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  #81  
Old 05-18-2008, 04:06 PM
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Welcome today's King, Kaiser, Tsar book club discussion. This week we will cover ch. 11-15.

Turn of the Century:
Key pgs. 186, 187, 190
  • Khondinka meadow fiasco. 900 people trampled to death, but by the time the royal couple arrived, hours later, everything had been cleaned up. The couple continued with the gala ball, which shocked many guests. Sadly protocol ruled over the people, I believe, and the ultimate question by the author: Would Russia be ruled by a repressive autocratic regime, or a progressive, proto-democratic one? This is a clear foreshadow of what was to come and the utter disaster that was Nicky's reign.
  • Russia, is too large to be ruled, autocratic or not, by one man. Social unrest and revolution fueled by the intellectual few, wanted reforms, They should have scaled back and perhaps things may have turned out for the better, but we will never know. Too much suffering by the people for hundreds of years would eventually boil over... and it did. Fate intervened.
  • Count Sergi Whitte, Minister of Finance. Tried to push for reforms, but was deemed a "dangerous liberal"; respected the English model of government and so forth.
  • State visit to France a great success despite Nicky's worries thanks to his cousin, Willy.
  • Willy visits Russia. Typical boorish behavior, though he was happy to add yet another military uniform to his growing collection. This time he had a nice Russian uniform and the rank of Admiral in the Russian Navy. Did he have any sailing experience? All this does is add to his ever growing ego. (190-191)
Uncle Bertie and his Two Nephews:
Key pgs: 209, 211, 215, 217, 222-223
  • Lord Stamfordham (209)
  • Trouble boiling over in Russia both domestically and internationally. With a weak Tsar doomsday was on the horizon. (211)
  • The problem with Alix: Not very bright, barely spoke Russian, believed and encouraged her husband to be firm and autocratic, which was a giant mistake. Desperate for something specifically when it came to the "higher power" and so called "faith healers". (215)
  • Viva le Revolution! Full scale revolution had broken out in most parts of Russia. Union demonstrations and lists of radical reforms (should have taken Alexander II reforms seriously a long time ago otherwise none of this would have happened or at least prevented some of the demostrations and so forth.)
  • Dissolution of the first Duma.
  • Lenin and refusal of reforms, Nicky had sealed his fate and Russia till 1990.
Willy and Nicky in Trouble:
Key pgs: 230-234, 240-241
  • Russo-Japanese War another grave mistake for the Tsar and Russia on a whole. Essentially, it was an ego thing, in my point of view.
  • Willy warned him about it, but he really didn't listen. Japan demanded that Russia withdraw from the Yalu river.
  • Port Arthur battle.
  • Meanwhile in Germany, von Bulow desperately trying to "rein in the Kaiser's autocratic behavior" before he implodes.
Dangerous Disagreements:



Scandals and Rivalries:






Questions:
  1. In this segment, Bertie is now King and Georgie is heir. Does this give Georgie any more involvement in world affairs than he had during his grandmother's reign?
  2. Does the accession of Edward VII and the German-hating Queen Alexandra have any effect on relations with Willy?
  3. Between Willy's group of friends in high places and Nicky's powerful uncles, did the two autocratic monarchs really have that much more power than the King of England?
  4. What are your views regarding the relationship between Willy and Nicky?
  5. "Whatever Willy did, whether within the family or on the international stage, he was always the odd one out, always the one who, no one liked." (193) What are thoughts regarding this quote? Do you believe he did it on purpose or was it something else?
  6. What are your thoughts regarding Lord Stamfordham, Georgie's private secretary and the man who suggested and strongly encouraged the King not to give refuge to the Tsar and his family?
  7. What in the workd is going on with Alix? Why was she so desperate and seeking help from "faith healers"? I believe it goes beyond her son's problem, and that there is more to it.
  8. What are your thoughts regarding the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)? How could he, Nicky, be so shocked that Japan declared war on Russia? Did he expect the outcome to be somewhat peaceful? Could anyone really fault the Meiji government especially since Russia was creeping up upon Korea, which Japan viewed as a "buffer" zone.
More questions to come so hang tight.
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  #82  
Old 05-18-2008, 04:23 PM
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I've just been reading a book about Hirohito, and from the combination of the Japanese viewpoint of that war in that book and the Russian viewpoint in this book, I think the Russo-Japanese war set the scene for some of Japan's worst excesses in WWII. It reinforced the militaristic attitudes in Japan and the feeling that they were the natural leaders/owners/governors of the whole of Asia. It's interesting how Hirohito admired the Kaiser so much; he apparently took him at face value and saw all his overcompensations as genuine strengths.

The more I read KKT, the more I see explanations of things that went on a lot later than just the first world war.

It's sort of interesting that even by the end of this section - 15 chapters into an 18-chapter book - one of the three of them still isn't actually king yet. This must have made it a bit hard for the author, and I understand why she wanted to profile the three cousins, but really in England it was Bertie, not Georgie, who played the equivalent role to Nicky and Willy.
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Old 05-18-2008, 04:43 PM
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Quote:
It's sort of interesting that even by the end of this section - 15 chapters into an 18-chapter book - one of the three of them still isn't actually king yet. This must have made it a bit hard for the author, and I understand why she wanted to profile the three cousins, but really in England it was Bertie, not Georgie, who played the equivalent role to Nicky and Willy.
Exactly. Though I am not intensely familiar with Japanese history like others I do know the intermediate basics, but I agree with you comments regarding Japan and its position with Russia and so forth (I hope that made some sense.)
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  #84  
Old 05-18-2008, 07:03 PM
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I'm still trying to make sense of the Boer War and its affect on Russia and Germany and you guys are jumping forward to WWII!

I know it all boils down to diamonds, but that particular war strained British relations with a host of other countries, including Germany and Russia. With the three reigning houses being inter-related, it is interesting to see how Nicky and Willy showed different reactions between themselves, and a supporting view in their correspondence to their British relatives. It also seems to have been the war by which Germany and Russia could excuse a war with Japan.

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  #85  
Old 05-18-2008, 07:29 PM
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I hadn't realised that the Boer War was such a factor in Germany deciding that it needed a huge Navy so it could also control what went on in remote parts of the world. I suppose it makes sense when you had a ruler like Willy with his ambivalent attitude to Britain and his upbringing steeped in feelings of nationalistic superiority and militarism.
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  #86  
Old 05-18-2008, 08:50 PM
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I think having a Navy comparable or better than Britains was a dream of Willy's long before the Boer War. At the time of the Boer War his Navy was still too small for him to do anything other than sit back and watch. The Reichstag was appalled by the Naval budget and it just kept getting bigger and bigger so Willy could fulfill his dream.

And I have to agree with the post regarding George not really being a contemporary of his two cousins until closer to the end of the book, however he was the one wearing the big hat when thngs came to a head. As far as age the three cousins were indeed contemporaries, Bertie may have been Willy and Nicky's counterpart during the lead in but he was quite a bit older than both of them.

I think the author was focusing on the three "in charge" when it mattered most, though George still doesn't qualify as he reigned but did not rule, whereas Nicky and Willie definitely ruled, albeit badly!

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  #87  
Old 05-18-2008, 11:09 PM
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I'm a bit behind on my reading so I can't contribute much past the first chapter.

I too found the Boer war interesting. It did seem that Britain's invasion of South Africa had about the same legitimacy as the German invasion of Denmark and it created an equal outrage in Europe. This time, Victoria and Bertie really didn't have a say in the matter but I doubt that being invaded by a democratic government was any more palatable to the South Africans than the German invasion was to Denmark or France.

I was also struck by how Willy flipflopped. At first he was quite condemning but all Bertie had to do was to treat him like a human and he was fine with the Boer invasion much to the chagrin of his ministers. It does seem that he was too easily influenced, doesn't it?

His obsession about the Navy was interesting but I imagine that Bismarck's conquest of Denmark to get a canal to connect the North and Baltic seas was driven in part by a desire for some mastery of the seas.
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  #88  
Old 05-19-2008, 07:27 AM
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I'm behind in my reading too. I think that the author's characterization of Willy is excellent. She shows how he felt an outsider even in Germany and conflicted because he was half-German and half-English. She also describes his feelings of hurt and resentment because he thought that the English didn't take him seriously and disregarded most of his advice. He is easily charmed by them though. I thought that the very tricky way in which the Kaiser was invited to a State Visit in England during the Boer War was typically English!

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  #89  
Old 05-19-2008, 10:58 AM
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Considering that it was his affection for Queen Victoria that was one of the main anchors of his pro-English side, I suppose it was always going to be a difficult time after she died and Edward VII took the throne, with his tendency to treat Willy like a naughty child and also his Danish wife who was revelling in her new freedom as Queen and who hated Prussia with a vengeance.
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Old 05-21-2008, 08:23 PM
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Well I just read Bertie and his two nephews and I am finding Bertie to be a very dull and unsympathetic character and the author's clear affection for him is not changing my viewpoint of him in the slightest.
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  #91  
Old 05-21-2008, 09:43 PM
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I've always quite liked the old coot. But he didn't seem to have much success in his interactions with Willy, which is surprising considering that he was considered to be quite the diplomat.
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  #92  
Old 05-21-2008, 11:07 PM
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I guess Alexandra had good reason to hate Prussia (gee thanks Bismark!) and when it came to diplomatic relations with Germany she was probably not the best choice as the wife of the future King of England. I will have to check again to see if they married before or after Bismark decided to grab parts of Denmark as my memory fails me at the moment. I know Vicky and Alice were married and living in Germany at the time but the timeline with regard to Bertie and Alexandra I just can't recall.

Bertie's diplomatic skills were quite well honed, however I think the family connection figures in more prominently here than in most cases. To him, Willy would always be his older sister's little boy, even when that little boy grew to be a man of 40. Perhaps Willy's own personality did nothing to help in that respect as he comes across as quite immature even in adulthood. I can see how Bertie would continue to view his nephew as a naughty child based on what this author (and others) have written about Willy.

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  #93  
Old 05-22-2008, 06:19 AM
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Well even outside of his relations to Willy, Bertie comes off in this chapter as determined not to do anything he doesn't want to do. This may be an unfair judgment but it appears so far, that his lived his life by always taking the easy way out. It's as if he didn't get the concept of master a difficult task because it is worthwhile and this seems to factor in all aspects of his life, with his family, his friends, and his government.

It doesn't make him a very appealing person but I can understand why such a lackadasical person was a godsend to the British government who wanted a hands off King.
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  #94  
Old 05-24-2008, 04:43 PM
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Of course could anybody do anything with Willy. Talk about prize idiots. He must take the cake. First he gave the Austrians carte blanche after the assasination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Serajevo telling them that Germany would support anything Austria did to Serbia and to top it all launched unlimited submarine warfare and got the United States involved is his little family quarrel when he could well have won the war. Of course his navy mania trying to outbuild the British navy was a major curse and monuumental act of stupidity as well. Cheers.
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Old 05-25-2008, 04:04 PM
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Chapter 1-Epilogue

Welcome to today's discussion of the book King, Kaiser, Tsar. Here are a few notes from this week's chapters:

George Inherits the Throne:
  • The death of his father couldn't have come at a worst time. A political shift (Parliament and reforms in the House of Lords) was happening as well as the unusual partnership of advisors to the King, Lord Stamfordham (a raging Tory) and Francis Knollys (Mr. Liberal). Georgie was in the middle and eventually sided (if that is the proper word to use) with Lord Stamfordham.
  • Stamfordham "...advised resistance to Asquith's demand's; this would have placed the King in the highly insidious position of appearing to support the Unionists in an election, but his master cleaveds instead to the view of his other private secretary, Lord Knollys, who advised him to surrender to the duly constituted government’s demands." *pg. 335
  • Cousin Willy refers to Georgie as a "homebody." Made fun of Georgie when Lord Stamfordham suggested the house should change their name in response to H.G. Wells, which sounded very un-English like, to Windsor. Willy remarked at the name change, "I looked forward to attending a performance of 'The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha'". In fact the whold family changed their Germanic sounding names to extremely British sounding names: Teck became the Cambridges, Battenbergs to Mountbattens, and so forth. Whispers around the nation suggested that the King and his family were very pro-German
  • "I maybe uninspiring, but I will damned if I am an alien" Georgie in repsonse to his abilites as King, HG Wells as well as the anti-German sentiments running wild throughout England and Europe.
  • Other issues faced during Georgie's reign: The Parliament Act of 1911. Would depriove the Lords of their veto and control finance, limiting their power over other Bills to delay their passage for two years.
  • More reforms followed: The old charitst demand of payments to members was carried and with a salary of 400 pundsWC men could now afford to sit on Paliament The Osbourne Judgement was reversed in which trade unions could use funds to support Parliamentary candidates. The National Insurance Act of 1911 was based on and contributed by employers, the state, and employees. All of these reforms and changes helped the monarchy in some odd was and moved England into a new age. If Russia did something similar along the lines of England perhaps Nicky and the future of Russia itself would have been different.
  • "The Irish Problem" and solutions. Irish Home Rule Bill.
  • The Wedding, May 24, and the last time the three cousins would ever see each other.
Three Cousins go to War: Key page, 314-15,
  • Road to WWI. With the threat of Germany looming Britain was unsure of an alliance with France or Germany. France and Britain were ancient rivals, In 1906, Balfour’s conservative gov't had fallen and new Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey was now at the helm. Helm a Liberal, looked upon an entente with France as a settlement of past differences than as an permanent alliance. He constantly told the French that the British gov't could not accept a permanent alliance and neither could Parliament.
  • Triple Entente: Consisted of Britain, France and Russia to counterbalance teh Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Sir Edward Grey hated the phrase, triple Entente, but was eventually impressed with the convention and resolutions with Russia and France thus fwould led to a promise of future cooperation.
  • Anglo-German Rivalry. Germany had the land power and Germany could be a threat as well to the British Naval power. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz convinced the Kaiser's gov't that if Germany built a large navy it could make its diplomatic weight felt and safeguard its colonies in Africa and the South Pacific. Sir John Fisher heard about Germany’s needs to build a large navy. He argued that Britain needed to reorganize and rebuild its naval power. Fisher believed that the British naval power should concentrate itself in the North Sea to meet Germany's threat. Finally a naval base was established at Scapa Flow in he Orkney Islands. From here they could intercept any German fleet trying to get out of the North Sea and the English Channel. Sir John Fisher scrapped together out-moded naval vessals and secretly planned the Dreadnought. The Dreadnought was the prototype of the 20th century battleship that dominated the seas until WWII. It has 10 twelve inch guns with twice as much firing power. Stream turbines improved speed, and could be adapted to ue oil instead of coal. In 1910, there were five Dreads by 1914 there were 18.
  • August 4, 1914 the day the WWI began.
  • The fighting fronts. The main thrust of German attack was still towards Paris in the accordance to the Schieffen Plan. At the Battle of Maine, the allied forces predominantly the French under General Joffre, held firm. In the second week of September, the German onslaught was either held back or pushed back. Frustrated the German army moved West towards the Channel and captured the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. After heavy fighting as what has come to known as the Battle of Ypres in October-November 1914 the British managed to halt the German advance. Half of the British army was destroyed, but a small part of Belgium was saved as was the French ports of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. With the British and French fleets seeking to force their way through the Dardanelles straits, they withdrew because of the losses at the time when Turkish defenders were ready to give in., The Allies decided to set up a land invasion instead.
  • Using all the resources fo modern warfare airplanes, subs, radio communications and land craft. By the time the British and Australian, and New Zealand toops landed on the beaches of Gallipolu peninsula on April 1915, the Turks had fortified it very well. The Allied forces found it impossible to storm the hilltop positions. Heavy fighting in Poland prevented the Russian armies from lending their support. Clinging to the beachead for months the Alllied forces were forced back in December 1915... essentially they evacuted Gallipoli. 55,000 men were lost in a campaign that was opposed by the French and COnservative British military leaders.
  • Battle of Somme one of the dealiest battles in Briish military history. As 100,000 British troops stormed German fortificatiosn in the battle, 20,000 men died and 40,000 wounded. Many were "shell shocked". Although the fighting continued through the summer and assisted by the French in Verdun further East it ultimately cost the British army 400,00 casualties without a decisive change in battle lines.
  • Battle of Jutland. The greatest naval battle of the war.
  • Key page to discuss, 316.
The End:
  • Abdication or not in regards to Nicky. Stubborn old fool. page 334-335.
  • Lord Stamfordham strongly suggested that Georgie not give asylum to a deposed tyrant. "The general grounds of expediency referred to some protest amoung certain sections of the oublic avout the residence in Britain of an sutocrat like the Tsar. The radical paper Justice had published an article condemning the Tsar and all he sttood for."(339)
  • So, he didn't. Nicky's fate was forever sealed. Did Georgie have blood on his hands because of this? No, not in my opinion. pages 338-339.
Epilogue:
  • "To what extent could Georgie, Willy, and Nicky -- the King, the Kaiser, and the Tsar -- be said to have contributed to the events which overtook Europe between 1914 and 1918? Did they themselves through their own characters and personalities, and through their relationships to one another, bear some responsibilty and guilt?" Yes.
  • Four moments when things might have been different, all connected to Willy: 1888 had Kaiser Friedrich, his Dad, nit died prematurely, 1890, if Bismarck had mangaged to prevail over the malign influence of WIlly's entourage. 1896, if Friedrich von Holstein had mangaged to presuade Chancellor Hohenhole to stand firm against the "personal rule" which Eulenburg and von Bulow were busy instigating. In 1908, the Daily Telegraph Affair during the Eulenburg-Harden trials when the Reichstag might have managed to force through some real constitutional reform. (357)
Questions:

1. What is your overall opinion of the book King, Kaiser, Tsar? What were the strong points of the book, if any?

2. Do you believe the author was biased?

3. In regards to Clay's research, do you believe she made good use of her sources?

4. Where any of her arguments valid? If so, please explain your position?

5. What were some of the weak points within KKT if any and what should she have done to improve the book?

6. What are thoughts in regards to Kaiser Wilhelm? Is he nuts or simply misunderstood?

7. We all know the ultimate fate for poor Nicky; however, if things were different in Russia do you believe the monarchy would still exist (hence if Alexander's reforms and then some were implemented and if Nicky had a backbone)? Or do you believe it was destined to happen no matter what?
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  #96  
Old 05-25-2008, 04:27 PM
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Finally I get to talk about the war! I have been biting my tongue (fingers) for weeks about the lead up to WWI.

If Austria hadn't needed backup, and Germany hadn't been so quick to offer it, there would have been no war. I'm not sure if Willy was just spoiling for a fight and a chance to show off his new navy, or if he had the misguided idea that he was merely going to Austria's aid. I rather think it is the former. He had the army, he had the navy and he darn well wanted to play with his toys!

Russia had no choice but to move troops to the Austrian border, they had no idea what Austria might do, where they might venture to next. That Willy was so quick to declare war on Russia did come as a surprise though. I can understand him wanting to grab more of France but Russia?

I think his attempt to play both ends against the middle rather childish, telling George he was doing everything in his power to avoid a war with Russia at the same time he declared war on Russia. Then the telegram to Nicky after Germany had declared war on Russia, acting as though no such thing had happened and it was up to Nicky to stop such a declaration.

Was Willy crazy? I'm not sure. I really don't think he was insane, though I do think he was unstable.

And I'll get back to all of you on Nicky and George, and how Nicky and Willy ended up losing their thrones!

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  #97  
Old 05-25-2008, 09:43 PM
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Well, finally we get to the point where the three cousins are all heads of their respective states and able to deal with each other on the most equal terms we've seen so far. Up till now, Georgie's always been in the shadow of his grandmother and his father, and now he's stuck with seeing his country through a war that wasn't of his making.

Having grown up during the present reign, I'm always surprised to read about how precarious the monarchy was during WWI. Of course, the story of the way Georgie turned his back on Nicky to shore up his own position is a relatively recent one, but it goes to show the pressures he was under. He's referred to by many people (his eldest son being a notable exception!) as a very kind man, and you can see from his letters back and forth to Nicky that he was very fond of his cousin. This must have been a hard decision, but I still don't understand why they didn't at least send ships to evacuate the imperial family and then decide what to do with them when they were safely away from Russia. But hindsight is always easier.

I wonder if Willy was still sufficiently connected to reality during his exile to take a long, hard look at what he'd started and accept responsibility.
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Old 05-25-2008, 09:59 PM
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What is your overall opinion of the book King, Kaiser, Tsar? What were the strong points of the book, if any?

I found it interesting; I hadn't read much about Willy before, and this book gave a good overview of the events in Germany during Willy's lifetime. I like how she dealt with overlaps between the three cousins rather than just telling three parallel stories.

In regards to Clay's research, do you believe she made good use of her sources?

I'm not really sure because she left out so many details. But then this book had an immensely wide scope, and it could easily have been three times and long and probably less readable. I got the impression that she was being selective while trying not to leave out anything important. You'd certainly have to read other books in order to get a detailed account of late 19th and early 20th century Europe.

What were some of the weak points within KKT if any and what should she have done to improve the book?

As ysbel said, I think she concentrates on the three protagonists too much and leaves out some important relationships with others. The wives are really just background figures, even Alicky, who bore so much responsibility for the unpopularity of the Tsar later in his reign. I found it a bit frustrating that the author went into so much detail about Willy and his close group of friends, and the homosexuality trials and so on, and much less detail about the Empress and Rasputin.

I think this book was always a tricky proposition, given how much later Georgie inherited than the others. When you have 18 chapters and one of the three of them only becomes King in chapter 16, you know you've got a bit of a problem on your hands. She tried hard to make Georgie seem relevant during Victoria's reign, but the reality is that he really wasn't - the Queen did her own thing with her daughter Beatrice as her secretary, and Bertie and Georgie were rather on the sidelines - in Georgie's case, I think that suited him fine, but it doesn't make the book any easier to put together!

What are thoughts in regards to Kaiser Wilhelm? Is he nuts or simply misunderstood?

I don't think he's at all misunderstood but I don't believe he was insane, although there did seem to be less of a distinction for him between the way things were and the way he wanted them to be than for most people.

We all know the ultimate fate for poor Nicky; however, if things were different in Russia do you believe the monarchy would still exist (hence if Alexander's reforms and then some were implemented and if Nicky had a backbone)? Or do you believe it was destined to happen no matter what?

I think the writing was on the wall for the imperial family already, but Alicky's interference didn't help.
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Old 05-25-2008, 10:51 PM
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Overall, I did enjoy the book; however, I felt that Clay could have analyzed her sources a bit more thoroughly; nonetheless, KKT is a good book. Although, someone must have fallen alseep when checking one particular fact: The Hawaiian King noted on page 40 is not Kalakana. His name is spelled Kalakaua.. His Majesty King David Laamea Kamanakapuu Mahinulani Naloiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalakaua.

KKT is perhaps a good starting point for those interested in reading more about one of these fascinating men, and for me that would be Willy. So as a result, I just ordered a book on Amazon in regards to Prussia.


So, the book King, Kaiser, Tsar: The Three Royal Cousins who led the World to War recieves 4 out of 5 stars.
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Old 05-26-2008, 08:24 AM
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I think the author focused on the three cousins and their relationships because they all wore the big "hats" at the crucial time during the war. The contrast between the three rulers really caught my attention and shows that a constitutional monarchy probably would have benefited all three countries/empires. Willy and Nicky ended up losing their thrones, one dead, one in exile. George made it through the war with his monarchy intact, though he had to walk a fine line for that to happen. The name change was part of it and Windsor was a truly inspired choice. I really wish he hadn't left Nicky twisting in the wind. I agree with Elspeth, they should have gotten Nicky and his family out of Russia then decided what to do with them!

The only other book I've read that gave any details of Willy was "Victoria's Daughters" and the focus on Vicky and family was a bit more saturated in that book. Though, like KKT, the author had to cover a lot of ground, Victoria and Albert had quite a few daughters, and a lot of important details were omitted.

All in all KKT was very enjoyable and I learned a lot I had been previously unaware of. I find I have little sympathy for Nicky or Willy. They were misguided, inept and so not suited to the positions they inherited through an accident of birth!

Nicky's decision to take control of his armed forces in the middle of the war is a perfect example of this. What on earth made him think he could run a war?! It was as if he thought he could do no wrong, and he overlooked the fact that if things went badly the blame would fall directly on his shoulders.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20 and in retrospect it is easy to see where all three cousins erred in their judgment. Fortunately, George was not in a position to do much damage, except for the decision regarding Nicky and his family. That I think was his greatest failure, though as a person not a King.

Cat
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