Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King & Sue Woolmans

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 27, 2013

In the summer of 1914, three great empires dominated Europe: Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Four years later all had vanished in the chaos of World War I. One event precipitated the conflict, and at its heart was a tragic love story. When Austrian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand married for love against the wishes of the emperor, he and his wife Sophie were humiliated and shunned, yet they remained devoted to each other and to their children. The two bullets fired in Sarajevo not only ended their love story, but also led to war and a century of conflict. Set against a backdrop of glittering privilege, The Assassination of the Archduke combines royal history, touching romance, and political murder in a moving portrait of the end of an era. One hundred years after the event, it offers the startling truth behind the Sarajevo assassinations, including Serbian complicity and examines rumors of conspiracy and official negligence. Events in Sarajevo also doomed the couple’s children to lives of loss, exile, and the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, their plight echoing the horrors unleashed by their parents’ deaths. Challenging a century of myth, The Assassination of the Archduke resonates as a very human story of love destroyed by murder, revolution, and war.

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The final years of Hapsburg Monarchy were marked by tragedy. The execution of Maximilian I, the premature death of Archduchess Sophie, the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and the murder of Empress Elisabeth took a heavy toll on the family, but these events pale in comparison to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, Duchess of Hohenberg in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Sifting through decades of rumor and speculation Greg King and Sue Woolmans carefully detail the political and private lives of the couple whose killing would catapult the globe into the throws of WWI. Through a simultaneous examination of Vienna's bureaucratic circus and the fairy tale romance that played out against it, The Assassination of the Archduke paints an intimate portrait of this well-known, though largely enigmatic pair of royals. 

I honestly have nothing but admiration for this this title. I consumed the it in less than forty-eight hours and even now, two days later am still utterly captivated. The bare bones of the story were of course familiar, but the insight into Franz Ferdinand's personality, his values, influences and political agenda is unrivaled by any text currently available. Choosing to look beyond the political position that was their death warrant, King and Woolmans humanize the Archduke and his wife and in so doing bring truly unique perspective to their woeful demise and the repercussions suffered by their descendants long after their deaths. 

This kind of in depth historical nonfiction doesn't come along every day. Challenging long held perceptions, King and Woolmans back their thesis with a wealth of information from family members and rare primary sources, shedding new light on the couple, their marriage and event that immortalized their names in the annals of world history. 
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Joined in marriage, they were joined by the same fate.
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