Germany's last kaiser was born in Potsdam on January 27, 1859, the son of Prince Frederick of Prussia and Princess Vicky, Queen Victoria's eldest child. Wilhelm was born with a withered arm—possibly the result of cerebral palsy—and many historians have sought in this a clue to his behavior later in life. He was brought up by a severe Calvinist tutor, but his entourage spoiled him, allowing him to win at games and maneuvers to compensate for his deformities. This gave him a sense of inherent invincibility. He was believed mad by some, eccentric by others. Possessed of a ferocious temper, he was prone to reactionary statements, often contradicted by his next action or utterance. He was rumored to have sired numerous illegitimate children, though he was by all appearances a prig.
As Germany's last emperor, Wilhelm II is widely perceived as a warmonger who seemed to delight in power-grabbing bloodshed, and the belligerent aims of his staff; but the image he craved for himself and for posterity was that of "Emperor of peace." Historically he has been blamed for World War I, although he made real efforts to prevent it. He has been branded an anti-Semite, even though the Nazis wrote him off as a "Jew-lover." Giles MacDonogh, widely praised for his biography of Frederick the Great, takes a fresh look at this complex, contradictory statesman in this fascinating, authoritative new biography.