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Extended Audio Sample George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, by Miranda Carter Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (800 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Miranda Carter Narrator: Rosalyn Landor Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In the years before the First World War, the great European powers were ruled by three first cousins: King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Together, they presided over the last years of dynastic Europe and the outbreak of the most destructive war the world had ever seen, a war that set twentieth-century Europe on course to be the most violent continent in the history of the world.

Miranda Carter uses the cousins’ correspondence and a host of historical sources to tell the tragicomic story of a tiny, glittering, solipsistic world that was often preposterously out of kilter with its times, struggling to stay in command of politics and world events as history overtook it. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm is a brilliant and sometimes darkly hilarious portrait of these men—damaged, egotistical Wilhelm; quiet, stubborn Nicholas; and anxious, dutiful George—and their lives, foibles and obsessions, from tantrums to uniforms to stamp collecting. It is also alive with fresh, subtle portraits of other familiar figures: Queen Victoria—grandmother to two of them, grandmother-in-law to the third—whose conservatism and bullying obsession with family left a dangerous legacy; and Edward VII, the playboy “arch-vulgarian” who turned out to have a remarkable gift for international relations and the theatrics of mass politics. At the same time, Carter weaves through their stories a riveting account of the events that led to World War I, showing how the personal and the political interacted, sometimes to devastating effect.

For all three men the war would be a disaster that destroyed forever the illusion of their close family relationships, with any sense of peace and harmony shattered in a final coda of murder, betrayal and abdication.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “An irresistibly entertaining and illuminating chronicle…Readers with fond memories of Robert Massie and Barbara Tuchman can expect similar pleasures in this witty, shrewd examination of the twilight of the great European monarchies.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “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.”


  • “Masterfully crafted…Carter has presented one of the most cohesive explorations of the dying days of European royalty and the coming of political modernity…[She] has delivered another gem.”


  • “An attractively written, extensively illustrated work.”

    Washington Times

  • “Fresh and enjoyable…Carter’s thoughtful reintroduction of the vividly human to late nineteenth-century international politics is timely and welcome.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “History at its most entertaining, full of scathing and often witty descriptions of the follies and tragedies of royalty, and the way in which the three royal cousins’ lives, despite the deep social divide between the royals and ordinary people, became intertwined with the changes and the dangers confronting the major European powers in the early years of the twentieth century. It is a splendid picture, splendidly narrated.”

    Daily Beast

  • “Entertaining and well-researched, with acute pen portraits of the major players.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “Some wars are inevitable. Others, such as World War I, could have been avoided…Relying on apt quotations and instructive anecdotes, Carter, in this always readable history, persuasively relates [the royal cousins’] role in beginning a war that was supposed to end all wars.”

    Richmond Times Dispatch

  • “The parallel, interrelated lives of Kaiser Wilhelm II, George V, and Nicholas II are…a prism though which to tell the march to the first World War, the creation of the modern industrial world, and the follies of hereditary courts and the eccentricities of their royal trans-European cousinhood…An entertaining and accessible study of power and personality.”

    Financial Times

  • “A fascinating biographical saga…The personal, hidden history of King George V, Tsar Nicholas II, and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s relationship [is] incomparable, haunting, and unforgettable.”

    Providence Journal

  • “Engrossing and important…While keeping her focus on the three cousins and their extended families, [Carter] skillfully interweaves and summarizes all important elements of how the war came about…An original book, highly recommended.”

    Dallas Morning News

  • “Splendid…This is history on a vast scale written on an intimate level, and it is immensely rewarding…[Carter’s] portraits of the men are razor-sharp. She places each monarch in his unique context, providing a tapestry of the age and the maneuvering that led to the outbreak of war…The reader is swept up in the pageantry, pathos, and glory of an era that makes our own seem remorselessly venial and vulgar.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

  • “History on a large canvas…Carter writes incisively about the overlapping events that led to the Great War and changed the world…Impressive…Carter has clearly not bitten off more than she can chew for she—as John Updike once wrote of Gunter Grass—‘chews it enthusiastically before our eyes.’”

    New York Times

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Biography

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Dorothy | 2/17/2014

    " This was brilliant. For anyone interested in the road to WWI this is a wonderful synopsis I from the perspective of the exhaustion and decline of autocracy, monarchy and empire. Using the familial relationships among Victoria, Edward, George, Wilhelm and Nicholas Carter pulls the reader into the conflicting pulls on the leading monarchs of their day amid the challenges of nationalism, republicanism, socialism and the last gasps of aristocratic and colonial entitlement. Along the way we are provided pognant and stark portraits of the characters under the crowns. Victoria's selfishness, Wilhelm's maniacal madness, Bertie's appetites, George's stodginess, Nicholas's mystical fatalism, Alexandra's fearfulness and the many diplomats, courtiers, hangers on and politicians who had to wrestle with their monarchs and a world plunging inexorably to war. Ultimately, this is the story of global expansion and coexistence and clarifies the legacy we live with today. A must read for any student of history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Stuart | 2/5/2014

    " Enjoyed this book very much. Like most biographies, and more than some, it was difficult to keep remembering the myriad people and relatives that kept popping up. This was especially difficult as they seemed all to Queen Victoria's grandchildren. It was an great insight into the royal houses that ruled Europe prior to WW1, and how they got us into WW1. Well wroth reading. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Sarah | 2/3/2014

    " Pretty entertaining for a relatively scholarly history book. Goes deep into the stupidity and family bickering that lead to World War I, yet World War I's reasons were so complex (and stupid!) that it's still kind of hard to understand. Weird colonialist shit. Anyway, Wihlem II was a total dick, European ruling families are super weird, and this book is worth your time. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Michele | 1/22/2014

    " I read King Kaiser Tsar first.....(by a different author) because it was available at the library first. I'm glad fate intervened...that book gave a more indepth background on the families and was more centered on the 3 cousins as people. This book had more information on European politics. Having a basis in the familial relationships and some of the foibles of each and how they either did or didn't get along with other family members made this book much easier to read than if I had read it first, I think. Again, these books just show how much I DIDN'T know about European history. World War I was just a warm up to World War II....Regardless of what ruler did what, I still think both wars would have happened. "

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