Friday, November 20, 2015

Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty by Karl Shaw

I came across this book like I do so many others, randomly. A teacher was retiring at the end of the school year and he was giving away books by the dozens. I took a few other ones, and on my second trip there, I found this book, with a picture of Queen Victoria with a crown that is too big on her head.

Even though it was a free book, I wasn't sure if I should pick it up or not. I love history, and I love reading about history.... when the writer is good. It's so easy for history to become boring and bogged down with what actually happened, instead of letting the story unfold naturally. Sure, history is a recount, but also, people were involved and as I get older, I realize just how crazy people are. Anyway, I bit the bullet and took the book home, and then moved the book when I bought my house. 

And boy, I am glad I did. Usually books that I am not really into takes me a few weeks (even a month) to get through, and I was finished this book in a few nights. The tone and attitude of the book is pretty judgemental and catty, which is fun when you get into the mindset of a typical teenage girl (or boy). I imagined being invited into a conversation while drinking in a mysterious pub or bar by someone who experienced first hand these ridiculous people and these ridiculous people happen to be famous Monarchs, all related to the British royal family. 

The book is fun and silly if one disregards the tone towards mental illness. It's very obvious the book was written over 15 years ago, because along with mental illness (and the sequential jokes), Shaw also discusses homosexual and transgender royals and likens them to pedophiles or sexually deranged. I can see what he was trying to do: poke fun of the idea of a royal family and question why they have all this power and money when really, they are just as fucked up as the rest of us! However, as I was reading goodreads, a lot of people felt that he was poking fun of serious mental issues. I also felt as a person reading this book in 2015, he was seriously dated in how he portrayed homosexuals and transgender people. 

Another issue that many reviewers had of the book, which I also have a problem with, is the lack of footnotes. There was a bibliography in the back, but I would have loved to see where he got his information and his research on the topic. There was also a few complaints about how incomplete his stories about certain monarchs, like George VI and George III and reducing their reigns to stories about their madness. 

Finally, Shaw ribbed about the rampant inbreeding and ugliness of the royal families across Europe, which made me laugh because the propaganda machine and stereotype of beautiful ladies and gentlemen with refined tastes and loads of money is just that, assumptions. Many royal families were obsessed with keeping the royal line pure, but in doing that, their gene pool became more shallow. I also didn't realize that the Kaiser Wilheim I, Czar Nicholas II and King George V were all first cousins. What I also didn't know was that the current British royal family is exclusively German, and changed their names to Windsor in response to anti-german sentiment during WWI. King George V, though Shaw ripped into him as a classless man, was a man who modernized the royal family and refined their duties for the present day. 

 This book could use the benefit of a rewrite for more modern times, but I would also love to see an update on the selection of Princess Diana when she was to marry Prince Charles. Shaw ripped into him earlier in the book, but was decidedly mum when it came to the progression of the current British royal family. I can only say that Diana passed only just a few years before this book came out, and the grief felt by the world was probably why Shaw didn't write about her. 

If you like a book that treats history like juicy gossip, then give this book a whirl. However, take it with a grain of salt. There is a lot of bits about madmen, homosexuals and sexual depravity, all in the same sentence. Take it as you will. 

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