I do not usually care for biographies, they often seem to consist of the boring trivia of a person’s daily life. But GEORGE, NICHOLAS, WILHELM: THREE ROYAL COUSINS AND THE ROAD TO WORLD WAR I is different. Miranda Carter deftly weaves together the biographies of the three cousin-emperors who together stood on the brink of the abyss in 1914: George V of England, Nicholas, the last Tsar of Russia, and Wilhelm, the last Kaiser of Germany.
What I really enjoyed about this book was the way in which it was told. Ms. Carter chose her details judiciously, so that instead of feeling swamped by the minutiae of the privileged lives of three people who ironically tended to focus on trivial details themselves, she gives you the right sweep of psychology, politics and detail to make you understand very clearly why two of these three men were an utter disaster as autocratic heads of state, while at the same time, breathing a sigh of relief that the third (Georges V of England) was hemmed in by his parliament.
The tragedy that happened at the Ipatiev House in July 1918 haunts us still. It is hard to read about four innocent girls and their brother being gunned down by the soviets, but I didn’t realize how mild-mannered, relentlessly polite “Nicky” had turned into such a monster against his own people. Nor did I realize that his hated wife had such power towards the end of their reign, that she was dismissing ministers right and left, in a fashion that would have been comical had it not been so tragic.
I also had no idea that Kaiser Wilhelm was a closet homosexual, or that he was so infantile. And what fascinated me about this book was the culture of late 19th-century Europe that promoted the infantilization of children of both sexes to such a degree that it is fair to say that in a very real way, none of these men ever grew up. It would be fascinating to read a sociological history that explains how this culture of infantilization came about. Five stars.