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The causes for the First World War often boil down to the author of this book - the impetuous young Kaiser - the man who dropped the pilot - the cautious Iron Kanzler Otto Von Bismarck, whose policies had kept  the powder keg of europe at peace for thirty years. Kaiser William II was only 40 years old when the First World War ended, yet he had already created an irradicable image for himself as a belligerent, sabre rattling warlord, prancing around in a colourfully outdated mediaeval uniform, topped off by a tin helmet which would have done justice to a Wagnerian Wotan. In other words, an absurd, posturing warmonger, a  relic from the barbarian age of Attila the Hun, a living menace to the delicately balanced chancelleries of Europe.

In this book however, the Kaiser in person portrays himself in an utterly different light. Here we see a modern man, torn between two cultures, that of his native Germany, but also of england and the British Empire. The Kaiser was in fact the grandson of the Queen Empress Victoria, and he spoke and wrote fluent English. He was a frequent visitor to Britain, loved English tea, and he admired and envied the global success and outreach of the British Empire.

According to the Kaiser's own account he strove desperately to avoid the First World War, which he regarded as one of defence not offence. Yet pressurised by the nationalist elements in German society he could not impede the headlong rush to hostilities which he had so long feared and sought to prevent.

No student of the causes of the First World War, nor anyone who seeks enlightnement as to the roots of the Second, can aford to ignore the insights provided by this autobiography, from the pen of the man who was at the absolute epicentre of a worldwide conflagration which not only engulfed the German Empire but brought down the Empires of Russsia, Turkey and Austro - Hungary. Here is a Gotterdammerung pour nos jours, told by a contemporary Wotan - a king of the gods who saw his Valhalla toppled into ruins before his very eyes.

 

Impala History Series Editor Dr Jacqueline Eales - Reader in History at  Canterbury Christ Church  University College

 
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