Robert Pick's attempt to write the first full-scale biography in English of Empress Maria Theresa didn't get beyond The Earlier Years, 1717-1757 (1966); which drew mixed reviews. Now Edward Crankshaw, author of several political and historical studies with general appeal, has taken up the task to create a personal and political portrait of the Empress and her age. His-book makes no claim to original scholarship but considerable claim to popular readership. He synthesizes his source materials with ability and delivers his story with a flourish. Much blue blood is drawn by the cutting edge of his characterizations: on Frederick the Great -- ""If anyone might be expected to turn out a neurotic it was Frederick, and he amply fulfilled such expectations""; on young Maria Theresa's inherited council of state -- ""At first sight one might have said that their only distinction was that none of them had died of smallpox."" But for Maria Theresa herself he is all admiration, despite her diplomatic sins of omission and commission. (Her most disreputable act, sharing in the first partition of Poland, was undertaken ""reluctantly under pressure from her son and co-regent."") Though she ascended to the throne in 1740 at the unripe age of twenty-three with no political training, Maria Theresa's character was firm, her choice of advisors proved wise, and her heart was in the right place as she grappled with state crises (like Frederick's immediate rape of Silesia), social issues (her reforms were practical and benevolent if not enlightened), and family problems (like trying to straighten out her troublesome daughter Marie Antoinette). Crankshaw mixes lavish personal detail with adequate historical content, throws in some social and cultural background, and comes up with a pleasant portrait.