Towards the end of the book, the author states that he has consciously chosen to focus on symbolism rather than on the more usual subjects of Hapsburg history. Fair enough, and the book indeed offers some insights into how the Hapsburgs saw themselves as reflected by the way they are portrayed in the paintings and books discused. However, the casual reader who is more interested in the more conventional aspects of history should be warned: you are not going to learn much about the events of the times, the individual personalities of many of the Hapsburgs or get much of a feel for whether particular rulers were good or evil, wise or demented, successful or failures. [And the blurb on the jacket is downright misleading where it tantalizes you into thinking that you'll get some entertaining tales of Habsburg eccentricity, such as Juana the Mad touring around Spain with her dead husband's coffin: Mr. Wheatcroft doesn't discuss that story]. I have to agree with another reviewer that Mr. Wheatcroft can tell a good story when he wants, and does so early in the book with that of Leopold III's campaign against the Swiss. For that reason, I think that the choice of focus represents something of a missed opportunity. You cannot buy this book and, after reading it, feel that you have a solid feel the history of the times that it covers. You'll have to buy a second book. If you don't mind that, by all means buy this one too. If, however, you want to buy only one book on the Hapsburgs, you probably would want something else.