|Peter Conradi's The Great Survivors|
I think it’s not really a secret that, even though I’m not a monarchist, I am fascinated by monarchy. Part of it is that I don’t live in a country with a hereditary head of state, and so the concept is somewhat exotic to me; part of it is that the average monarch comes with a whole bunch of sparkle and glitter, and I'm a well-documented magpie. So when Peter Conradi sent me a copy of his new book, The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It into the Twenty-First Century, I was excited to read and review it. (There was another reason for this excitement, too – I’ll get there in a minute.)
Conradi is a journalist and the co-author of the tie-in book for the fabulous recent film about George VI, The King’s Speech. But this book isn’t a memoir or a biography, exactly – it’s more of an examination of the concept of monarchy and an exploration of how in the world the remaining monarchies have managed to survive all of the upheavals of the past 300 years. There’s a good bit of history here, especially of those monarchies that have rested precariously close to the edge of abolishment (or, in some cases, like that of Spain, have fallen over that edge but managed to recover). And, of course, there’s a good bit of political discussion – how monarchies function, what they do, how they compare with other systems.
But for a royal blogger who is quite upfront about her sometimes less-than-academic approach to the subject, the part of the book that really sucked me in was, well, the gossip. Some of the biggest obstacles that surviving monarchies have had to hurdle are the personal ones – illegitimate children, marriages in crisis, potential spouses who are deemed unsuitable, etc., etc. Conradi looks at the reigning monarch and heir of each of Europe’s current monarchies, as well as their families.
We meet King Albert of Belgium’s daughter, Delphine Boel, whose birth nearly ended his marriage with Queen Paola. We chart the dramatic and sometimes traumatic life of King Juan Carlos of Spain, from his family’s tormented relationship with Franco and the accidental shooting that killed his brother to the romances he had before his marriage and the negotiations that linked the royal houses of Greece and Spain. We hear the stories of Princesses Mette-Marit, Maxima, and Letizia’s eventual acceptance as future queens, even if their personal histories included a few skeletons. And it’s an utterly delightful journey; gossipy, yes, but with a purpose -- in an era when the public can in some places and cases vote a monarchy out of existence, even a tabloid story can sometimes rock the institution to its core.
That said, there are a few places that the book sometimes falters. One, I thought, was in the organization of the material – Conradi’s dealing with a massive subject, and sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly why he arranged the chapters of the book in the order that he did. There didn’t seem to be an overarching argument in those terms. Other than that, it’s mostly in the details. Occasionally the author mixes up the many queens of The Netherlands or assigns the wrong parent to a royal child. But neither of those things took away from my overall enjoyment of the book.
But I must include a caveat, because part of my enjoyment was my hunt for my own name in the book. Conradi includes a section on how royalty has become a major topic of discussion online, and he highlights a few blogs and bloggers. I’m among them, and I knew I was included before I started reading the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it as much as I did even without that little cherry atop the sundae. Not shockingly, Mad Hattery is featured in the book as one of the “oddest” royal blogs on the ‘net – I’ve been asked if I was offended by such a categorization. I can only say this: have all of you read Mad Hattery? It is excessively odd – but I think it’s odd in a wonderful way. So, no, I wasn’t offended at all; I was immensely flattered to be included.
Long story short: two big thumbs up from this non-monarchist royal blogger. Although I was given my copy, this is a book I would definitely purchase to read. The book's release date is two weeks from today, on June 15; you can pre-order it here at Amazon. But, even better, one of you won’t have to spend money to get a copy of the book! Conradi and his publishers are offering a signed copy of the book to one lucky reader of this blog.
Entering the giveaway is simple: just comment on this post with one reason that you think monarchies have survived into the twenty-first century. (One comment per reader, please!) You have until Friday, June 15, 2012, at 5:00 PM Eastern time (that’s New York time) to comment. The giveaway is open to readers worldwide.
One lucky winner will be chosen at random to win the book -- I will announce the winner on Saturday, June 16th, so please check back then to see if you're that lucky person!