. . . gets the Royal Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award because Charles I of Austria-Hungary was last in a long line of possible princes for Franz Joseph's crumbling throne. However, suicide, dissipation, disapproved marriages, a Mexican firing squad and a Serbo-Croatian assassin removed them all, leaving the young, politically friendless Charles to inherit an empire that had, by 1916, torn itself apart in pan-German, pan-Slav, pan-Hungarian nationalism. Centuries of autocratic and lethargic Habsburg rule had failed to impose either a common language or a common law on the contiguous geographic entities that made up Austria-Hungary, but Charles wanted to make a last-chance try at unity. He made promises of federation and, despite his Germanophile generals, instigated secret peace proposals to end World War I, but these were badly bumbled. By 1918, he was on his way to Swiss exile and by 1922 he was dead at 35 after two unsuccessful attempts to unseat the so-called regency of Hungary's Horthy. This is a friendly-to-partisan rather than critical account, informed by the author's friendship with Charles' heir and access to Queen Zita's unpublished diaries. There's very little, in or out of print, for general readers about this erased empire or its role during and after World War I and the author provides a careful untangling of the multi-lingual mess Charles tried to retain.