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3.4 out of 5 stars
Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty
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on September 25, 2013
Karl Shaw is a wonderful compiler {he must be aided by a good research team}. I can recommend all of his books - I have two others besides this one - to one and all of adult age. Hilarious most of the time, perhaps sickening at others. I'm glad that Shaw latched on to the fact that Edward VIII of England was in fact a Nazi sympathiser {and went as far as being a spy}.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2004
This account of European royalty between the 17th-20th centuries has some interesting stories about the eccentric and often deplorable behaviour of the members of various royal families. There is an emphasis on sexual misbehaviour, and Mr. Shaw's own prejudices show up quite clearly. He obviously has a strong distaste for the idea of women having sex past a certain age, Catherine the Great comes in for particular censor for being still interested in sex while in her sixties (ugh!)He refers sneeringly to George I's mother as a "flabby, toothless crone"She was a very old lady at the time, but that's no excuse, evidently, for being flabby and toothless. I suppose Mr Shaw thinks she should have been working out at the gym, or something. Camilla Parker-Bowles is refered to dissaprovingly as 'Prince Charles's forty-five year old mistress' (one feels Mr Shaw would dissaprove of her less had she been in her twenties).Mr Shaw seems to feel that hereditary power, combined with in-breeding, is the cause of the bad behaviour of monarchs, though as a previous reviewer pointed out, that hardly explains the deplorable behaviour of such non-hereditary monarchs as Napoleon, Hiter, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao etc. An intersting book if you don't mind the constant dwelling on (sometimes wildly exaggerated) disgusting details. The blurb on the back of the book describes this volume as 'side-splitting' but it is hardly that. Midly amusing perhaps. If you want a side-splitting history book, try 'The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody' by Will Cuppy.
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on August 29, 2003
I rated this book two stars because sometimes it got extremely boring. Shaw seems to only depict English royalty and it got boring reading stories about the Hanovers. I would recommend A Treasury of Royal Scandals instead it was written much better.
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on June 20, 2003
I enjoyed this book. I never tried to take it seriously and I think that's why it was so fun. It was the kind of book you can read, put down, and go back to over time. It was something you had to committ to but it was fun and I learned quite a bit about those wonderful royals.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2003
That is the one covering her eyes, so she couldn't see what her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing.
This has to be one of the funniest books I've ever read, but I have to agree with the other posters-you have to keep careful track of who is who and how are they related to the other nuts, I mean monarchs.
Some are easy to remember-George III, easy to remember from the Madness of King George, but some of the others, I had to remind myself of who they were.
The stories in the book made me laugh outloud. Besides the constant stream of lovers, whiskey and food, Shaw revealing to the world that Edward VII used to weigh everyone who came to Balmoral put my mind at ease.
What also really strikes me, is the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is beloved as a Queen, and generally regarded as a fair and equal ruler, but yet is descended from the Hanover-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha nut farm. It was also funny to hear Shaw's explanation that Diana Spenser, who everyone said was "a commoner," came from a background just as royal as Charles's, but she was not a Windsor. Therefore a commoner. A "commoner" with a title and a rather large estate, not a washer woman. Shaw writes-"there are three types of people in the world-blacks, whites and royals." This certainly explains Diana's commoner status.
But I do have one disagreement with Shaw. On the back of the book, it says "Thank god you live in a democracy." The Bush family is distantly related to Diana, and probably some of those Stuart fruit loops, so I wouldn't be too sure about that.
Overall, if you want to laugh like never before and amuse your friends with all kinds of really obscure facts, buy this book.
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on April 24, 2003
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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on April 16, 2003
This book has a lot of little factual errors, that should have been caught by a good editor or fact checker. The writing is only fair-to-poor. Nothing new or interesting here, despite the "babylon" promised in the title.
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on March 19, 2003
I am always searching for new books on Russian and English royalty from 1875 to 1940. I enjoy reading about their inner families, habits, fights etc but I want it to be true and done in a serious manner.I want to know that the author is above board and knows his facts. I didn't enjoy Royal Babylon for two reasons. One, most of the characters he wrote of I am not interested in. He went clear back into the 1600's. Two, everything was done in a flippant way, which made me doubt his accuracy. Very little on English or Russian royalty of my time period of interest.
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on February 25, 2003
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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on September 18, 2002
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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