Kudos to Bloomsbury for making worthwhile older books available in e-format with good editing. No kudos for spending zero effort on the cover, but… the text’s the thing anyway.

Crankshaw’s biography of Empress Maria Theresa is certainly well done, within certain limits. He’s not afraid to be quite opinionated, which I generally find a good thing for a non-technical biography, as long as you get a good idea of what the opinions are. It’s obvious that he admires Maria Theresa, and there is certainly a lot to admire about anyone who can survive the attempted dismemberment of her inheritance as she took the throne. More surprising was his low opinion of Catherine the Great.

At any rate, this is not a ‘technical’ history by any means, and there’s only general descriptions of what happened, that tend to go through one subject at a time. Without prior knowledge of the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, those sections may be difficult to follow. But of course, he’s only concerned about their effects on Maria Theresa and Austria as a whole, and his discussion of the diplomacy that ended up touching off the Seven Years War is interesting.

There is discussion of her inner circle, which is the most developed and most interesting part of the book. There’s also a couple chapters on what was going on in the arts (this is, after all, when Vienna starts becoming a cultural center), which was rough going since my Art History knowledge is severely lacking. The two main themes are politics and personal life. There’s talk of the government and reforms that were made, but no real detail. Sadly, while her two prominent children (Joseph II and Marie Antoinette) are discussed at length, but the other eleven children who survived infancy remain near non-entities.

So it’s a decent general book on the period, and a decent biography. I got some things out of it, but I did feel like there wasn’t enough detail to really get an understanding of much of what was going on. There’s generally not enough on Central Europe in English, so I’m still happy I read it.