A truly masterful book. Pakula pulls together everything from social theory to medical history to thousands of letters to create a portrait of the Empress Dowager Frederick. The first born and cleverest child of Queen Victoria, Vicky married the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick. Theirs was a truly loving marriage and a meeting of two idealistic, thoughtful minds. Unfortunately, Prussia (led by Frederick's conservative father Wilhelm I and the EVIL EVIL EVIL Chancellor Bismarck) was highly conservative and Anglophobic. Frederick was a talented soldier (papers released decades later made it clear he was a main reason Prussia won the Austro-Prussian War) and dedicated son. Unfortunately, by the time he took the throne he was dying of throat cancer, and only ruled a few months. His crazed son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, took the throne immediately.
Here's what I learned from this book: Vicky was super awesome. She dedicated herself to understanding world politics until the last weeks of her long, drawn out death by cancer (German doctors wouldn't give her more than tiny doses of morphine, so she died in incredible agony). Thanks to the state-owned press, which released constant propaganda against her and her husband, she never got to do the good she dreamt of. But even without official support or money, she spent her life nursing, spreading hygiene plans, and collecting for charities. She was shamefully treated by the Prussian court, most especially by her sociopathic eldest son, Wilhelm II. Wilhelm II was totes crazy. Bismark was an evil manipulative genius who was directly responsible for WWI and indirectly for WWII. His anti-semitic war mongering propaganda ruined the mindset of the German people for a generation.
If I could rewrite history, I would kill off Wilhelm I so Frederick could rule, and kill off Bismarck and WIlhelm II so they wouldn't frustrate Frederick and Vicky's liberal plans.
Of course, if I could *really* rewrite history, I would make Vicky the ruler. I loved her.