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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: March 2010 ISBN: 9780307714480
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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.”

    Spectator

  • “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.”

    BookPage

  • “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 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 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 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 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. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ashley | 1/21/2014

    " 4.5 stars. G,N,&W was a fantastic book about not just the lives of these three "leaders," but the political climate of Europe at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th and how their megalomania influenced it all. This is one of my favorite time periods, and I was so eager to learn more about Victoria's progeny. It slogged a bit after the Boer War and before Edward's death, but it was a wonderful read all around. A great book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Melissa | 1/8/2014

    " An engaging look at three royal cousins in the period leading up to World War I. My big quibble is that the George of the title--George V--seems to be a lesser figure compared to Kaiser Wilhelm and Nicholas II. George seems a bit shoe-horned into the narrative. Still, an engaging, very readable work of nonfiction! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Megan | 1/3/2014

    " Interesting book about the crowned heads of England, Russia and Germany (all cousins) and the actions that led to World War I. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mark | 11/8/2013

    " Simply superb. On both the macro and micro levels it is perceptive, fluid and gripping history writing. A must read for anyone wanting to understand the 1WW. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Susan Hutchins | 10/11/2013

    " Really enjoyed it. The first 1/3 was a bit slow at times, but it really picked up as you got to know the characters better. Loved this perspective of seeing WWI through personalities. Also learned a lot about the war. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ruth | 8/1/2013

    " very interesting and insightful. I like the idea of contrasting the 3 reigning monarchs and cousins. Very well researched "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elaine | 12/26/2012

    " A long, somewhat difficult read, but well worth it. I think I actually learned some history for once! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 George | 12/13/2012

    " While Carter focuses on the lives of the three cousins and their extended families, she also presents a clear and detailed account of foreign relations in Europe in the 50 years leading up to World War I. Compelling in every way. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Meg Delaney | 9/29/2012

    " Great insights into the way "royals" were raised and educated (not very well.)Fishing this book made me want to immediately begin Tuchman's Guns of August. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jacob | 7/2/2012

    " This was so fascinating I offer had trouble sleeping after Id read it. Shows the distruction of Europe through the actions and personalities of these deeply flawed monarchs and individuals "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ben | 5/27/2012

    " This book was borderline five stars. It was really in depth and it was obvious the author read as much as she could, letters, diaries, etc. I may rethink my rating after reading King, Kaiser, Tsar. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mary Kay | 3/4/2012

    " The author makes these men come alive. The tragedy of WWI is readily understood by the author's clear, and at times, humorous writing. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kay | 10/27/2011

    " This book is about the highly disfunctional monarchy in the 1800s. The book is long and began to get tedious to me so I didn't finish it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Johan | 8/2/2011

    " A very interesting read and highly entertaining too. But there are some errors in it, like saying that Empress Elizabeth of Austria was the sister of King Ludwig of Bavaria (they were cousins once removed), which makes you wonder about some of the other facts. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Harry | 7/31/2011

    " The best part of this book was the epilogue. There was far more detail on the lives of royals peripheral to the 3 monarchs than interested me and too many royals named "George" (you need a program). Nevertheless, the history of the period has always fascinated me. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Will | 5/14/2011

    " They were uneducated, petty men who led their countries into WW I. Otherwise untalented they all shared an aristocrat's love of "sport" shooting animals and killed many thousands a year. Karma-wise this could explain the huge carnage of the war they couldn't prevent. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Teresa | 4/14/2011

    " I liked Guns of August so much that I jumped into this one about these crazy royal monarchs. What an isolated bunch of weirdos entirely out of touch with the world! Between the two books, they have filled in everything I never knew about WW1 and what led up to it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mary | 3/22/2011

    " The author makes these men come alive. The tragedy of WWI is readily understood by the author's clear, and at times, humorous writing. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Mary | 2/14/2011

    " There was a little too much serious history in this book. I had previously read a more gossipy book about these three. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Daniel | 1/21/2011

    " A very thorough look at a very tragic, ridiculous, stiff, outrageous set of family bonds, with the late 19th/early 20th centuries providing the most volatile of backdrops. This is history that deserves to be a biblical length. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shani | 1/9/2011

    " Probably the smartest book I read in 2010. Not that I think it's really possible for me to comprehend why WW! started, but this helped me understand more of the personalities involved with the 40 years prior to the conflict. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Lyddie | 1/7/2011

    " I liked the first 2/3 a great deal, but the last 1/3 was too dry and dense with facts. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Linda | 12/18/2010

    " Excellent writing of the three cousins and the march to World War I. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Meg | 10/3/2010

    " Great insights into the way "royals" were raised and educated (not very well.)Fishing this book made me want to immediately begin Tuchman's Guns of August. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amy | 9/16/2010

    " An excellent read. Very compelling. Lots of material I hadn't read before. It certainly makes you understand these Kings more and also feel a little sorry for them. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cynthia | 8/18/2010

    " THis is taking me awhile as I have been reading several other books in between, But I love history, particularly this period and this is well written, tight and complicated but not impossible for a ordinary person to read and digest.
    extensively researched and insightful... "

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About the Author
Miranda Carter is the author of Anthony Blunt: His Lives, which won the Orwell Prize for political writing and the Royal Society of Literature W. H. Heinemann Award, and was chosen as one of The New York Times Book Review’s seven Best Books of 2002. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.
About the Narrator

Rosalyn Landor has won eight AudioFile Earphones Awards and been a finalist for the Audie Award. She has worked as an actor since the age of seven, both in Europe and the United States. Her extensive list of credits includes leading roles in film, theater, and audio productions, as well as in various miniseries on all the major television networks and in such productions as Masterpiece Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and Rumpole of the Bailey.