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A detached study of the dispassionate 18th-century general, administrator, and diplomat who helped to jerry-build the Austrian Empire and witnessed its disintegration. It was military prowess that originally made the inconsequential prince from Savoy (1663-1736) into the adviser of three Hapsburg emperors; but the reserved Eugene, whose personal correspondence has been lost, not only lacked the flair that engenders memorable biography, he failed, McKay concludes, to summon the deeper courage needed to revive Austria's financial base, build a modern army, and achieve a diplomatic security that did not depend on stronger powers' willingness to defend the Netherlands and the Italian territories Eugene had incorporated into the Empire. Neither a political dealer nor an energetic civil servant, Eugene watched Austria slide into isolation in the early 1720s, and his secret diplomacy in the next few years as he edged into senility could not compensate for his years of refusal to press reforms. McKay, a London School of Economics historian who, unlike Henderson in Prince Eugene of Savoy (1964) draws on a new range of German scholarship, points to paradoxes in Eugene's character: a ""'modest, plain man,'"" he became one of the foremost patrons, collectors, and builders on the continent, but the lifelong bachelor sought no heir and his legacy was sold off; a resourceful soldier, he never undertook to reproduce his skills through army schools or general staffs; incorruptibly loyal to the Hapsburg throne, he declined to expand its power by economic and commercial development. And so, as this crisp, useful study shows, he remained a chill, almost feudal figure in the baroque mazes of his period.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1978
Publisher: Thames & Hudson--dist. by Norton