THE LAST KAISER: The Life of Wilhelm II

Giles MacDonogh, Author
Giles MacDonogh, Author . St. Martin's $27.95 (544p) ISBN 978-0-312-27673-7
Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
Paperback - 560 pages - 978-0-312-30557-4
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Wilhelm II, the infamous "Kaiser Bill" of WWI, has long been seen as the principal instigator of that catastrophe. In the first biography of the kaiser in over 30 years, historian and journalist MacDonogh (Frederick the Great) intends to set the record straight by examining events usually adduced as evidence against the intelligence and character of the last Hohenzollern monarch. Wilhelm's dismissal of the chancellor, Bismarck, generally attributed to a young, incompetent kaiser's jealousy, is here construed as a necessary and long-overdue act. Wilhelm's withered left arm, the result of incompetent obstetricians and seen by Freud as the source of the emperor's compulsion to prove his masculinity, was actually only a slight handicap that Wilhelm overcame with great strength of character, attests MacDonogh. The author also shows that in the prewar crises, the kaiser could be seen as the most far-seeing and level-headed person in the higher reaches of the imperial German government, and that he endeavored to head off the impending war. Moreover, charges of anti-Semitism are complicated by the fact that the Nazis called him a "Jew-lover" based on his sometime amity with Jewish businessmen and intelligentsia. Though adroit at winning popular acclaim, the kaiser had an unfortunate tendency toward bombast that led him time and again to dissipate whatever support he had won. The last kaiser of the Second German Reich emerges from these pages as a talented man who would have made an excellent professor of archeology but unfortunately was doomed to rule one of the world's great national powers. 8 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)

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