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)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archdukeby Timothy Snyder
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.
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
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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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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?"