1) George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I – Miranda Carter
Vintage Books | 2011 | EPUB
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.
Through brilliant and often darkly comic portraits of these men and their lives, their foibles and obsessions, Miranda Carter delivers the tragicomic story of Europe’s early twentieth-century aristocracy, a solipsistic world preposterously out of kilter with its times.
2) King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War – Catrine Clay
Bloomsbury USA | 2008 | EPUB
Known among their families as Willy, Georgie, and Nicky, they were, respectively, the royal cousins Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, George V of England, and Nicholas II of Russia-the first two grandsons of Queen Victoria, the latter her grandson by marriage. In 1914, on the eve of world war, they controlled the destiny of Europe and the fates of millions of their subjects. The outcome, and their personal endings are well known-Nicky shot with his family by the Bolsheviks, Willy in exile in Holland, Georgie still atop his throne. Largely untold, however, is the family saga that played such a pivotal role in bringing the world to the precipice. Drawing widely on previously unpublished royal letters and diaries, made public for the first time by Queen Elizabeth II, Catrine Clay chronicles the riveting half century of the royals’ overlapping lives. They met frequently from childhood, on holidays, weddings, birthdays, and each others’ coronations. They saw themselves as royal colleagues, a trade union of kings, standing shoulder to shoulder against the rise of Socialism, Republicanism, and revolution. And yet tensions abounded between them. Clay deftly reveals how intimate family details had deep historical significance, and at every point in her remarkable book, Catrine Clay sheds new light on a watershed period in world history.
3) The Emperors: How Europe’s Greatest Rulers Were Destroyed by World War I – Gareth Russell
Amberley Publishing | 2015 | EPUB
On 28 June 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated on a visit to Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist called Gavrilo Princip. The assassination set in motion the events that led to the outbreak of the First World War, one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history and a trauma that would bring down the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending nearly eight centuries of Hapsburg rule and unleashing unrest across the European continent. By the end of that conflict, not only had the Austro-Hungarian Empire crumbled, but the other two imperial rulers of Europe, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, had lost their grip on power. The three great monarchies of Europe had fallen. Only in Britain would the ruler of an empire, King George V, the first cousin of both the Kaiser and the Tsar, successfully retain his crown. In The Emperors, Gareth Russell tells the story of the Austrian, German and Russian imperial families during the four years of the First World War and the political and personal struggles that brought about their ruin.
4) The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order – Edmond Taylor
Skyhorse Publishing | 2015 | EPUB
On June 28, 1914, in the dusty Balkan town of Sarajevo, an assassin fired two shots. In the next five minutes, as the stout middle-aged Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife bled to death, a dynasty—and with it, a whole way of life—began to topple.
In the ages before World War I, four dynasties—the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Ottoman, and Romanov—dominated much of civilization. Outwardly different, they were at bottom somewhat alike: opulent, grandiose, suffocating in tradition, ostentatiously gilded on the surface and rotting at the core. Worse still, they were tragically out of step with the forces shaping the modern world.
The Fall of the Dynasties covers the period from 1905 to 1922, when these four ruling houses crumbled and fell, destroying old alliances and obliterating old boundaries. World War I was precipitated by their decay and their splintered baroque rubble proved to be a treacherous base for the new nations that emerged from the war. “All convulsions of the last half-century,” Taylor writes, “stem back to Sarajevo: the two World Wars, the Bolshevik revolution, the rise and fall of Hitler, and the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Millions upon millions of deaths can be traced to one or another of these upheavals; all of us who survive have been scarred at least emotionally by them.”
In this classic volume, Taylor traces the origins of the dynasties whose collapse brought the old order crashing down and the events leading to their astonishingly swift downfall.
5) The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 – Margaret MacMillan
Random House | 2014 | EPUB
From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I.
The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world.
The War That Ended Peace brings vividly to life the military leaders, politicians, diplomats, bankers, and the extended, interrelated family of crowned heads across Europe who failed to stop the descent into war: in Germany, the mercurial Kaiser Wilhelm II and the chief of the German general staff, Von Moltke the Younger; in Austria-Hungary, Emperor Franz Joseph, a man who tried, through sheer hard work, to stave off the coming chaos in his empire; in Russia, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife; in Britain, King Edward VII, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and British admiral Jacky Fisher, the fierce advocate of naval reform who entered into the arms race with Germany that pushed the continent toward confrontation on land and sea.
There are the would-be peacemakers as well, among them prophets of the horrors of future wars whose warnings went unheeded: Alfred Nobel, who donated his fortune to the cause of international understanding, and Bertha von Suttner, a writer and activist who was the first woman awarded Nobel’s new Peace Prize. Here too we meet the urbane and cosmopolitan Count Harry Kessler, who noticed many of the early signs that something was stirring in Europe; the young Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a rising figure in British politics; Madame Caillaux, who shot a man who might have been a force for peace; and more. With indelible portraits, MacMillan shows how the fateful decisions of a few powerful people changed the course of history.
Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.