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on 27 April 2016
So much more to this book than a story of battleships
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on 26 December 2016
This is the only book I've read which I can honestly describe as a masterpiece. Had I known the contents of the book beforehand I probably wouldn't have bought it - I was expecting a book purely about the ship HMS Dreadnought and its service history. Nope. This is more of a history book than a military book. The main theme is the lives and interactions of prominent European monarchs & statesmen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the formation and growth of the German empire and Great Britains attempts to maintain naval supremacy and prevent Europe being controlled by a dominant single power. And then ultimately the events that brought about WW1. Of course, the building of HMS Dreadnought did have major significance to all this, but I can understand why people find the name misleading. A lot of politics gets described which admittedly can be quite a struggle to read. I found the Navy section to be the most engaging. It's worth persevering though the less interesting sections though as they do all come together. It's a mammoth effort for the average reader like me to read, and once I'd finnished it I felt a genuine sense of accomplishment. Like finishing a marathon. On reflection, when I think back to the contents of the book, my knowledge has expanded exponentially. This is quite an academic book but you won't struggle if you have a genuine interest in the subject. The author is a genius. Highly recommend if you enjoy history and can persevere with a long and perhaps sometimes boring read. Don't recommend if you want a book about HMS Dreadnought.
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on 29 March 2017
Lots of good points made in other reviews which I shall try not to repeat. Yes, the title is misleading but perhaps less so if, like me, you had one of the original hardback copies (1992) which has pictures of Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm II on the cover. Not a sign of any boats. And only one photo in the book itself. (There is a Haynes manual for dreadnoughts!) My knowledge of this period of history has certainly been much enhanced. I was unaware of the key roles, for example, of Sir Edward Grey in the years leading up to the outbreak of war and perhaps too of John (“Jackie”) Fisher in the development of the navy including the building of many large capital ships. Similarly, the very close and cultivated links between the British and German royal families, such as the Kaiser being Queen Victoria’s grandson. Others have pointed out that the chronology is sometimes difficult to grasp, often because of the biographical details given of the key players; a time chart and indeed a dramatis personae would have been very useful. For once, maps are adequate. Dining together as a means of exchanging views seems to have played a key role at a time when radio, let alone TV, was in its infancy. And politicians walked to work and even walked for pleasure. A different pace of life. All in all, an excellent read though you cannot afford to relax!
One or two errors which may of course have been corrected in the recently issued paperback version: at the start of war the royal family were still the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, not yet Windsor which they became in 1917 for understandable reasons (p106); entering the Mediterranean you are steaming eastwards, not westwards (p434). There are others.
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on 11 December 2014
I enjoyed the book but it may not appeal to a wide audience. It appears very factual.
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on 21 October 2017
Not really about the ships themselves but the intrigue , policies and personalities that made the Great War inevitable .Very informative
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on 15 July 2014
Massie makes dense historical detail very readable. He describes events leading to World War I as they unroll: there is the sense that you are present as things happen.

I enjoyed the pen-portraits of key people. Names which had been little more than labels for me are expanded into fully-fleshed portraits. The roles and influences of the European royal families make fascinating reading: descriptions of conversations, and many letters, are particularly revealing.

There are good accounts of developing naval technologies. With hindsight we can see that the evermore powerful battleships being built by Britain and Germany were quickly becoming obsolescent as new weapons such as torpedoes, mines, submarines and aircraft came on-line, together with the growing importance of aircraft carriers.

Massie also covers the many negotiations attempting to keep the peace in Europe: but these were doomed as Austria and Germany were, apparently, committed to war.

This period marks the relative decline of the Royal Navy as the dominant world naval force. Massie shows how this decline reflected the growing industrial power of other nations, particularly the United States.

Overall, highly recommended as a good and informative read.
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on 26 February 2014
As one would expect from a writer of the calibre of Robert Massie, this thousand page tome seems all too short. The extraordinary personalities involved in to this slide into catastrophe are brilliantly delineated, the events graphically and intelligibly set out, and the finger of guilt points inexorably at Germany. Betraying their Bismarkian legacy which all costs wanted to avoid a war on two fronts, led by a psychologically damaged Kaiser, egged on by a an over -confident and aggressive military and naval officer corps, Germany played a brash and reckless game with the other powers in the two decades before the war broke out.

Given the centenary this year of the outbreak of the First World War, this is an excellent and elegant way to begin to understand the rivalries and follies that led inexorably to war. The Kaiser is particular comes over as an absurd , petulant, and inadequate leader with far too much power. He almost invariably put his foot in it, and the greatest mess of all led to the death of millions. Enunciating views towards the Jews and to world conquest reminiscent of Hitler, Wilhelm II should have been tried for war crimes.

Appallingly the Armistice proved to be just that, a crazy interlude, before the war for world domination recommenced in 1939, again motivated by German militarism and indifference to human suffering.

Fortunately for those who have surfed through a thousand pages of prelude to war, Massie has written an equally long sequel on the course of the Great war.
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on 29 September 2013
I enjoyed this book immensely. While there are a few reasons the world came to war in 1914, Massie's focus is the naval/arms race which heightened the tensions in the prewar years between Germany and Britain. However, Massie delves into the politics in both these countries (Britain's move from "splendid isolation" and Bulow's "Weltmacht") so we get a well rounded analysis of the origins of the First World War, at least from the perspective of these two countries. This book is dense, well researched and an excellent start for those beginning a study of this important chapter in world history.

I would say, however, that Massie has a tendency to place, (although implied and not explicit), most of the blame on Germany's behavior, and particularly the excitable and difficult to manage Kaiser William II, which fits with out general assumptions and prejudices regarding this war. Throughout the book he brings in quotes from the Kaiser and his government explaining that Germany's naval ambitions were directed specifically at the British and foreshadowing the war to come. I think, however, that's Britain shares a great deal to blame in this mess, for its insistence on remaining the greatest naval power in the world and forcing other countries to reduce their own power for its benefit, (which Massie does recognize to some extent, with German denials of any anti-British attitudes in their foreign policy). The run-up to World War 1, after all, was a series of complex actions, politics, and personalities in both countries which led to one of the greatest tragedies for Europe in the twentieth century. Massie has done an excellent job in explaining and mapping out these problems and I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.
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on 26 February 2014
As one would expect from a writer of the calibre of Robert Massie, this thousand page tome seems all too short. The extraordinary personalities involved in to this slide into catastrophe are brilliantly delineated, the events graphically and intelligibly set out, and the finger of guilt points inexorably at Germany. Betraying their Bismarkian legacy which all costs wanted to avoid a war on two fronts, led by a psychologically damaged Kaiser, egged on by a an over -confident and aggressive military and naval officer corps, Germany played a brash and reckless game with the other powers in the two decades before the war broke out.

Given the centenary this year of the outbreak of the First World War, this is an excellent and elegant way to begin to understand the rivalries and follies that led inexorably to war. The Kaiser is particular comes over as an absurd , petulant, and inadequate leader with far too much power. He almost invariably put his foot in it, and the greatest mess of all led to the death of millions. Enunciating views towards the Jews and to world conquest reminiscent of Hitler, Wilhelm II should have been tried for war crimes.

Appallingly the Armistice proved to be just that, a crazy interlude, before the war for world domination recommenced in 1939, again motivated by German militarism and indifference to human suffering.

Fortunately for those who have surfed through a thousand pages of prelude to war, Massie has written an equally long sequel on the course of the Great war.
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on 23 January 2017
It's agreed that Robert Massie is one of the most skilled and articulate of popular historians.

It's agreed that Dreadnought is possibly the most readable history of the Anglo-German naval race prior to WWI and primarily not a discourse on the origins of WWI.

It is however NOT agreed nor intellectually acceptable that he posits naval rivalry as the prime cause of WWI. Either Massie is extraordinarily naive (unlikely), deliberately ignorant (possibly), or wilfully politically expedient (probably) in promoting the simplistic Anglo-centric dogma of the causes of this most humanly wasteful of wars.

Examining his bibliography shows that to his great and disappointing discredit, he has ignored a huge corpus of French, Austrian, Serbian and Russian sources (including the perhaps only meaningful contribution that Bolshevism made to the world: the 1917 release of the complete Tsarist foreign office and other state files of the almost incredibly malevolent machinations between certain leading continental statesmen and groups of the time.)

These sources document without doubt that WWI was the product of an almost unbelievable web of conspiracy, collusion, deceit, duplicity, hypocrisy and Machiavellian planning by French, Pan-Slavic and Russian agencies in fermenting the dissolution of the terminally sick Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus dragging Germany, and then Britain, into one of the most needless bloodbaths of history.

This otherwise magnificent book (which is still worth reading) is marred by Massie's painfully inadequate (and maybe politically compliant?) treatment of the darker and real side of international relations.

Great pity.
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