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Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of Emperor Francis Joseph Paperback – February 12, 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (February 12, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871136651
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871136657
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Palmer (Crowned Cousins) notes in his introduction that there is more to Franz Josef (1830-1916) than his longevity. But considering how many of the emperor's immediate circle died young and/or violently, longevity in this set was a real virtue: Franz Josef's son Rudolf killed himself and his mistress at Mayerling in 1889; his wife, the Empress Elisabeth, was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898; and, most famously, his nephew Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot to death in 1914 by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip. The portrait that emerges from Palmer's descriptions is that of a sad figure left much alone by his unstable wife and of a man very concerned for his empire's survival and for personal honor (his best feature) but, like other wildly inbred Hapsburgs, probably not a very bright bulb. Palmer gives little sense of the culture of fin de siecle Vienna, focusing more on the machinations of states (the League of Three Emperors, the Triple Alliance, etc.) that led to WWI and foreshadowed WWII and the current Balkan crisis. These dry if informative passages sit uncomfortably with the gushy personal details ("he was fascinated by her sister's untarnished elfin qualities, by the long auburn hair and the challenge of those dancing eyes..."). Photos.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

If you have the interest in the subject, it is a good read.
Found it to be tedious and disjointed - written like a college thesis, trying to impress the reader with as many facts thrown into a sentence as possible.
H. N. Bergstrom
Overall, this is an excellent book for those interested in European monarchs, the 1850-1918 time period, or a good biography.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Twilight of the Habsburgs is a nice biography of the Emperor Francis Joseph and his times. Francis Joseph ruled the Hapsburg lands from 1848 to 1916. He is usually seen as an obtuse, stubborn old autocrat who refused to change with the times and thus doomed his empire to collapse. Alan Palmer takes a somewhat revisionist view of the Emperor, pointing out that he had a far better mind than he is normally credited with (although handicapped by a very poor education) and was willing to make reforms when necessary (of course he rarely saw the necessity on his own). Even when he did see the need to change, he often waited until it was too late. For example, in mid 1916 he talked of pulling his country out of World War I in the spring of 1917. What if he had gone ahead and made peace in the summer of 1916? Maybe a shorter war, no Russian Revolution, no American intervention, the mind reels with the implications! But unfortunately he put that decision off and died before he could implement it.
The strongest portions of this book deal with Francis Joseph's personal life. I felt sorry for the poor man, dealing in turn with a bossy mother, a flighty wife he loved dearly, a son who wasted his great abilities and committed suicide, and a host of nephews and cousins who couldn't behave themselves and certainly didn't give him the support he needed. His life was full of losses, a brother executed in Mexico, his wife assassinated, his son a suicide, and finally his nephew and heir's murder bringing on a World War. At least he had one friend, an actress he visited for years in a platonic relationship. Its nice to think of him laughing with her over coffee, it must have been the only chance he had to relax!
Francis Joseph was not a brilliant or especially bright, but he did his duty as he saw it and stuck to it right to the end. It is this that makes him admirable today.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By hintersteppe on November 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
Prior to reading this book, my knowledge of Emperor Franz Josef was mostly limited to his involvement in World War I: a staunch leader committed to preserving the Old Order whose government ultimately turned the Sarejevo crisis into an international one.

Palmer's book "The Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of Emperor Franz Josef" changed my perspective on the Austrian monarch not by painting him as a exceptional or clever leader, which he wasn't; but simply by portraying Franz Josef as a dutiful leader whose reign and personal life was frequently marred by tragedy. Indeed, Franz Josef was keen on his empire's defeat at war at the hands of the French, Italians, and Prussians. As a result, it seems likely he never would have dragged Austria-Hungary into the Great War if it were not for the influence wielded by various ministers on the then-84 year-old emperor. Throughout his life, he was abandoned by a vacationing wife whose life was cut short by an Italian anarchists, his son committed suicide in a mysterious pact, his brother was executed after a failed bid to rule Mexico, and his nephew's assassination in Sarejevo was the saprk that ignited World War I. Indeed, the reader will find out that Franz Josef's personal life was far from a royal fairytale.

Besides the enormous tragedies experienced by Emperor Franz Josef, the changing times surrounding the Emperor's long reign (1848-1916) are nothing short of an exciting setting that may be difficult for us to fathom in the 21st century. At the dawn of Franz Josef's reign, the cavalryman was still prominent on the battlefield, Germany and Italy were mostly collections of squabbling states on his northern and southern border, and the flight of man was limited to a pipe dream.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By mokarl on September 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a very good book. The only reason that I did not give it 5 stars is due to the fact that I am waiting to read several other Palmer titles and then rank against them. My interest in Franz Joesph originated in the start of WWI and how Franz Joseph played into Austia being the main country to instigate the Great War. I was also interested to find out more about the Austrain-Hungary royalty that was famous to intermarry with other nation's royalty. Palmer answer my questions and succeeded in providing a different viewpoint of Franz Joeseph. History books portrayed him as an aged man who was interested in nothing but war and out of touch with the modernizing world. I learned this to be unfounded rhetoric. This book gave an excellent overview of Franz Joesph and his Empire and the inevitable decline and fall of his empire. If you were curious about Franz Joesph or Austrian history, this book is an excellent read.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Christiane Staniger on April 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
The book is full of information about a very interesting time in history. I didn't mind the jumping around that another reviewer mentioned, but I am COMPLETELY distracted by the author's need to change the names. If you can't handle "Franz Joseph," you should try a little harder. Who is Archduke John? We are lucky he didn't change "Maria Anna" to Maryanne. Dear Author, please give your readers some credit.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By CRT on April 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
There is an implication in the title that Franz Josef was the principal reason the Hapsburg monarchy declined in the latter half of the 19th century, finally collapsing in the wreckage of WW I. But this book is a primarily a biography. The author does not spend any appreciable time trying to causally link the Empire's decline with the personality or actions of his subject. To be sure, one can point to Franz Josef's sins of omission as gauges of his ineptitude. He drifted into war with Napoleon III's France, but despite taking personal command of his army in Italy, he was unable to grasp control of either the military or political situation. He did not stop his brother, Max, from accepting the role as bogus emperor of Mexico, even though he had grave misgivings. But shrewdly, he did insist that Max sign away his rights to succession. His handling of diplomacy prior to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 was inept; he was more concerned abut keeping the French out of an improbable alliance with Prussia than keeping Bismarck from overturning the German Confederation. His selection of Benedek as commander of the forces in the north turned out to be a major disaster. And by 1914, he was perhaps too old to take an active hand in restraining Berchtold and Von Hotzendorf, and making direct approaches to Wilhelm II and Nicholas.

But whatever his shortcomings, the Hapsburg empire was already in decline when he assumed the crown. It was simply too ethnically diverse to govern effectively or fairly. Union with Hungary exacerbated, rather than mitigated this situation. Although his long reign might be considered as stabilizing the realm, it also served to fossilize practices and policies which became irrelevant with the changing times.

No bibliography, but extensive notes and their sources in the form of a bibliographic essay.
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