THE KAISER: Warlord of the Second Reich by Alan Palmer

THE KAISER: Warlord of the Second Reich

Email this review


For people who are fascinated by tales of Imperial incompetence and the eccentricities produced by centuries of royal inbreeding, there can never be too many popular biographies of Kaiser William II. Palmer's life of William follows his earlier Bismark, and should satisfy those who have not read, or read and forgotten, Virginia Cowles' The Kaiser (1963). He makes use of a few personal letters previously unavailable--which add virtually nothing of importance--but otherwise rehashes the same old life. William's shriveled left arm and partial deafness have been forced to carry too much weight as character-keys already, but once again they thread their way through the narrative. Aside from occasionally making a fool of himself--his obsession for uniforms was the object of public ridicule--and several diplomatic gaffes (notably, his ill-conceived telegram to Kruger at the start of the Boer War which touched off anti-German rioting in England)--William merely went through the paces of a human anachronism; when he disappeared no one noticed. For a serious study of William set within the broader historical developments of his era, Michael Balfour's The Kaiser and His Times (1962) is still the place to look. Unlike Balfour, Palmer takes no interest in German and European economic development, and therefore cannot separate William's fantasies from the historical impulses that led to war. Nor does he uncover the social fabric of Wilhelmine Germany, since his focus is solely on castles and cavalry. On that level, easy to take.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1978
Publisher: Scribners