The Prussian king Frederick II (1712–1786) is perhaps best known for successfully defending his tiny country against the three great European powers of France, Austria, and Russia during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), a feat that allowed Great Britain to limit its engagement on the Continent and emerge as the world’s leading colonial power, as summed up in William Pitt’s famous claim that “America was won in Germany.”
But in his youth, tormented by a spectacularly cruel and dyspeptic father, this future military genius was drawn first to the flute and French poetry, and throughout his long life counted nothing more important than the company of good friends and great wits. This was especially evident in his longstanding, loving, and vexing relationship with Voltaire. An absolute ruler allergic to pomp, a nonhunter who wore no spurs, a reformer of great zeal who maintained complete freedom of the press and religion and cleaned up his country’s courts, a fiscal conservative and patron of the arts, the builder of the rococo palace Sanssouci and improver of the farmers’ lot, maddening to his rivals but beloved by nearly everyone he met, Frederick was—notwithstanding a penchant for merciless teasing—arguably the most humane of enlightened despots.
In Frederick the Great, a richly entertaining biography of one of the eighteenth century’s most fascinating figures, Nancy Mitford’s trademark wit and charm find the ideal subject.
About the Author
Nancy Mitford (1904–1973) was the eldest of the “Mitford girls,” the sisters who captured the attention of the English public and press with their literary talents and unpopular politics. Nancy Mitford herself was known for her novels, for her forays into social science, and for her biographies of famous figures from French history, including Madame de Pompadour, The Sun King, and Voltaire in Love, all available from NYRB Classics.
Liesl Schillinger is a book critic for The New York Times and writes on the arts for a variety of other publications, including The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Vogue. Her translation of the novel Every Day, Every Hour by Nataša Dragnić, was published in May, 2012 by Viking.
Praise for Frederick the Great…
“It is written with all the author’s skill, is really hard to put down once its rhythm
and energy take hold, and yet imparts an astounding quantity of information.” —Guardian
“Her felicity lies . . . in capturing the spirit of a society and an age.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Her style is skillfully succinct . . . and her wit proceeds from uncommon shrewdness.” —Sunday Times
“Apart from Miss Mitford’s special interests in the fun and fashion department, one may admire her most for her power to condense and explain the most complicated events.” —The New Statesman