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Wilhelm von Habsburg wore the uniform of an Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the decorations of the Order of the Golden Fleece and, every so often, a dress. He spoke the Italian of his archduke mother, the German of his archduke father, the English of his British royal friends, the Polish of the country his father wished to rule and the Ukrainian of the land Wilhelm wished to rule himself.
Timothy Snyder's masterful biography is not only a reconstruction of the life of this extraordinary man - a man who remained loyal to his Ukrainian dreams even after the country's dissolution in 1921- but also charts the final collapse of the ancien regime in Europe and the rise of a new world order.
Part of the family that ruled much of central Europe since 1273, Wilhelm von Habsburg (1895 1949) came of age during the last 23 years of the dynasty's rule. Von Habsburg lived a nomadic and tragic life; he was a bisexual and a political chameleon (including a brief pro-Nazi period) who was implicated in a major financial scandal in Paris during the 1930s. But during WWI, he had become a fervent Ukrainian nationalist, and this became his life's one constant, culminating with efforts to help formerly pro-German Ukraine turn to the West at the end of WWII. As Yale historian Snyder (Sketches from a Secret War) shows, his efforts were futile; he was charged by the Soviets with spying and died in prison. Snyder hews closely to his subject, so that the complexities of 20th-century Ukrainian history sometimes get short shrift, e.g., he devotes only two sentences to the 1933 "terror famine" that killed three million peasants. Generally, though, this is an interesting biography of a man whose colorful life embodied many of the tensions that plagued Europe in the early 20th century. Illus., maps.