Although he gives the more familiar Spanish Habsburgs their due in this riveting study, Martyn Rady rightly restores the primacy of central Europe to the dynasty, which, born of modest roots in Switzerland and Swabia, became Holy Roman Emperors in 1452 ... One relishes Rady’s wry asides and little gems of knowledge ... In less able hands this complex tale could be mired in convolution, but Rady, a professor of central European history at University College London, is a lucid and elegant writer — historians are advised to follow his model of economy and concision. It is impossible to imagine a more erudite and incisive history of this fascinating, flawed and ultimately tragic dynasty.
... deeply informed, elegantly written and a joy to read. It also shows the Habsburg world to have been even more bonkers than I had thought ... a serious traditional history from the top down — the mass of people only come into it in order to revolt from time to time, usually only to be appropriately repressed. But don’t think that makes it boring. The author scatters asides as treats to keep us gripped, most of which could be books on their own ... It would take a great book to tell this unbelievable tale. Fortunately, Rady has written it.
... [Rady] has produced a Rolls-Royce of a narrative that motors through ten centuries of history with an effortlessness that belies the intellectual horsepower beneath the bonnet ... In less able hands, a narrative canvas as broad as this would sag and unravel. Not so here. Themes and contexts are crisply delineated. Major developments – in the spheres of culture and ideas, economy and society, diplomacy and war – are seamlessly introduced. And the vast cast of characters is depicted with a mix of insight, sympathy and astringent Gibbonian wit that makes them instantly memorable ... It is not the least of Martyn Rady’s achievements that his book sheds light on the present almost as brightly as it illuminates the past.