Goldstone understands that, underneath the silk breeches, face powder and lofty pompadours, these monarchs were real people. They laughed, loved, argued, grieved and fornicated — often rather clumsily. The way they lived their lives at home shaped how they behaved on the world stage ... a virtuoso performance, Goldstone at the peak of her creative abilities ... In describing these familiar political events, Goldstone holds her own against an impressive fraternity of scholars; the depth of her research and the acuity of her insights are outstanding ... The uniqueness of this book, however, lies in the way these characters are brought to life. Tiny details pulse like arterial blood beneath big events ... The pithy footnotes alone are worth the price of this book.) Purists will find her offhand manner annoying, but it has an important effect. Described in 21st-century terms, these characters become so much more accessible ... Thanks to Goldstone’s admirable capacity to probe the minds of these women, we now know them rather well.
... her new subjects have much to offer. Regrettably, her book does not. The problem starts with the 'selected genealogy' that opens the book ... misleading statements are particularly troubling because they repeat the pattern of prurient 'fake news' that destroyed Marie Antoinette in the first place ... Goldstone notes that the prosecution had evidently decided that the queen 'had to stand in on a visceral level for the corruption and depravity of the monarchy in general … This was done by building on the image presented' of her in the pamphlets. This is correct. If only Goldstone had brought the same acumen to her own debatable suppositions about Marie Antoinette’s sex life.
... a dizzying and dazzling foray into the intricacies of 18th-century European history as experienced by the extended family of Maria Theresa (1717–80), the only woman ever to inherit and rule the Hapsburg Empire in her own name. After a lengthy description and assessment of the reign of the empress herself, Goldstone focuses on three of her 16 children and their interwoven lives ... Goldstone’s particular attention to women’s history is evident; she is careful to mention numerous other women whose lives intersected with Maria Theresa and her descendants. Maps, illustrations, and genealogical charts enrich this masterful look at a long-gone era ... While there are fascinating details here about royal childhoods, courtships, marriages, and extramarital love affairs, this meticulously researched collective biography is best for serious readers of 18th-century European politics and history.
... expert ... Goldstone employs colorful secondary-source accounts and strong, character-driven narration to present fresh insights into the personalities, attitudes, gifts, and fatal flaws of this family of powerful, now legendary women. Between her telling of Maria Theresa’s triumphant outmaneuvering of King Frederick of Prussia, a clandestine romantic relationship between Maria Christina and her sister-in-law, and the psychological unfitness of King Louis XVI for the throne, Goldstone weaves together a compelling and redefining tale of how character, decisions, and circumstance collided to shape modern Europe.
... impressive and entertaining ... Perhaps my favorite parts of the book are the challenges that the Empress and her daughters confronted for their survival ... a compelling read. Using Maria Theresa as a familial anchor point was a brilliant idea. Through these four women, readers are treated to a Forrest Gump-like journey through one of the most dynamic periods of European history. With such a storied family, one can only hope that a sequel is in the works.
Drawing from histories, biographies, memoirs, and letters, Goldstone vividly depicts a resplendent, glittering milieu. Her fast-paced, populous narrative teems with gossip, court intrigue, and head-spinning political machinations ... Goldstone illuminates the military, political, economic, cultural, and social complexities that each woman faced as well as the personal challenges, including continual pregnancies (Maria Theresa had 16 in 20 years); children’s deaths; raging smallpox; and, for Maria Theresa, Charlotte, and Marie Antoinette, unhappy marriages. Goldstone is an empathetic biographer, highlighting the women’s considerable achievements as well as their shortcomings ... A colorful collection of dynamic, prodigiously researched portraits.
... fascinating ... Adding wry humor to her lucid narrative, Goldstone clarifies the era’s complex politics and pinpoints how these commanding women helped give shape to modern Europe. This mesmerizing history isn’t to be missed.