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The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke

The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke

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by Timothy Snyder

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Wilhelm Von Habsburg wore the uniform of the Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and, every so often, a dress. He could handle a saber, a pistol, a rudder, or a golf club; he handled women by necessity and men for pleasure. He spoke the Italian of his archduchess


Wilhelm Von Habsburg wore the uniform of the Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and, every so often, a dress. He could handle a saber, a pistol, a rudder, or a golf club; he handled women by necessity and men for pleasure. He spoke the Italian of his archduchess mother, the German of his archduke father, the English of his British royal friends, the Polish of the country his father wished to rule, and the Ukrainian of the land Wilhelm wished to rule himself. In this exhilarating narrative history, prize-winning historian Timothy D. Snyder offers an indelible portrait of an aristocrat whose life personifies the wrenching upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, as the rule of empire gave way to the new politics of nationalism. Coming of age during the First World War, Wilhelm repudiated his family to fight alongside Ukrainian peasants in hopes that he would become their king. When this dream collapsed he became, by turns, an ally of German imperialists, a notorious French lover, an angry Austrian monarchist, a calm opponent of Hitler, and a British spy against Stalin. Played out in Europe's glittering capitals and bloody battlefields, in extravagant ski resorts and dank prison cells, The Red Prince captures an extraordinary moment in the history of Europe, in which the old order of the past was giving way to an undefined future-and in which everything, including identity itself, seemed up for grabs.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Part of the family that ruled much of central Europe since 1273, Wilhelm von Habsburg (1895-1949) came of age during the last 23 years of the dynasty's rule. Von Habsburg lived a nomadic and tragic life; he was a bisexual and a political chameleon (including a brief pro-Nazi period) who was implicated in a major financial scandal in Paris during the 1930s. But during WWI, he had become a fervent Ukrainian nationalist, and this became his life's one constant, culminating with efforts to help formerly pro-German Ukraine turn to the West at the end of WWII. As Yale historian Snyder (Sketches from a Secret War) shows, his efforts were futile; he was charged by the Soviets with spying and died in prison. Snyder hews closely to his subject, so that the complexities of 20th-century Ukrainian history sometimes get short shrift, e.g., he devotes only two sentences to the 1933 "terror famine" that killed three million peasants. Generally, though, this is an interesting biography of a man whose colorful life embodied many of the tensions that plagued Europe in the early 20th century. Illus., maps. (June)

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Library Journal

Snyder (history, Yale Univ.; Sketches from a Secret War), whose previous works have won scholarly awards for historical writing, here follows the exploits of Wilhelm von Hapsburg (1895-1948) as he trots across Europe getting involved in hefty doses of both intrigue and mischief. This Hapsburg archduke was an officer, a gentleman, a would-be Ukrainian king, a lover of both men and women, a poet, an opponent of the Nazis, and, ultimately, an anti-Soviet spy for the French. Although he was a relatively minor member of European royalty, Snyder shows that he was more than just another Old World fop. Wilhelm witnessed and participated in the evolution and decline of Europe's Old Order, playing his part in two world wars and in post-World War II realignments. While the truth of Wilhelm's life seems stranger than fiction, Snyder does an excellent job of documenting this story. Appropriate for both lay readers of biography and specialists and students of 20th-century European history, this is recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Antonio S. Thompson

Kirkus Reviews
Sympathetic portrait of cross-dressing archduke Wilhelm von Habsburg (1895-1948). Wilhelm was "raised to protect and enlarge the family empire in an age of nationalism," writes Snyder (History/Yale Univ.; Sketches from a Secret War, 2007, etc.), by becoming a Ukrainian prince, "subordinate to the Hapsburg emperor." The dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I put an end to this notion, but Wilhelm continued to devote himself to the cause of Ukrainian independence. Snyder unravels Wilhelm's story in a straightforward manner, beginning with key moments in his early life. At age 14, he enrolled in a military school in Moravia that novelist Robert Musil (an alumnus) had described only three years earlier as a hotbed of homoerotic activity. "Homosexuality, royalty, and the military were closely associated" in central Europe, writes Snyder, mentioning several contemporary scandals. During WWI, Wilhelm led Ukrainian troops and hoped for a role in an independent nation, but by 1922 the Ukrainian National Republic had been split between Poland and Russia. He wandered Europe at loose ends and in 1931 arrived in Paris, where he apparently indulged in liaisons with fellow aristocrats, furtive late-night visits to homosexual brothels and cross-dressing. When a female lover embroiled him in a fraud scheme gone wrong, he fled to Austria and briefly became enamored with Adolf Hitler, whom he thought might be favorable to his crusade to bring independence to the Ukraine. By the time World War II began, however, Wilhelm was a firm opponent of the Nazis. He became involved with Ukrainian nationalists again after the war, but the Soviets, intending to absorb all of the Ukraine, arrestedWilhelm in 1947; he died of tuberculosis after a year in captivity. The author tempers this grim personal denouement with a satisfying account of how the Ukraine finally achieved independence years after Wilhelm's death. Snyder deftly handles the still-thorny questions about national and sexual identity embodied in this single, remarkable life. Agent: Steve Wasserman/Kneerim & Williams

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What People are Saying About This

Anne Applebaum
"Timothy Snyder is not only one of the leading authorities on Central European history writing today, he is also an elegant stylist, with a talent for storytelling-a wonderful combination."--(Anne Applebaum, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning Gulag)
Timothy Garton Ash
"Timothy Snyder is one of the most remarkable and original historians of Eastern Europe of his generation. His work commands our attention."--(Timothy Garton Ash, author of Free World and The Polish Revolution)
John Lukacs
"The Red Prince must be devoured by anyone who has any interest in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. But the radius of this book ought to reach beyond that. This is a radiant combination of stunning research, worldly knowledge, and good writing. A very rare achievement."--(John Lukacs, author of Five Days in London)
Alan Furst
"Here is a master historian at work-patient, determined, scrupulous and smart. And how many times a year am I told a story that I've never even heard of? Not often. So, caution, highly addictive!"--(Alan Furst, author of The Polish Officer and The Foreign Correspondent)
Norman Davies
"Timothy Snyder has already shown that he has a masterly intellectual grasp of complex issues such as the identity problems of Central and Eastern Europe. He now demonstrates that he can tell a good tale: lucidly, briskly and seductively. The Red Prince delves into areas of history with which most western readers will be unfamiliar. In consequence, it educates as it informs as it entertains."--(Norman Davies, author of No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe 1939-1945)

Meet the Author

Timothy D. Snyder is Professor of History at Yale University. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, and has held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, and at Harvard. He won the George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association in 2003 for his book The Reconstruction of Nations, and his most recent book, Sketches From a Secret War, was awarded the Pro Historia Polonorum by the First Congress of Foreign Researchers of Poland for the best book on Polish history by a foreign author published in the preceding five years. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not a PhD Historian. As a Professor of History at Yale, the author undoubtedly is. I chose this book because I want to learn more history and I love biographies. I thought this was going to be a biography of "The Red Prince." The book is misnamed. There is considerably more history in the book than biography. I can't think of a good name for it, but the name was very misleading. "The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke" creates an expectation that this person lived two lives - a public life and a secret life and that the secret life was going to be compelling and interesting and make up a good portion of the book. Again, it may be compelling for a PhD Historian. There is very little in the book to excite feeling for the "Red Prince." Usually, in a biography, there should be some sympathy, empathy, or something that grabs the reader fairly soon that makes you either like the person or at least want to read more about him and discover what those "secrets" are. What few secrets there were (perhaps two - an allusion to that he was gay or bisexual, and also a spy for a time) left me sleeping. I was left with little feeling for the guy and throughout, I didn't feel like I really got to know him. The title is very misleading. Had the book been named correctly, I would not have chosen it and would have left it to those persons interested in the true subject of the book - the Habsburgs, European development in the late 1800's and the 1900's, with particular attention to Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Germany. I wanted a little more juicy stuff, written in a slightly more "popular" vein.That being said, the book did expose me to some history, and with more reading about similar subjects, I may be able to relate to the subject-matter better. I give it a 2 because of the misleading title and picture, and because it didn't satisfy my thirst. I resent that someone came up with the title and the picture to sell the book, and those were the things that sold me the book (plus the author's credentials and the editorial reviews), but that the book did not deliver on the promise. Too many people, too many countries, without bringing the reader back to Wilhelm or showing a relationship to Wilhelm very often. I kept asking, "How does this relate to Wilhelm?"