A dense, detailed biography that captures the vanished world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Palmer (The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, not reviewed, etc.) recounts the life of the penultimate emperor of the Hapsburg dynasty, who ruled much of central Europe from 1848 until his death in 1916. The author attempts to rescue Franz Josef from his traditional image as an autocratic ruler blind to the modern forces of democracy, self-determination, and nationalism. Highly sympathetic to his subject, he rarely points out the emperor's faults, viewing the paternalistic, authoritarian ruler as having managed to unite the disparate nationalities of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. While this myth of peaceful coexistence appeals to us in the context of Bosnia's present-day suffering, it never really existed; the empire suppressed nationalism--and even liberalism--only by dint of employing police spies, prison, and executions. This theoretical weakness aside, Palmer does a fine job of describing the intricate family histories that interconnected the European aristocracy. His book is in effect a genealogy, combined with a diplomatic and political history of Austro-Hungary. Franz Josef comes to life as a dedicated family man (though not without his faults) beset by tragedy: Besides losing three wars during his reign, he saw a brother executed in Mexico; his wife murdered by an Italian anarchist; and his heir-apparent, Francis Ferdinand, assassinated at Sarajevo, initiating the First World War, which signalled the end of this traditional, autocratic dynasty and the beginning of the contemporary age. Such was the regime's myopia that the assassination was perceived as a personal, family tragedy; only too late was it recognized as a portent of disaster for European civilization. Palmer's vivid portrait is supplemented by engaging dynastic, political, and military history, though he rather scants the empire's social and cultural aspects.