From the madness of King George to the equine escapades of Catherine the Great, from the intramural squabbles of Elizabeth and Di to the staggeringly decadent exploits of Charles X: in this gossipy chronicle of regal shenanigans, British journalist Karl Shaw dishes plenty of dirt--and ably demonstrates why royal watching is such a satisfying hobby.
Was there ever a good monarch? To judge by Shaw's account, it's unlikely. Instead, he writes, "Every monarchy in Europe has at some time or another been ruled over by a madman," adding in passing that only Bavaria's King Ludwig had the good grace to turn his madness into a source of tourist revenue for his subjects' descendants. Of the mad and the downright curious there's no shortage in these pages, as Shaw delivers anecdote after anecdote concerning the demented, sometimes awful, sometimes entertaining behavior of the likes of Germany's Frederick the Great, who "drank up to forty cups of coffee a day for several weeks in an experiment to see if it was possible to exist without sleep"; Russia's Catherine I, "a raddled old alcoholic with bloodshot eyes, wild and matted hair and clothes soiled with urine stains ... [who] once survived an assassination attempt too drunk to realize that anything had happened"; and England's Queen Mary, "the only known royal kleptomaniac," whose aides would surreptitiously gather the knickknacks she'd lifted from her subjects' parlors and return them with muffled apologies.
Royal Babylon is a guilty pleasure of a book, and one that does a fine job of explaining, in Shaw's tongue-in-cheek words, "why most continentals can't get enough of royalty, provided it isn't their own." --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Anyone who loves scandal, particularly the juicy dish on royalty, will inhale this gossipy account by British writer Shaw (The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists). In a style reminiscent of low-end tabloids, the author presents a litany of negative and sometimes disgusting details about the personal lives of the men and women who ruled Britain, Germany, Russia, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland and Austria. Leaving the late 20th century mostly behind (his only mention of Charles and Diana is in the introduction), the author concentrates instead on royal misbehavior back to the 1700s. Entertaining overall, many entries are indisputably not for the faint of heart, such as the truly gross story of Russia's Peter the Great ("`Great' was generally a recognition of power or brute strength, no matter how they lived, how many people they had killed or how repulsive they were"), described by Shaw as a "paranoid sadist." This tsar was an alcoholic who tortured people for fun and once forced an attendant to bite into the flesh of a corpse. This chronicle is replete with royal sexual activities, including those of the Bourbons of France, whom Shaw credits with possessing "extraordinary appetites." Irony is Shaw's strong suit, which lends a great deal of humor to often humorless anecdotes. For example, he notes that Spain's King Philip IV fathered 30 illegitimate children "but being a good Catholic always felt bad about it" and forced his wife to have sexual relations three times daily. Like Michael Farquhar's A Treasury of Royal Scandals..., this irreverent and amusing exposé of royal indiscretions will appeal especially to those who like their history "lite." Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.