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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Most histories of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 focus on the politics behind it and the catastrophic world war which resulted from it. Franz Ferdinand himself is usually brushed off with a reference to his being heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and sometimes the fact that he had married morganatically (unequally) and that his wife Sophie was also killed that day is mentioned. But who were Franz Ferdinand and Sophie? Most of the time they are brushed aside, as if the only important thing about them is that they were assassinated. Greg King and Sue Woolmans have given us an excellent dual biography of the Austrian Archduke and his Bohemian wife that lets us see them as real people: a man and woman from different backgrounds who met, fell in love, got married despite enormous difficulties, and had a happy family life with their three children until they were murdered on their 14th wedding anniversary.

Franz Ferdinand originally had very little chance of ever becoming famous. He was the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, one of several dozen Hapsburg Archdukes. He was sickly as a child and eventually developed tuberculosis. Intelligent but shy and distrustful of others, it was difficult for him to mix in society or form close friendships. When the Emperor's son Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in 1889 Franz Ferdinand was forced into a more prominent role, one which neither he nor his uncle cared for, and perforce found himself expected to marry and have children who would one day rule the Empire. While half heartedly going about the business of choosing one or another dreary Princess or Archduchess to be his wife Franz Ferdinand met Countess Sophie Chotek, a handsome woman with a quick mind and sparkling personality. She was his ideal partner a Cinderella to his Prince Charming, but her family was not considered good enough for a Hapsburg to marry. After long negotiations Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were allowed to marry with the stipulation that Sophie would never be Empress and their children would have no right to succeed to the throne.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie's married life was happy despite a long list of aggravations and petty humiliations visited upon them by the Hapsburg court. She was not allowed to sit near her husband or even attend official functions, and every foreign visit and important occasion was a nightmare of protocol. She and her husband put up with it all, and they doted on their three charming children. Franz Ferdinand spent much of his time making plans for his succession to the throne. He realized that Austria-Hungary would have to undergo major reforms if it was to survive, and he understood that the increasing tension between the European powers was likely to explode into catastrophic war unless something was done to cool things down. Ironically, the trip he and Sophie made to Bosnia in June 1914 was undertaken partly in order to relieve some of the tensions there.

King and Woolmans have done a masterful job of recreating the lives of the Archduke and his Countess. I enjoyed reading about their early lives and the mutiple hoops through which they had to jump before finally being allowed to marry. The details of their fateful trip to Sarajevo were familiar to me, but King and Woolmans have added some human touches, like Sophie's stroking the cheek of a little girl who had given her a bouquet, that I had not read before. In some ways I found the final chapters, which tell what happened to Franz Ferdinand and Sophie's children, the most fascinating. Sophie, Max, and Ernst were orphaned on June 28, but at first their parents left them well provided for. War and revolution decimated their inheritance, and Max and Ernst ended up in Nazi concentration camps for a time in the 1930s. Managing to survive despite these difficulties, the three quietly lived out their lives with dignity, doing everything they could to honor their parents' memories.

This is a highly readable, sympathetic account of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie's lives. Their descendants collaborated with King and Woolmans to help them produce this book, which does much to counter the popular image of Franz Ferdinand as a humorless martinet and Sophie as a scheming nobody determined to become Empress. We will never know what might have happened had Franz Ferdinand and Sophie not gone to Sarajevo that day in June, 1914, but this book allows us to wonder whether the former Austria-Hungary, Europe, and the world might be better places now if that heavyset, awkward, but intelligent Archduke and his just as intelligent commoner wife had lived to rule a century ago.
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VINE VOICEon September 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When we studied history, we were told that World War I started when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914. Did you ever wonder who this Archduke was, and why his assassination precipitated the War?

This biography tells the story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of the Emperor of Austria. He became heir to the Austrian throne after the tragic death of the Emperor Franz Joseph's son, Rudolph, who killed himself and his mistress at Mayerling in 1899. The Emperor did not like his new heir, who he saw as liberal reformer. (Only in Austria could a militaristic, temperamental, rigid man who had occasionally expressed the opinion that some of the nations that Austria ruled might want some control over their own areas be seen as a liberal!)

The tension between the two men was increased when Franz Ferdinand announced that he wanted to marry a woman who, though descended from many generations of nobility, did not have the lineage required to marry an Archduke. Eventually, the two were allowed to marry morgantically, which meant that Franz Ferdinand's wife had none of the titles or precedence of an Archduchess, and that their children would be excluded from inheriting the Austrian throne.

The book does a good survey of Franz Ferdinand's life, but the focus is really on this aspect of his life - his marriage for love, his happy family life, and the hundreds of ways that the Austrian Court managed to insult and demean his wife and family. Written with the cooperation of some of the great-grandchildren of the couple, this is an interesting story, though many of the details are missing because much of their personal correspondence was destroyed by earlier generations. This leads to occasionally glowing descriptions of Ferdinand's wife by her descendants, who could not have known her, and are treated with the same respect as contemporary sources.

The events leading up to Franz Ferdinand's trip to Sarajevo are described well, and the political divisions are well explained. This period in history is marked by a number of regional separatist movements, and understanding them is critical to understanding the assassination. Both Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed, leaving their three children orphans.

The final chapters of the book tell of what happened to the the children, which is also fascinating - two of them were taken to Nazi camps for their opposition to the Nazis.

Overall, a good intro book to this person and period, though at times a little uneven.
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VINE VOICEon September 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
All wars are stupid--to begin with a generalisation--but the so-called War to End All Wars takes the cake in the stupidity sweepstakes, since what began as a family squabble among the crowned heads of Europe and Britain, ended in wiping out or maiming an entire generation of young men. I was particularly interested in the authors' account of the serial assassinations that preceded the event of the title, something that I had not previously connected to the war itself.

Greg King and Sue Woodman have written an absorbing account of the events leading up to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his morganatic wife, Sofie. Since my topic is ancient history, and my exposure to World War I consists of one very interesting undergraduate class many moons ago, I am not -au courant- with the scholarship on the topic, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of authors' detail, but the book is well footnoted and has an extensive bibliography. It also contains an extensive "cast of characters" and a complex family tree.

What is lacking, however (with the exception of the cover), are photographs (which abound on the era)--something to do with the economy, one supposes. These would have made the book more accessible to the reader who is not an expert on WWI, especially given the extensive catalogue of personages essential to the narrative. The book in its present form also lacks an index, which I consider indispensable in a scholarly work of history.

Despite these drawbacks, I found the book to be extremely readable and interesting.
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on January 9, 2014
The standard for biographies of a royal couple was set by the publication of Robert Massie's magisterial "Nicholas and Alexandra." After reading that book one was left with an accurate picture of the personalities of both Nicholas and Alexandra as well as of the times in which they lived and of the tragic events of their lives. The King/Woolmans book on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his morganatic wife, Sophie Chotek, does not get anywhere near attaining the standard set by Robert Massie. It is, nonetheless, a well researched and well written book. However, the authors seem intent on portraying Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in a favorable light which may be partially due to their having collaborated with descendants of the couple. At the time though both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were thoroughly disliked in Austria and Franz Ferdinand was seen as a boorish, ill-tempered and relatively poorly educated individual and as a person who was not deemed as a worthy successor to the Habsburg throne.

It seems that neither Sophie nor Franz Ferdinand kept much in the way of personal diaries or wrote many letters. The biography therefore does not add much to what the couple were truly like as individuals. A large part of the book is devoted to a repetitive detailing of all the slights experienced by Sophie as a result of her morganatic status when she attended events involving the Imperial family. The pettiness of the Habsburgs in this regard is quite monumental. However, Franz Ferdinand did enter into the marriage in defiance of the Habsburg Imperial family laws and what happened was to be expected. Sophie seems to have experienced all the humiliations with good grace. We learn that Sophie and Franz Ferdinand had a truly successful marriage with three lovely children raised in a loving atmosphere. We do not learn much more than that about them, however.

The book also does not present much about historical events in pre-war Europe and the book departs from a description of the personal lives of the couple only towards the end when their fatal visit to Sarajevo took place. The events at Sarajevo are well described. They have been described in other books but are well done here and even made suspenseful despite the outcome being clear. It is astonishing that given all the warnings about the likelihood of assassination that the couple ventured to Sarajevo. They could easily have confined their activities to attendance at the Bosnian army maneuvers outside of Sarajevo and not visited Sarajevo at all. Even more surprising is the fact that after a bomb was thrown at their vehicle by the waiting assassins the couple and their entourage elected to drive back along the identical route along which they had come when it was clear that further assassins would be waiting for them. This is simply incomprehensible. It suggests either a death wish or monumental stupidity. The involvement of the Serbian government in the assassination is very well documented in this book.

One shocking revelation of the book is that the old Emperor, Franz Joseph, on hearing news of the assassination of his nephew and heir seemed to welcome the news as did the rest of Viennese society showing how disliked and disapproved of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie really were. It makes one wonder whether the old Emperor's insistence that his heir attend the army maneuvers in Bosnia was not based on a desire to rid himself and the country of what he deemed to be an unsuitable heir for the Habsburg throne.

The fate of Franz Ferdinand's and Sophie's three children in the post-war years and during the Nazi occupation of Austria is well discussed and there is a lot of new information about them. In conclusion, I enjoyed this book and it is well worth reading. I think it will prove of interest mainly to readers who are interested in the personal lives of royal personages.
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on January 21, 2014
Although I've always "known" about the murders in Sarajevo, this book adds the personal details that I wasn't aware of. The Archduke's whole life was difficult, and even though he married the woman he loved, he was ostrasized (as was she) in incredibly vicious ways by the emperor and court of Franz Josef. Good riddance to the "Hapsburg" empire.
In the end, the result was a needless war and untold death/destruction. What a waste.
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on September 5, 2013
I was so excited to see this book pop up on Amazon and NetGalley. I'm familiar with Greg King through his excellent writing and exemplary research on the Romanovs and I was happy to see him move into a new area of early 20th century history that is rarely explored. In almost every novel and history, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his beloved wife Sophie appear for a few fleeting moments - a couple in Sarajevo eternally getting in a car for a fatal ride. Assassination restores their humanity and brings a devastating new perspective to the start of the Great War.

King makes an excellent point early in the book, noting that while many history buffs and historical fiction fans are enthralled by the relationship between the Archduke's contemporaries' Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, it is actually Franz Ferdinand and Sophie who are the great love story of that time. They loved each other deeply and respectfully and built a loving relationship and family life before their tragic meeting with history. I knew that Sophie was the morganatic wife of the heir to the Austrian Empire but I had no idea of the abuse she suffered at the hands of the Austrian royal family or how hard she fought for the man she loved. It was refreshing to read about a 20th century royal family other than the English and the Russians - and the Austrians' dysfunction and scheming keep this lively narrative moving along.

Unfortunately, King and Woolmans worked on this book at a great disadvantage. Sophie and Franz Ferdinand's eldest son destroyed almost all of their diaries and letters to each other. Without this key information, Assassination lacks an in-depth level of detail that can be found in other books about late 19th century/early 20th century royalty. For example, it's not even known when and where Sophie and Franz Ferdinand first met. But as the book progresses closer and closer to that fateful day in Sarajevo, this becomes less and less of a problem as the book advances in time and draws closer to the assassination.

I sped through this book in one day and would strongly urge readers to check it out. King is a brilliant writer whose research shows in every line even while he is reconstructing stories with an eye as keen as any novelist.

Disclaimer: I received an advance e-galley of this book from the publisher for review.
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on October 16, 2013
Looking at the magazines the authors write for (Royalty, etc.) I was a bit hesitant about buying this book, concerned that it might just be a People magazine level account of what dresses noblewomen wore, menus at palaces, waltzes played at balls, etc. There is a bit of that here, but the book is also an excellent account of the political situation in Europe leading up to World War I, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the ruination of the House of Hapsburg. It is well-written and organized and the interplay between the personal lives of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife and Balkan and European politics and diplomacy is fascinating. An excellent read even if you are not particularly interested in the period as I am not. Highly recommended.
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on December 30, 2015
This is an in depth revelation of the lives of Franz Ferdinand and his beloved wife, Sophie, their devotion to their three children, the insults they suffered because of the morganatic nature of their marriage, and their assassination along with its aftermath. I appreciated learning so much about this couple and the pivotal event in world history that their assassination turned out to be. My only negative comment is that the author is rather redundant in his admiration and defense of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. Hundreds of words could have been edited out and this story would have had the same impact. Less is more.
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on September 22, 2014
Wasn't quite sure about how interesting this book would be. I'd always read that Franz Ferdinand was a cipher and not much to write home about. However, the author soon erases that assessment and provides a fascinating look into his life, the life of his beloved wife, Sophie and all the intrigue and deceit going on in the Habsburg Court of Franz Josef before the Great War. The glimpse into Court life and the restrictions due to Franz Ferdinand's morganatic marriage to Sophie are truly hideous. Hard to comprehend how hidebound that Habsburg court really was! Fascinating and highly recommended. Only regret: picture quality is not the greatest. Thank you.
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on April 18, 2014
There is a lot to like about this book. The story is detailed and it's a refreshing take on some of the often biased and allied skewed events leading up to the Great War. Russia and Serbia especially are represented better than some books, especially older books do. I enjoyed finding out a lot more about the archduke than I ever thought possible and his relationships with his wife and children did open up a new side to the man that I was not aware of. Likewise, my opinions and views on Franz Joseph also changed with his actions and decisions regarding his reign and dealings with his nephew.

Now for my problems with the book. From it's opening, you find out that the author(s) have coined much (not all mind you) of their information from the memories of the archdukes children, and more often than not from the stories and memories passed down to his grand or great grandchildren. The views, opinions, stories, and information then is coming from the family which is at best not something you can really feel is reliable. I mean there is a direct interest in painting the most positive light onto your family and your forefathers that I think bleeds through in the book. I didn't expect a hack job but the tone of the book just is almost too friendly to FF. And a large part of the text is founded on information and memories passed down through generations so that I never feel I can completely trust the information as history. It's almost like we are only getting one side of the story, and perhaps that is what the writers wanted. To sum up, take the information and this version of FF portrayal with a grain (small grain mind you) of salt.

As you can see by my star rating, anyone can still enjoy this good book.
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