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The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke Hardcover – June 2, 2008
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- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- ISBN-10 : 0465002374
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465002375
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- Product Dimensions : 6.13 x 0.81 x 9.25 inches
- Publisher : Basic Books; 1st Edition (June 2, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,500,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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When Wilhelm von Habsburg was born in 1895 he was a minor member of a minor branch of the Habsburg Dynasty, which had been a dominating force in European politics for 500 years. Wilhelm's immediate family were not in the main line of succession and thus lived out of the public eye as much as was possible for people known as Imperial and Royal Archdukes and Archduchesses. Wilhelm's father seems to have originated a family streak of rebelliousness, when he apparently began to make plans to establish himself as King of Poland before that country had even regained its independence. Wilhelm, as his father's youngest son, had to go further afield to rebel, and he chose the province of Ukraine, a region divided between Russia and Austria-Hungary. Before and during World War I Wilhelm was an advocate for Ukrainian independence and for some surprisingly left wing politics, and during the tumultuous period after World War I at one point seemed poised to become the country's King. Conflict between Poland and the Soviet Union put an end to hopes for Ukrainian independence, and Wilhelm was relegated to the life of a playboy in Paris, enjoying love affairs with both sexes until a financial scandal forced him to return to Austria. Then during the 1930s and 1940s Wilhelm dabbled in right wing politics, switched to anti-Nazi activities during World War II, and then in the early years of the Cold War apparently worked with Western countries spying on the Soviet Union. This led to his arrest and imprisonment by the Soviets, and he died in prison in 1948.
However colorful his life, Wilhelm von Hapsburg would not have merited a biography solely on his own account. He apparently left few letters or other written records, and there seem to be very few photographs as well. What makes The Red Prince so important is the good coverage Snyder provides of the complicated history of Ukraine. The region slipped back and forth between Austria-Hungary, Poland, and the Soviet Union until finally gaining independence in 1991. Snyder draws many excellent parallels between the nationalist politics pre- and post- World Wars I and II, the political turmoil that has plagued the former Soviet Union and its satellites since the end of the Cold War, and the kind of universal supra-nationalistic politics practiced by the Habsburgs and now by the European Union. The coverage of the Orange Revolution of 2004, when Ukraine took a decisive turn away from dictatorship towards democracy, is especially interesting.
Although Wilhelm himself seems to have left few written records, so that readers will not feel they know much about him personally, Snyder was able to recreate the lives of his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and other relations. He reveals them to have been interesting and intelligent people with independent views, a far cry from the habitual stereotype of the Habsburgs as insufferably inbred mediocrities. Snyder also gives some fascinating portraits of some of Wilhelm's associates like Trebitsch Lincoln, who deserves a biography of his own, though it would probably be considered too bizarre to be true.