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5.0 out of 5 stars Royal Babylon ~ Wild Romp through European History
This has to be the best non-fiction light reading this summer. Why slog through hundreds of dusty history books for the "juiciest bits" when Karl Shaw has lined most of them up in this rollicking little 325 page volume ? It does for the fabled royal houses of Europe what the 'Hollywood Babylon' books did for our American celebrities twenty years ago. This is not...
Published on July 15 2001 by John Barbey

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3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but disjointed
With the descent of the modern media onto the current royal family, and the loss of the aura of untouchability that led to frank examinations of the lives Prince Charles and Andrew, the re-examination of royal institutions has led to the publication of a number of books similar to Shaw's Royal Babylon. The stories range from amusing to tragic to downright silly, but the...
Published on April 24 2003 by Marc Pieroni


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3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but disjointed, April 24 2003
By 
Marc Pieroni (Hoboken, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
With the descent of the modern media onto the current royal family, and the loss of the aura of untouchability that led to frank examinations of the lives Prince Charles and Andrew, the re-examination of royal institutions has led to the publication of a number of books similar to Shaw's Royal Babylon. The stories range from amusing to tragic to downright silly, but the underlying theme is to portray how ridiculous the institution of monarchy is, and how ridiculous its various officeholders have been throughout a number of nation's histories. The stories, some popular and others not so well known are protrayed in vivid fashion with vigor by Shaw. Anyone looking for evidence of ample royal insanity, or those who revel in reading about the less-than-graceful moments of a number of historical figures will enjoy this book, and it does make for good light amusing reading. However, the book does have a number of problems. First, the author appears to fall victim to wild exaggeration that reduces the validity of the stories. In one story about Prussion emperor Frederick Williams fascination with collecting tall men for his army, he claims that "the tallest were almost nine feet tall", a very unlikely claim. His overexaggeration of the grotesqueness, insanity, and unpopularity of a number of monarchs not only disgusts the reader after a time, but makes his claims dubious. A number of his claims about the popularity of various monarchs flies in the face of most accepted perceptions of them. In addition, his chronicle jumps wildly from time to time and country to country. There is absolutely no continuity of the tales, and a bit of organization of thoughts would have helped the reader follow a particular line. Finally, while less known tales often make the book unique and original, some monarchy lines are clearly not as interesting as others and are given too much time in the book. Reigns with little impact like the Danish kings, a number of Russian Czars and Prussian emperors, are of less interest because of the reader's lack of familiarity with the figures yet are given equal time. In spite of these criticisms, the book does tap into a number of lesser known stories, and does underline the often ludicrous nature of many of these royal lines. If nothing more, the book is a public service annoucement against inbreeding, and does offer amusing and light reading. The reader just has to wade through a bit much to get to it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Mad Houses of European Royalty, Feb. 25 2003
This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
This is a popular history of the Royal families of Europe that is censored from most histories. It has a bibliography, but no index. From the Hanoverians of 1714 until 1871 the British royal family was never popular. They were attacked in the press for profligacy, indolence, stupidity, or squalor. Page 3 tells how "spin doctors" and the British press turned public opinion in favor of the royal family. Yet they compared favorable to the royal houses on the continent. Their escapades in the 1990s are a return to past traditions.
Spain's rapid economic decline coincided with the reigns of mad rulers. The Habsburgs, Braganzas, Savoys, Hohenzollerns, and Wittelsbachs were inbred, insane, or both. While academic history books deal with trade or battles, they censor the personalities behind those events. The rulers called "Great" were not given that name for any good works. Until the 19th century royals were very often illiterate (like their subjects). History is as much about the madness of men as about social events. The more powerful a ruler, the greater the danger of his folly. So read about the last three centuries of European dynasties. Let's hope that it can't happen here, with an Imperial Presidency and Corporate Aristocracy!
This book appears to be a spicy confection. but there is whole wheat beneath the pink icing. This book teaches without preaching; the facts speak for themselves.
Page 95 gives the origin of "God Save the King". The personality of Kaiser Bill is described on pages 144-8. The history of the Romanovs is on pages 151-188. Did you wonder what the world lost in that dynasty? The frequent absences from England by George I was the reason for the creation of a Prime Minister (p.193). During the reign of George V many of the royal rituals were invented. The symbol of a royal family as an example of marital fidelity, good manners, and religious devotion was also created (p.276). The royal family needed popularity to survive. Since the Battle of Hastings, England was ruled by six families, none of them English (p.281). Chapter 9 tells about the Windsors; the most important dynasty left in Europe.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but a little confusing..., Sept. 18 2002
By 
Helena S (Ottawa, ON Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
Royal Babylon is history lite at it's best - entertaining, witty, and frothy. It is basically one long gossip column and is very hard to put down; I read this straight through in just a few days. The author, Karl Shaw, takes us on a tour of royal antics and foibles spanning several centuries of Europe's monarchs and their families. We learn, for example, that Czar Paul had steel plates strapped to the knees of his soldiers in order to make them goosestep without bending their legs, and that the Duke of Cabaria, heir to the Spanish throne, liked to wear up to sixteen pairs of gloves at the same time.
In Royal Babylon, Shaw covers the Bourbons, Romanovs, Hohenzollerns, Hanoverians, Windsors, Wittelsbachs, Saxe-Coburgs and Hapsburgs. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to the Austrian Hapsburgs. From all accounts, they were as zany as the rest of the bunch, but little time is spent describing them apart from a select few.
This would have been a 5 star read except that Shaw tends to jump around so much at times, that it can be a little difficult to follow. The first chapters are arranged thematically, the second part of the book is more geographical/by family. The same individuals are touched on in both parts of the book though, so I found myself going back several times, trying to figure out exactly how King A was related to Prince B and Queen C, etc. As a previous reviewer has already mentioned, I think an index would have been very helpful. Still, a great read overall!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific ammo for pro-republicans in Britain, July 5 2002
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This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
This author seems to specialize in books about the tasteless, gross, and unspeakable -- his own words -- but he seems to have done his research on the dubious mental health, psychopathic behavior, and unbridled sexual antics of most of the royal families of Europe over the past three centuries. It was noted by many contemporary observers, in fact, that in 1801 virtually every hereditary monarch was demonstrably insane. The Bourbons, Hanoverians, Habsburgs, Braganzas, Romanovs, Wittenbergs, Wittelsbachs, and Hohenzollerns all were monstrously inbred, the result of negative eugenics as a matter of state policy. Extreme ugliness, dwarfishness, and physical deformities which were rare in the general public were common enough in the palaces of Europe. And even a relatively healthy newcomer like Napoleon III Bonaparte took full advantage of the royal prerogative to frolic among his horde of mistresses unhindered. Moreover, the full public schedule of even a young royal generally meant that no prince or princess received much of an education and many were barely able to sign their names. Nor is 20th century Britain immune to these personal and dynastic shortcomings. In 1941, five members of the Bowes-Lyon family, including two of Queen Elizabeth's nieces, were confined to a mental hospital in Surrey on the same day; Buckingham Palace later lied to _Burke's Peerage_ about their existence, ignoring the fact that several of them were still alive in an NHS ward in the mid-1980s. This semi-tabloid volume would have been improved by footnotes and an index. Nevertheless, the genealogist who discovers a link to royalty among his ancestors might think twice before publicizing the fact.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Alarming indeed...., April 16 2002
By 
Todd Hagley "groucho75" (Decatur, GA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
Alarming is an apt description, as after reading this, you wouldn't want to spend much time in the company of any of the monarchs listed in this book. Rapists, murderers, cheats, drug fiends, and liars have ruled over a duchy or a kingdom or two and that's just in England. Granted, the high proportion of mad German blood might explain a thing or two as well.
Shaw keeps things entertaining while the pace is brisk. This is light, amusing material that shouldn't be regarded as some highly important discourse on the relevancy of the monarchy in the modern world. Obviously, a monarchy serves a more populist role than a political one these days so you shouldn't see this as a smear tactic against any kingdom in particular.
I am curious to research many of the dynasties written about if only to put this book into perspective. You have to admit that Oxford's History of the British Empire probably wouldn't reveal half of what's here. An entertaining read, that could have featured a few more chapters, hence the four stars.
Well done, Shaw.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Things we weren't supposed to know, Dec 29 2001
By 
Andrew S. Rogers (Houston, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
I have to admit I wasn't expecting much from an author whose previous works, according to the bio on the back cover, include 'Gross,' 'Gross II,' and 'The Mammoth Book of Tasteless Lists.' However, I was very pleasantly surprised. Compared to 'A Treasury of Royal Scandals,' by Michael Farquhar, which covers much of the same ground in a far more tendentious fashion, 'Royal Babylon' is a very good book.
The sell-copy on the book's cover makes 'Royal Babylon' sound like nothing more than recycled gossip and titillating stories about Those Nasty Royals. It's actually a somewhat more systematic history than that, with in-depth profiles of several monarchs and thumbnail sketches of many others. Shaw also charts thoroughly the recurring incidences of mental and physical illness in the massively inbred family trees of European royalty, and tells tales of drunkenness and debauchery that never made it into the official history books.
Unlike Farquhar, Shaw doesn't moralize about monarchy as an institution, or argue that his findings invalidate the very idea of having a hereditary head of state. In fact, he makes the important distinction (on pages 125-127) that in a constitutional monarchy like Britain, having a nut -- to use the clinical term -- on the throne, while still not a good thing, has far fewer negative repercussions than it does in absolute monarchies like Prussia or Imperial Russia.
An eye-opening and disturbing element of Shaw's history is the body-count of people whose lives were taken or destroyed at the whim of a monarch. Throughout the book, people are beaten, starved, frozen, marched to death, or handed back and forth like trading cards. Thousands died in the construction of St Petersburg. Tall men from across the continent were kidnapped to Prussia to form Frederick William I's Potsdam Giant Guards. Other monarchs laughed at, or even enabled, this 'eccentricity.' As another review on this page notes, however, the death toll from monarchs is still far less than that exacted, in the twentieth century alone, by leaders acting in the name of the People. It may be outside the scope of Shaw's history to point that out, but it's still important to keep in mind that monarchies have tended to be far less sanguinary than 'dictatorships of the proletariat' are.
I wish Shaw had included an index. But apart from that failing, this is a decent general survey of the seamy underside European royal history. Fans of the contemporary House of Windsor will want to read the evidence that suggests the domestic tableau of the post-Victorian British monarchy hides some secrets every bit as dark and troubling as those of the Wittlesbachs, Hohenzollerns, or Romanovs.
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1.0 out of 5 stars History And Babylon, Sept. 22 2001
This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
This diatribe is composed almost entirely of spin and sleezy rumor. The unschooled and gulible (not to mention anti-monarchists) will, no doubt, take it all too seriously. But even had it been fair and balanced, which it is not, when one considers the world leaders that have emerged from "the people", i.e. Cromwell, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-tung, not to mention a host of genocidal dictators throughout the Balkans, the Mid-east, and the continent of Africa, the monarchies of old compare somewhat more favorably. By the way, Shaw might consider, for Babalon 11, profiling some of our former duly elected U.S. presidents. Jefferson, for instance, who kept the woman in his life and his own children slaves, and lest we forget our last "she's a stalker" chief law inforcement officier who was busily committing the crimes he was destroying others for committing. Might make an interesting read for the "democratic" reader. Cathy Hansen. Ruckersville, Virginia
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5.0 out of 5 stars Royal Babylon ~ Wild Romp through European History, July 15 2001
By 
John Barbey (San Francisco, California USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty (Paperback)
This has to be the best non-fiction light reading this summer. Why slog through hundreds of dusty history books for the "juiciest bits" when Karl Shaw has lined most of them up in this rollicking little 325 page volume ? It does for the fabled royal houses of Europe what the 'Hollywood Babylon' books did for our American celebrities twenty years ago. This is not a book which is likely to please royal apologists - between the excerpts, Shaw lays on mercilessly outspoken criticism of the Royals described, in the best British tradition. Underlying the fun is a very serious message about the corruption of the aristocracies in Europe generally, and the monarchies in particular - the great pretension of good old feudalism & aristocracy was the simple idea that power should be for the best & mightiest. Yet Shaw has lined up a "rogues gallery" of people at the very top of the aristocratic pyramid that have had absolutely no moral, mental, or even physical might or superiority. One has to be rightly horrified that this system held together, no matter what, and that the whole world and everything in it, was laid at the feet of these monstrous characters. This is a delightfully shocking little book. What is more, 98 per cent of it is entirely true, no matter what the apologists try to argue. As one might expect, since this writer is based in England, Shaw's biggest salvos are directed at the reigning Hanovers - and it certainly does raise an eyebrow that if Diana had survived marriage to Charles and QE II, that she would have been the first Englishwoman sitting on the throne since Henry the Eighth's last wife, Katherine Parr. Or, that even though she was the daughter of an Earl, a decendant of the Stuart kings, and had a noble lineage older than the Oueen's, that she was considered a "commoner" by the customs of England's "Royal" house. Celebrate Bastille Day and the Fourth of July the right way, and buy this book. It may be the best advertisement for democracy you will ever read !!
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3.0 out of 5 stars More inbred nutters than you can shake a banjo at., March 13 2001
The bumf on the back cover promises to amaze me with the antics of European Royalty over the last 2 or 3 centuries. And it did not lie.
The tales of debauchery and terror that find their way onto these pages are really out of this world. Perhaps Royalty does have "Divine Right" because these people had something that the rest of us, fortunately, do not.
The emphasis is on sex. All royals seem to love it, spending most of the rest of their time wondering which courtier should be next. On many occassions we have strikingly unattractive females being lusted after by Kings and Princes, or instances of a King performing with his latest while the unfortunate husband has to look on helpless.
Then we have the many many instances of madness. It is not just King George that had marbles rolling around in his head. If they are not drunk, they are having sex. If they are not having sex, they are knighting trees or fighting with curtains. Nuttier than a chipmunk's cheek, the Royals of Europe provide many instances of laugh out loud lunacy.
Karl Shaw has been given a veritable feast of information on which to write this book and he has done it well. Writing in a rather sparse tone, he hits the reader with tale after tale in rapid fire succession, never dwelling on any one particular story for long.
The problem with it, however, is the fact that so many of the Royals featured did much the same as another Royal in a different country in a different century. Shaw rightly alludes to the blatant and dangerous inbreeding, but comes up with a situatuation where it seems as though the reader has already been there. I struggled with this, because the novelty of some of the antics wore off during the 200 odd pages. The book finds itself somewhere between novel and work of reference, but does not work as either. I frequently found myself wishing there was an index at the back. Both so that I could get a better idea of which Royal interlinks with which, and because I know in future that I am going to hear of something a Royal did, and I am going to want to see if its in this book.
Overall an excess of material, but I cannot gripe at a book that gives me so many amusing anecdotes and truly laugh oud loud funnies.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Trashy, but a good read nonetheless, April 26 2000
By 
saskatoonguy (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada) - See all my reviews
No legitimate historian would be caught dead with this book. Shaw has gone through a bookcase of European history books and assembled all the trashy tidbits, especially where sex or personal hygiene is concerned. The end result is a very, very strange book. Focusing mainly on European monarchs of the 1700s and 1800s, the author details the shocking excesses of the royals, with an emphasis on the sexual. Attention is mainly on the monarchies of Britain (before the reign of Elizabeth II), France, Germany, and Russia, with secondary attention on Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Austria. The people discussed are all long-dead; look elsewhere for a recounting of the Charles-and-Di story. The author assumes the reader has some background in European history. Historians will sneer at this book, but it kept me amused during a long day of flying and sitting in airports. It also reminds us that the potential to abuse power is bottomless, and it reminds us why we fought a revolution to get rid of the British monarchy (oops, I forgot -- I live in Canada).
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Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty
Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty by Karl Shaw (Paperback - May 29 2001)
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