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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

on 4 January 2016
This is a physically huge book and must weigh around a kilo. I say this as it does determine how and when you can read it .I bought the hardcopy as I thought it was better value compared to the Kindle price. In hindsight the Kindle would have been less painful! This is a fascinating book and is written in a very well informed and interesting way. It is more than 1300 pages to read and is (and I am trying to avoid saying this) a real page turner.One can see how the disasters of the Second World War had their origins in pre WW1 Germany and how common certain prejudices were.The Kaiser himself was a very flawed individual and prone to repeating serious errors of judgement. By 1914 it is clear that his real influence was waning and the politic and Generals around him were playing him ,or excluding him, for further their own agendas. By coincidence I read this at the same time as a biography of Edward the 7th and it was interesting to compare the 2 viewpoints . Expensive book but well worth the investment for readers interested in this phenomenal century.
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on 14 June 2014
I had started 2014 feeling I was fully done on World War 1 causes books (thanks, Christopher Clark) but was moved by Simon Montefiore's stunning review of the final volume of John Rohl's trilogy to go for one more book. And boy is this a big book: at over 1200 pages of text (plus notes, index, etc) it is (not inappropriately) expensive to acquire and represents a real commitment of time to work through. I'm not there yet, and have just reached half way. I agree with Mr Montifiore that this is a magisterial work of scolarship, perhaps the definitive work, but I differ that I don't believe this is a great biography on a par with the likes of Caro's LBJ as he suggested.

There are two reasons for my misgivings. First, the books is a highly detailed chronology of William's thinking. And I'm afraid inside the mind of the Kaiser is not a pleasant place to be locked up for 1200 pages. One gets the picture by the end of the first chapter that the Imperial Warlord was more than a little unstable. To be taken blow by blow through every gust of enthusiasm or rage that grips him is just wearing. One minute it is pursuit of an entente with Britain, because the real threat is America and Russia. The next he is courting America because the threat is the Anglo-Japanese alliance. And round and round it goes like an endless and debilitating game of Risk. The bit players, especially Bulow in the opening half of the book, are an unatractive bunch of sycophants.

There isn't much the author can do about his subject. But the second point about the book is, I am afraid, simply that it is immensely dull. It is a chronology covering momentous events that evokes remarkably little sense of excitement. I persevered through to the downfall of Eulenberg, in the vain hope that it would be difficult to make that extraordinary event sound boring, but Rohl manages it. I can't imagine a narrative of the Oscar Wilde trial, that close analogy, being so. Ironic in a sense that Montifiore raved about it, given that in his work on Stalin, he is gives such a lesson in how to add pace and interest to the most unpleasant subjects. As I say, this is a work of scolarship no doubt, but requires unusual commitment by the lay reader.

Obviously, there is much in the book to learn. There can hardly help being, given the detail. Of all the pre-1914 events, I had never previously heard about the intrigue over the Norwegian throne. On a more thematic note, it was curious how much of a key role, from at least the German view, was taken by Edward VII: he comes across as very much a player in his own right, not merely a constitutional figurehead. But, on balance, this is a book I regret buying. I have firmly finished my WW1 reading, though now that new book by Adam Tooze looks so enticing.....
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on 12 October 2014
Bought for my father who is currently enjoying it. Our only problem is that the book is extremely large (similar to the size of a dictionary or encyclopaedia) which makes it difficult to handle. We are hoping that the publisher will consider bringing it out in a more manageable format, perhaps dividing it into 2 or 3 volumes.
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on 6 February 2015
Prof Rohl's final volume of his massively researched biography on the last Kaiser is atmospheric and revealing. Quoting verbatim from Wilhem's own private and official letters the reader understands why contemporaries, at home and abroad, considered the Kaiser neurotic, volatile, belligerent, domineering, foolish and dangerous. Under the Imperial constitution the Kaiser held executive power over foreign, military and naval policy and he exercised this power in full, often ignoring his Chancellor and always deceiving the Reichstag. This book, using different sources, supports the Fischer thesis which holds that Imperial Germany was the power best prepared for and with most to gain from a European war. And he who holds the hammer sees everything as a nail.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 February 2014
This book is the third volume of a magnificent 3 volume work by John Rohl. In all the volumes contain over 3000 pages.
It surpasses any previous account of the grandson of Queen Victoria. The book is based on thorough archival research.

When one surveys the Euopean monarchs in and around 1900 and marks them out of 10 for; intelligence, political acumen, mental stability, 'normal' tastes and general all round commom sense, few would score over 3. Kaiser Wilhelm 11 would be unlikely to score even that.

He was neurotic, unstable, infantile, arrogant and loved to be surrounded by homosexual friends whether they be politicians or his senior Generals. A favourite pastime was to watch Generals dance in drag, to tickle his officers or to smack royal bottoms with his Field Marshal's baton. All of this and much more is told in detail by Rohl. It is also clear that his reactions to Victoria's death were in large part politically motivated.

In fairness to Wilhelm, he had a wretched childhood. Delivered in a breech position the doctors nearly killed him. The ordeal left him with a withered left arm. A few years later, he had an eardrum removed to prevent meningitis. Unsurprisingly, he developed a foul temper. His mother Vicky, the daughter of Queen Victoria, treated him as a freak, calling him a cripple. From the age of 5 he had to study from six am to 10 pm, including Saturday. Such an upbringing hardly suited him to rule a newly unified modern industrial state with growing economic and military power.

King George V described him in 1918 as 'the greatest criminal known' for causing the Great war. Wilhelm only escaped being tried as a war criminal because of his mental instability. This volume covers the years from 1900 to his death in 1941. The book details the Kaiser's years in exile in Holland from where he welcomed Hitler's rise to power.

Try as they might those who try to shift the blame for the war from Germany (with the Kaiser the leading actor) to Serbia or Russia or Austria-Hungary have failed in the face, as Rohl says, of overwhelming evidence, evidence which is today supported by the leading German historians. The Kaiser, after sacking Bismarck, had forged a highly militarisic state. A state in which military advice was paramount. He and the 20 powerful men under him created by 1914 the mightiest army and the second largest navy in the world. He, and they, believed Germany's position in Europe was unjust and unacceptable. He was determined to change it. It is increasingly clear that the Kaiser, not the elites, wielded decisive power in 1914. He had the final say. It was he who dominated decision-making. It was the Kaiser who directed foreign policy. As supreme war lord he refused to be anything but top dog. he said he was only accountable to his Calvinist God. Structuralist arguments have, frankly, had there day. Recent attempts by Niall Ferguson to move the blame from Germany are completely unconvincing in the light of Rohl's evidence. One increasingly feels that those who shift the blame do so in order to be different hoping this will sell their book.

It was the Kaiser who repeatedly told Austria to attack Serbia; ' Now or Never' he told them in Oct 1913. His annual cruise along the Norwegian coast after the assassination was deliberately not cancelled in order to mask the plot that was being hatched. Rohl shows how the Kaiser played an active part in the diplomatic and miltary preparations for war. Only the fear of Britain's entry caused him to falter and vacillate.

Rohl also reveals Wilhelm's deep seated racist views. He hated Jews. Chillingly, he promised to reward his victorious troops by settling them on 'etnically cleansed' lands in Flanders ( yet some historians still claim if we had kept out of the war that Germany would have been a benign power in Europe-oh dear), a policy that has clear links to those adopted by the Nazis.

Born in 1859, the Kaiser cut a sorry figure in 1918. He spent the rest of his days in Holland; the Dutch refused to hand him over to the victors who wanted to charge him with war crimes. He died in 1941 having failed to persuade Hitler to restore the monarchy. He made repeated demands for the Jews to be 'destroyed and exterminated from German soil'.

This book is an outstanding account of the decision-making centres in the Kaiser's Germany. All 3 volumes are gripping and are a must for anyone who wishes to know the truth about who led Europe and much of the world to war in 1914.
It is a genuine masterpiece which renders obsolete all those attempts to absolve Germany's guilt. It deserves to be a bestseller.

The Kaiser was not the sole author of the war but he was a key advocate of the war. By allowing the military to seize key decision-making roles he became by 1914 a prisoner of events rather than their architect.

No reasonable person faced with this evidence can doubt that Britain was right to fight in 1914 against a very dangerous enemy who in many ways foreshadowed the Hitler regime. Our cause in 1914 was as just as that in 1939. A victory for Germany would have had disastrous consequences for us and Europe. As Horne and Kramer have shown, German savagery towards Belgium and French civilians led to over 6000 deaths plus 23000 deported to prison camps where conditions were horrific. We should also remember the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917, one of the most brutal treaties of modern times. A defeated France and Belgium would have suffered a similar fate.

I believe we ought to 'celebrate' the clear victory over Germany in 1918, a nation whose leaders were imbued with social Darwinism; a nation that conducted an unprovoked and an illegal war. There is no need for tub-thumping or jingoism (those opposed to any form of celebration claim this is what it would amount to). It is perfectly possible to honour (commemorate) those who put their lives at risk for their country without sinking into triumphalism.
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on 8 March 2014
Magnificent. Recommended reading for Tony Robinson. It becomes more and more difficult to see any difference between the causes of WW1 and WW2.
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on 23 August 2014
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