cover image Frederick the Great

Frederick the Great

Giles MacDonogh, Author St. Martin's Press $27.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-312-25318-9

MacDonogh's stated purpose in this biography is to recover the real Frederick from the various ""imposters,"" the different versions of the Prussian king that have been current at different times and for different purposes (Frederick the Hero, Frederick the Nazi, etc.). Unfortunately, the author, whose previous works on Germany and German history were well received, presupposes a greater knowledge of the times than the average reader is likely to possess, and the pictures drawn of the various facets of Frederick's personality consequently never cohere into a single portrait. We see him as a sensitive young man who plots an escape from his father's tyrannical control, and later we see him as an accomplished diplomat, strategist and military leader, but the transition from one to the other is not fully explored. In a similar vein, the motives of those engaging in machinations surrounding the arrangements of Frederick's marriage are never made clear, though the account of the Seven Years' War is well-rounded and should be of interest to many readers. The account of Frederick's relationship with Voltaire is likewise interesting and well presented, but this book is probably best left to graduate students--though even they may be put off by the inconsistency of this volume. Explanatory notes appear sometimes at the bottom of the page and sometimes at the end of the book. Foreign phrases and sentences are not always translated, and the translations of verse, by Frederick himself and others, often sacrifice accuracy for what is perhaps intended to be a more fluid English version. Illus. (Apr.)