The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World

Greg King and Sue Woolmans. St Martin's, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-00016-3

For all the horror that his assassination caused, Archduke Franz Ferdinand the man remains under-recognized. Made heir after his cousin committed suicide and his father declined the throne, Ferdinand was not the Emperor Franz Josef's favorite. Making things worse, Ferdinand fell in love with Sophie Chotek, who despite aristocratic ancestry was considered unfit for marriage. They did marry, but it was a hollow victory: Sophie became a morganatic spouse, excluded from the privileges of Austro-Hungarian royal society. Rather than the romantic storyline, which feels forced (Princess Isabella of Croÿ "plays the role of wicked stepmother"), it is the descriptions of royal society where the account is strongest. The inane and petty rules and procedures of a long dead monarchial society led to the consistent humiliation of Franz and Sophie in royal court and also likely contributed to their demise. The Emperor and royal officials insisted that Ferdinand visit Sarajevo in 1914, despite the volatile political climate and Ferdinand's multiple attempts to cancel the trip. King and Woolman craft a sophisticated portrait of a man who cared deeply for his family, and was destroyed not just by an assassin's bullet, but by a decrepit society that could not tolerate his independent streak. (Sept.)