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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 26 June 2011

"The Three Emperors" by Miranda Carter

George V looked so like
 Tsar Nicholas II of Russia
that they were
sometimes confused.
This book considers the three cousins who became Nicholas II tsar of Russia, George V, King and Emperor, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. All three had similar childhoods, isolated from normal people (although George, as second son, served in the Navy for ten years and so at least met sailors) and brought up to believe that they were special. They were clearly lonely. Able to understand only royalty, their family formed a sort of pan-Europe business with the belief that family loyalties would trump national interests and ensure peace.

But their world was changing. Each empire needed to grow and there were inevitable tensions as their colonists and merchants clashed in various parts of the world. More particularly, the industrial revolution had created a working class that increasingly demanded a share in power. With their educations, isolated by privilege, they were unable to understand and were all fundamentally reactionary.

At least George was powerless. The British constitution ensured that he understood that he had to work with parliament and obey 'his' prime minister. Nicholas and Wilhelm were autocrats. They believed in personal rule (Nicholas was the only man in Russia who could authorise divorces and name changes) and attempted to enforce their will on 'their' people.

Not only was it fundamentally absurd that a single person could possibly rule complex modernising countries such as Germany and Russia but their isolation from the governed both because of the layers of courtiers through whom all information was filtered and distorted and because of the conceptual gaps between emperor and plebeian meant that autocracy was doomed.

In the end they didn't want the first world war. The Russian defeat by the Japanese in 1905 had sparked revolution and the Russian ministers were well aware that another war risked revolution (although Nicholas seems not to have had any idea that he could possibly be deposed). Wilhelm, for all his aggressive posturing, was frightened of war and tried at the last minute to back out of it as he had done several times before. But the Austrian's aggressive response to the Serbians abject apologies after the assassination at Sarajevo tipped the balance. War was inevitable. The colonial clashes and the militarisation of German society (which had been encouraged by Wilhelm) had led to several crises in the previous few years in which last-minute diplomacy had just averted war. At some point the tipping point would be reached.

The war destroyed the idea of empire. Although George V clung on the Tsar had abdicated and been assassinated before the armistice. Kaiser Bill abdicated on armistice day as did the Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Also in 1917 the 'tsar' of Bulgaria and the king of Greece both abdicated. The last Ottoman Sultan was deposed in 1922.

A beautifully written book about a fascinating period in history.

June 2011; 500 pages

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