Review by Choice Review
Much has been written about Frederick "the Great" (1712-86), including several recent German-language biographies that coincided with the 2012 tercentennial of his birth, but none can match the breadth, balance, and good sense of this superbly written study. To begin with, Blanning (formerly, Cambridge) is the first scholar to identify Frederick's homosexuality and strident homoeroticism as key elements of a complex personality molded by the love-hate relationship with his abusive father, King Frederick William I (r. 1713-40). He also portrays Frederick as a deceitful, narcissistic egomaniac who shamelessly pursued military glory and all other vehicles of self-promotion while invariably seizing full credit for his subordinates' many contributions. Nor does the author hesitate to identify the victims of this mean-spirited bully, who repeatedly reveled in humiliating those around him. Yet, Frederick also earns praise as a wise ruler who further strengthened the imposing edifice that his father had left him and as a discerning patron of Enlightenment thinking and culture. Blanning's balanced assessment extends to military matters, in which Frederick was "an indifferent general, but a brilliant warlord." Perhaps his greatest contribution came from attracting a legion of talented "Prussians by choice," who flocked to Berlin to help rebuild Prussia after its catastrophic 1806 defeat at the hands of Napoleon. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. --Charles Ingrao, Purdue University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Blanning (The Romantic Revolution), retired professor of modern European history at Cambridge University, ambitiously explores the origins, outlook, and impact of Frederick II (1712-1786) in this wide-ranging biography. The enigmatic king was a man of contrasts: miserable during his strict military upbringing, he later proved an adept and enterprising wartime commander; a cosmopolitan man of letters more comfortable in French than his native German, his rule helped consolidate the foundations of a coherent German identity. Harangued by his father for preferring reading to "hunting, drinking, or praying," Frederick nonetheless held himself out as "a beacon of reason," establishing in Berlin an open and tolerant society unprecedented at the time. But as much as Frederick enjoyed exchanging poetry with philosophers, his reign was defined by the Seven Years' War, a grueling conflict spanning four continents and entangling the Prussian forces in simultaneous fighting on five fronts. The youth who ran away from his barracks became a man "who could hold the balance between the other great powers of Europe," yet expressed reluctance to return to Berlin even at the close of war. Blanning's lively prose and command of the economic, social, and artistic currents of 18th-century Europe make this an attractive book even for those unaccustomed to scholarly reading. Maps & illus. Agent: Scott Moyers, Wylie Agency. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
Prussia owes its reputation as the personification of militarism to Frederick the Great (1712-1786), who, though mocked by his own father as a weakling, foreshadowed Napoleon's military genius. British Academy fellow Blanning (The Romantic Revolution: A History, 2012, etc.) divides his biography into childhood, the Seven Years' War period, and Frederick's domestic efforts and policies. Throughout, the author explores and questions his subject's sexuality. Frederick's court was homosocial, even homoerotic, and lacked women. There are plenty of hints in his writings, and in those about him, but never a definitive statement. Blanning leaves it to readers to decide. Frederick despised Christianity and the Catholic Church. His music, his flute, and his art collection were his escapes from enforced religion. He corresponded with Voltaire for more than 40 years and accepted counsel only from him. Upon acceding to the throne, Frederick first dismissed his wife and then set out to surpass in war and conquest the father who abused him physically and psychologically. He invaded Silesia, the first of three Silesian wars; the third was better known as the Seven Years' War. In the middle section, Blanning concentrates on that war, demonstrating his abilities as a military historian. Frederick built a top-notch military machine, and his highly trained, devoted soldiers were well-provisioned; they not only followed him, they often saved him from his own errors. The author shows Frederick as inexperienced, inept, and overconfident. During the war, his reconnaissance was faulty, and the intelligence he received was inadequate. Facing numerically superior enemies, this absolute commander succeeded as they failed to coordinate attacks, their councils debated actions, and parliaments refused funding. His decisions to attack were quick and often wrong. As Blanning notes, "when madness succeeds, it has to be renamed audacity." Frederick made many mistakes, but his will and determination ensured success. While the sections about Frederick's childhood and reign are well-written and informative, it is the war coverage that will win over readers looking for a different view of the Seven Years' War. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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