Was there ever a good monarch? To judge by Shaw's account, it's unlikely. Instead, he writes, 'Every monarchy in Europe has at some time or another been ruled over by a madman,' adding in passing that only Bavaria's King Ludwig had the good grace to turn his madness into a source of tourist revenue for his subjects' descendants. Of the mad and the downright curious there's no shortage in these pages, as Shaw delivers anecdote after anecdote concerning the demented, sometimes awful, sometimes entertaining behavior of the likes of Germany's Frederick the Great, who 'drank up to forty cups of coffee a day for several weeks in an experiment to see if it was possible to exist without sleep'; Russia's Catherine I, 'a raddled old alcoholic with bloodshot eyes, wild and matted hair and clothes soiled with urine stains ... [who] once survived an assassination attempt too drunk to realize that anything had happened'; and England's Queen Mary, 'the only known royal kleptomaniac,' whose aides would surreptitiously gather the knickknacks she'd lifted from her subjects' parlors and return them with muffled apologies.
Royal Babylon is a guilty pleasure of a book, and one that does a fine job of explaining, in Shaw's tongue-in-cheek words, 'why most continentals can't get enough of royalty, provided it isn't their own.' --Gregory McNamee