The Red Prince
The Secret Lives of A Habsburg Archduke
Basic Books 2008
Tim Snyder has written a great book. It’s called The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of A Habsburg Archduke (Basic, 2008). Of course it’s thoroughly researched. Tim’s read all the literature and visited all the archives. Of course it’s historically revealing. Tim’s told a story that no one has told before. And of course it’s relevant. The book is about empires becoming nations, an ongoing process in Russia, China, and India. We expect all this from a top-notch historian working in a field he knows like the back of his hand. But Tim has done more. He’s written a serious history book that is enjoyable to read. How’d he do it? Well, Tim’s picked the right subject: an Eastern European prince with dreams of uniting a “nation” that didn’t exist. Did I mention said prince liked to dress as a woman, consort with sailors, and slum in Montmartre? Tim’s picked the right voice: witty, knowing, and ironic, but never sarcastic. Irony is hard; sarcasm is easy. Tim’s picked the right style: rich enough to delight, but spare enough to let the story shine through. Think of Hemingway with the occasional understated joke. I’ve long aspired to write a book like this. Now that I’ve read one, maybe I can.
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