Miranda Carter’s George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to Word War I had a very promising start as a table reading book, especially with the earlier chapters on the family lives of the three as children and young adults. All the eccentricities of the royals make for engaging reading. However, as you start to like all three main royals less and less, and Wilhelm is unlikeable from the get-go, the book can start to wear thin. There was also much less material on World War I than I anticipated (I should have picked up on the word “road” in the subtitle). If royalty is not your cup of tea, then the book can read like a series of episodes in the lives of dysfunctional families. However, Carter is very attuned to politics, and one of the great themes of the book is how by World War I the autocratic style of royal rule ceased to be, even when a self-styled ruling monarch such as Wilhelm II was still on the throne.
I have another criticism regarding this book specifically as Table Reading. Carter loves compound sentences, parenthetic remarks, and the use of dashes. While not so problematic when reading for oneself, a listener at table can easily lose the track of the main thrust of a sentence. For example, “Then came rumours — constantly denied by the Russian foreign minister, Prince Lobanov-Rostovsky, a very grand, clever, rather haughty aristocrat from a rich old St. Petersburg family, but confirmed by Chinese sources — that they had made a secret ‘loan’ of £8 million to the cash-strapped Chinese, who, having lost the war with Japan, had been left with a huge war indemnity” (p. 153).
See a previous blog entry for one of several very amusing moments from the book.