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Prince Felix Zu Schwarzenberg: Prime Minister of Austria, 1848-1852

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Adolph Schwarzenberg

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Author: Adolph Schwarzenberg
Publisher: Ams Pr Inc
1 review about Prince Felix Zu Schwarzenberg: Prime Minister...

One of the few complete portraits of a fascinating man

  • Feb 28, 2002
European history, as it's taught (to the extent it's taught) in American schools, generally consists of British and French history, with brief mentions of Italy in the Renaissance and Germany during the wars. Austrian history barely merits a blip, save for August 1914. It's not surprising, therefore, that 'Prince Felix zu Schwarzenberg' is -- as far as I've been able to determine -- the only English-language biography of a most interesting historical figure.

The Schwarzenbergs were one of the richest and most powerful families in the Austrian empire. Prince Felix (1800-1852), after a 'colorful' early life, buckled down and became prime minister following the revolutions of 1848. It was he who engineered the abdication of Emperor Ferdinand and his heir, Archduke Francis Charles, in favor of the latter's 18-year-old son Francis Joseph, and later helped restore the empire's authority in the wake of nationalistic uprisings. Though often denounced as a reactionary, Schwarzenberg was actually a more nuanced statesman, actually sweeping away many of the lingering remnants of feudalism and laying the foundations for the more modern (for good or ill) centralized state. It's one of history's interesting, if neglected, 'what-ifs?' to speculate on how Europe might have been different had Schwarzenberg lived another two or three decades, instead of dying of a sudden stroke at age 52.

A scion of the same family, Adolph Schwarzenberg has done an excellent job in this biography -- especially considering that he was writing at a time when government and family archives had largely been seized by the Nazi occupiers of Austria and Bohemia (where the family's ancestral home is located). The bulk of his work focuses on Prince Felix's years in power, with separate sections on domestic and foreign policy and a special emphasis on 'the German problem.' The book is detailed, but also very readable, and it opens the door to an important figure and time in European history. It's a title I was glad to get my own copy of, and one I return to often.

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