions. Grey's motivation is not clear. His malfeasance remains a complete mystery to everyone including this biographer.

A better starting point and book to read is: Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War.

R.I.P the 10 million soldiers who died.
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