Ethan Cramer-Flood's Reviews > The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire

The Habsburgs by Andrew Wheatcroft
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Jan 05, 2009

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37 inches of flat screen high definition LCD panel goodness came into my life just before the holidays, which dramatically interfered with my reading for a while. It didn't help that I was in the middle of this book at the time. Not that it was bad -- I actually quite enjoyed most of it -- just that it was extremely dry and dense. A "page-turner" it's not. Some academic or esoteric books make an effort at cross-over appeal, or at least strive for so-called readability. Andrew Wheatcroft is not interested in such pleasantries, and this book is for hard core history nerds only. Luckily I am one.

If the name Habsburg means anything to you already -- if you have a general concept of this extraordinary family that ruled anywhere from 20% to 50% of Europe for most of the past 1000 years -- then you'd be interested in this book. But if this kind of stuff doesn't fire up your engines on its own merits, steer clear. Wheatcroft has a high opinion of his readers, and doesn't bother to provide much context or description for the major historical events the Habsburgs weaved their way through.

He expects you to already know the details of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Treaty of Westphalia, the Reformation, the Council of Trent, the 30 Years War, the interactions between the Ottoman Empires and the Holy Roman Empire, the War of Spanish Succession, the Bourbons, the overseas possessions of various empires, the regions of Europe and their various religious affiliations, the ally/enemy breakdowns in all the major wars, etc. etc. Some of this stuff he never even mentions specifically, focusing instead on the inner workings and machinations of the family, and blowing past the political headlines of the day. Not that he doesn't think it's important, he just assumes you already know the context, can appreciate the gravity of the situation, and don't want to hear more about it. He even at one point impatiently declared his refusal to rehash the story of the Defenestration of Prague, since "everyone knows it so well."

You get the idea.
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