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Dreadnought : Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War (1991)

by Robert K. Massie

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1,758309,869 (4.25)30
A gripping chronicle of the personal and national rivalries that led to the twentieth century's first great arms race, from Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie   With the biographer's rare genius for expressing the essence of extraordinary lives, Massie brings to life a crowd of glittery figures: the single-minded Admiral von Tirpitz; the young, ambitious Winston Churchill; the ruthless, sycophantic Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow; Britain's greatest twentieth-century foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey; and Jacky Fisher, the eccentric admiral who revolutionized the British navy and brought forth the first true battleship, the H.M.S. Dreadnought.   Their story, and the story of the era, filled with misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and events leading to unintended conclusions, unfolds like a Greek tragedy in this powerful narrative. Intimately human and dramatic, Dreadnought is history at its most riveting.   Praise for Dreadnought   "Dreadnought is history in the grand manner, as most people prefer it: how people shaped, or were shaped by, events."--Time   "A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era . . . engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters."--Chicago Sun-Times   "[Told] on a grand scale . . . Massie [is] a master of historical portraiture and anecdotage."--The Wall Street Journal   "Brilliant on everything he writes about ships and the sea. It is Massie's eye for detail that makes his nautical set pieces so marvelously evocative."--Los Angeles Times… (more)
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The author explores the naval history of Britain & Germany leading up to the eve of the World War 1. Beginning with Nelson up to Churchill in the development of reforming & upgrading the navy to keep up with the German attempt to develop the navy in Germany. An excellent work & detailed with individuals both military, governmental, & competing monarchs in their attempt to gain mastery of Europe. ( )
  walterhistory | Oct 25, 2023 |
The first third to half of this long book was largely comprised of a sometimes plodding series of mini-biographies and deep dives into specific historical incidents. As the book went on, the pace really picked up and it became a deeply interesting look into the long but seemingly inevitable slide into the first world war: personal and national ambitions, the shift of colonialism from taking parts of the world to shifting the boundaries previously determined, the increasing pace of technological development in technology like war ships, and the changing role of the great international powers in the world combined to make it so that conflict was almost bound to happen. Although, of course, everyone who was pushing for eventual conflict thought it would over quickly and in their favor.

All-in-all, probably a deeper look into the pre-WWI era than I needed, but worlds more valuable than the shallow (to the point of bewildering) version that I had previously been exposed to. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
I went into this book expecting a history of the Dreadnought type ship before WWI, and was shocked to realize that for the first third of the book Dreadnought is literally only mentioned once or twice. Instead the reader is given an extremely detailed account of the politics of England and Germany leading up to WWI, with brief bios for all the major characters, and not just the ones you learn about in your standard history books. I never realized that Britain and Germany flirted with an alliance in the early 1900s, which only fell apart as Germany thought it could get more from Britain before committing. Nor the many reforms of Jacky Fisher, and how the British navy cared more for how it looked than how it fought.

Now that list bit is probably something of an overstatement, but Massie definitely gives the impression that Fisher was a force that changed the British Navy for the better just in time before WWI to make the fleet worthy of itself, refocusing efforts on gunnery and useful seamanship skills. I am a bit curious what modern criticisms of Fisher would be as the book paints him in a very positive light. Ultimately once we reach the titular ship, it's just one ship, that does inspire a naval arms race between Britain and Germany that ultimately doomed any chance of alliance. One wonders what might have happened had Germany not cared so much about their Navy and dedicated itself to its army with the resources spent on ships.

I cannot state enough how much I enjoyed this book, but with a huge caveat that you have to enjoy very detailed histories. This is not a short summary of causes leading up to WWI, and it only focuses really on two countries! ( )
  driscoll42 | Feb 28, 2022 |
Two years and 2 months since I started this book I've finished it, but don't let that discourage you. It's a good book.

Dreadnought explores the people involved in the battleship arms race that contributed to the start of World War I. Basically each chapter follows one person. Be it Bismarck, Sir Edward Grey, Kaiser Wilhelm II or fascinating people you might not have heard of before like Friedrich von Holstein or John Arbuthnot "Jackie" Fisher.

Some of them could easily fill a book by itself instead of just 20-60 pages each, and that is why this is a 1000 page book.

The book is chronological, starting in the 1870s, 1880s, and ending 1914 which means that it covers 1-2 generations and the people's mood changes.

As for World War I, I think this book puts more blame at the Germans than some other books, but it also contains enough information for you to create your own opinion (and in the end, World War I had so many different reasons and guilty parties that it will never ever be black or white).

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the political side of naval history. I found John Fisher particularly interesting, as the creator of everything modern in a modern fleet. Wherever a breakthrough or major decision was made, he was there in some capacity.

Kaiser Wilhem II doesn't get a pretty picture painted of himself. The book doesn't say anything about it, but I'm starting to wonder how stable he really was. He seemed really emotional and irrational at times.

Questions, questions... Like any good book, this book leaves you wanting to know more. The only downside is the time needed. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
Dreadnoughts. Looking for information on the Battle of Jutland, or the design or evolution of the Dreadnought, or role of navel power in World War I? Look elsewhere. However, If you want to learn more of Queen Victoria's offspring and the evolution of European relations up to the start of World War I, then this is the book for you. Two sections of photo inserts show all the major players in the upcoming war and a single picture of H.M.S. Dreadnought (the last picture in the second section of photographs).

Anything you want to know about crisis leading to the war are covered. Also, covered is England's Splendid Isolation and it's fall, and why England had to align against Germany. The complex entangling alliances are also covered. Primarily the book is a history of England and Germany and it their leaders and officials. Also covered is the challenges (politically at home) of growing a navy. Massie backs up his book with almost one hundred pages of bibliography. To call this book through would be a gross understatement. It is probably the most detailed account I have read on the the subject.

World War I is what many historians call the start of the 20th Century because of epic changes that the war brought about, politically and militarily. Dreadnoughts, takes you right up to the door step of that change. Dreadnought is well worth the read if you are interested in the period coming to the start of World War I. It is a long read, but explains much of a very complex time without over simplification. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
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Fir Kim Massie, Jack May, Charles Davis, and Edmund Keeley Amicis a Iuvenibus and for Deborah
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A gripping chronicle of the personal and national rivalries that led to the twentieth century's first great arms race, from Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie   With the biographer's rare genius for expressing the essence of extraordinary lives, Massie brings to life a crowd of glittery figures: the single-minded Admiral von Tirpitz; the young, ambitious Winston Churchill; the ruthless, sycophantic Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow; Britain's greatest twentieth-century foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey; and Jacky Fisher, the eccentric admiral who revolutionized the British navy and brought forth the first true battleship, the H.M.S. Dreadnought.   Their story, and the story of the era, filled with misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and events leading to unintended conclusions, unfolds like a Greek tragedy in this powerful narrative. Intimately human and dramatic, Dreadnought is history at its most riveting.   Praise for Dreadnought   "Dreadnought is history in the grand manner, as most people prefer it: how people shaped, or were shaped by, events."--Time   "A classic [that] covers superbly a whole era . . . engrossing in its glittering gallery of characters."--Chicago Sun-Times   "[Told] on a grand scale . . . Massie [is] a master of historical portraiture and anecdotage."--The Wall Street Journal   "Brilliant on everything he writes about ships and the sea. It is Massie's eye for detail that makes his nautical set pieces so marvelously evocative."--Los Angeles Times

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