Dreadnought : Britain, Germany, and the coming of the great war

by Robert K. Massie

Paper Book, 1991




New York : Random House, c1991.


Describes the diplomatic minuets and military brinkmanship as Germany grew to be a continental superpower at the end of the nineteenth century and became a threat to Great Britain's naval superiority and isolationist policies.

User reviews

LibraryThing member KDGeorge
A wonderful history book, bringing the era, main players and a host of secondary characters to life. A wide ranging, in-depth and fascinating build up to WW1. Massie is excellent at giving views from all sides of the conflict – and despite the door-stop size of the book, it is never boring. The
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title suggests it is an analysis of the capital ships programme – but it is much, much more. By the outbreak of war on the last page, the reader has been made aware of the multiplicity of stepping stones to conflict that were laid throughout Europe. The ominous seeds of the Second World War can also be spotted. The only minor criticism that I can suggest is that the role of the German General Staff, (particularly Alfred von Schlieffen and the younger Helmuth von Moltke) does not get quite the same in-depth analysis as that of the other main protagonists, yet it was surely the unrelenting and rigid German mobilisation plan that finally pushed the great powers of Europe over the brink and into the conflagration of the First World War? Five stars.
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LibraryThing member RobertDay
This substantial book is a study of the relationship between Britain and Germany in the years leading up to the First World War. It covers the political and military personalities in some considerable detail, and takes the reader from the era of Bismarck up to the outbreak of war itself.

The studies
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of individuals are quite fascinating. Not only do we get the movers and shakers of the day, but we also see lesser-known personalities such as ambassadors, second-rank politicians and Admirals. I warmed in particular to Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Liberal Prime Minister from 1905 - 1908, who from this reading appears to have been a surprisingly decent person. And it was intriguing to see how little things have changed in the world: the Liberal party were liable to splinter and defect to the Conservatives (I had not previously grasped that the 'Unionists' in 'Conservative & Unionist Party' were Liberals who split from their own party on the question of Irish home Rule and crossed the floor of the House to side with the Conservatives); German foreign policy was dependent on driving a wedge between France and Britain; and the Daily Mail was a xenophobic hate rag in 1905!

The story is one of mounting military and political tension between Britain and Germany, two nations which held each other in high regard and which had close ties through Royalty, Kaiser Wilhelm II being a grandson of Queen Victoria. The first years of the Twentieth century had so much tension that war was almost inevitable; yet on the eve of war, relations between Britain and Germany were as cordial as ever and indeed had improved in the months preceding the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Yet once that act took place, the intricacies of interlocking alliances, and the insistence of each side on sticking to their policies irrespective of what it was actually sensible to do, made war inevitable.

Some more detail on the political situation in the Balkans would have been helpful; we are mainly discussing Germany and Britain, and looking at events from those two countries' points of view; and then we are suddenly faced with the Austro-Hungarian position vis-a-vis Serbia when this had hardly been discussed. And the relationship between Germany and Austria - who fought a war in the 1860s over which of them should be Top Dog in central Europe, and which Austria lost - needs further analysis. Having defeated Austria, it seems strange to us that Germany considered Austria a major ally. The psychology of 19th and early 20th century German politics also has a great bearing on this; all these are subjects little touched on by Massie. But then again, this book is big enough already!

The 'Schlieffen plan', enabling Germany to contemplate a war on two fronts, is also little discussed, surprisingly. By requiring any war in the East to be prefaced with a war in the west to rapidly knock out France purely on the grounds that it would be dangerous not to do so, is considered by many to be the final step that made war unavoidable, and the German General staff's insistence that this was the course that must be followed has to be a major contributory factor. Massie explains why it was that the German military establishment came to this conclusion - basically because of everything that had happened up until then - and ultimately that is the subject of the book.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
This book got half a star because of its availability. If you don't have a basic book for European diplomacy, mostly British and German, and you don't like Tuchman, it's a perfectly good basic account. The best part of it deals with the German Cabinet, whose coverage is usually skimpy in English
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language books.
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LibraryThing member frederick0t6
This large book traces political, military and navel developments in Europe from roughly 1890 to 1914, focusing mainly on Britain and Germany. The book unfolds at the biographical level, with sketches of admirals, general and statesmen. The book is difficult to match in terms of providing brief
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biographical sketches of major figures.
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LibraryThing member maunder
It is hard to make a 900 page book interesting from cover to cover however this volume comes as close as possible. Extremely interesting discussion of the dreadnought arms race but more importantly it gives an intimate biography and history of the major figures in British and German history from
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LibraryThing member thorold
This is an endlessly long, frustratingly gossipy account of the events that led up to the First World War. As usual with Massie, we learn about how Europe's political leaders dressed, what they ate, where they took their holidays and sailed their yachts, and a great many other things that can't
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possibly be relevant. Although the book is nominally about the naval arms race, it takes him about four hundred pages to get to the first mention of naval matters, and even then we don't get very much real detail.

All the same, if you can manage to quell your impatience at his technique, it is a very engaging, readable book, the sort of thing to dip into with pleasure on long winter evenings. And anyway, the underlying story is so familiar that we aren't really that eager to find out how it ends.

Some of Massie's opinions are maybe a bit facile - I've certainly read other accounts of Kaiser Wilhelm II that give him credit for rather more intelligence and put more of the blame for the lurch into war on Tirpitz and the general staff, but that doesn't really matter: this is the sort of book you read for entertainment rather than analysis.
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LibraryThing member xenchu
This is an excellent scholarly book which covers the period from 1890 to 1914. It describe each person and situation that affected the time in turn. It is a large book.
LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
At times gossipy and over-long, but if you're serious about understanding the root causes of World Way One, this is one book you can't miss.
LibraryThing member Whiskey3pa
Just an excellent book on the lead up to war.
LibraryThing member BruceCoulson
Left unfinished; after the author completely overlooked the Venezuela Incident as one of the causes of the naval arms race, I lost interest.
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This is a very good narrative of the relationship between Britain and Germany in the run up to the First World War, tracing events back a whole century to the post-Napoleonic War Congress of Vienna and the marriage of Victoria and Albert. The arms race of the construction of the titular
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dreadnoughts forms only a relatively small portion of the narrative. The concluding two chapters "Road to Armageddon" in Berlin and then in London detail extensively and sombrely the final negotiations, misunderstandings and bravado statements and actions of the final days and weeks leading up to the outbreak of the war.

Robert Massie is an excellent writer of narrative history. However, the book is flawed in that it is simply too long and there is too much repetition and coverage of the same ground in different parts of the book. The lengthy biographical portraits, covering the lives of all the main protagonists, are both a strength and a weakness: they are often fascinating and entertaining, but are often too lengthy and stray too far from the main thrust of the narrative for too long. Much of this detail might usefully have been included in an appendix.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
900+ pages of the naval & political buildup to WW1. The history is told by reference to the personal stories of the key players. Maybe the last European war where monarchs actively contributed. Excellent book.
Read Aug 2007
LibraryThing member expatscot
An excellent book that only loses a star as it was a little difficult to follow, particularly in the early stages given the author's method of concentrating on a character. I found this awkward at the start of each chapter and I suspect others who are not already well versed in the characters would
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too. For those who already know a reasonable amount about the period I doubt it would be an inconvenience.

I also found it took a long time to get to the ships, which was my main reason for reading the book, but bear with it dear reader...

The depth of research is evident on every page and given that this was written some time ago I find it incredible still that there are debates over who was to blame for the start of the war. Unless someone has shown Massie to be hugely at fault somehow and has confused his sources, then this veritable tome leaves the issue in no doubt.

The soft spot I already have for Churchill has become fully ripe as a result of this book and Sir Edward Grey emerges from what were shadows for me to be a man of great honour , tenacity and imagination who did everything possible to avoid the unavoidable.

If you are interested in royalty, politics, diplomacy, power, war in general or ships in particular, this book is a must read.
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LibraryThing member kaitanya64
Massie's writing style is clear, and he organizes huge themes and complex topics in ways that are understandable to the non-specialized reader. Nevertheless, this is an extremely long book, and quite a commitment for anyone who is not totally obsessed with the topic. Also, Massie focuses on
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political and military aspects of history. The deeper social trends, how the experiences and views of the "unwashed masses" may have influenced events is simply not within his area of interest. Thus, for someone who, like me, is interested in how and to what extent these events influenced "ordinary" people, this book was often tough going. Still, I learned a great deal and will read more by this author.
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LibraryThing member driscoll42
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member walterhistory
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
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individuals both military, governmental, & competing monarchs in their attempt to gain mastery of Europe.
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