I was lucky enough to receive this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.
Being a fan of history, I was immediately interested in this book. How do you pick just thirteen from mankind’s rich history of ugly and sometimes bloody romantic breakups? Not only that, but how do you take what can be some very dry historical texts, letters and the like and make this book interesting for readers of the 21st century? I think the author has done a very fine job of it. The stories she has chosen are definitely breakups gone bad. While many familiar to both history buffs and the general public alike, some are probably completely unknown to anyone who doesn’t have either a big interest in history or some kind of degree in historical tragedies! I will preface this review with two caveats. If you are not interested in historical figures and learning more than what you can see in a history book, you might want to give this one a pass. If you are a history buff and prefer dry commentary with lots of footnotes and bullet points, you will want to give this one a pass.
The author takes very well researched material and gives it a contemporary voice. She has included the text from the subjects actual letters, court transcript and other historical sources and makes it relevant. She makes fun of them and their times, just like many of us would. There is a lot of tongue in cheek satire and plenty of laughs. More than once I found myself laughing out loud at some of the imagery that her writing induced. She goes so far as to say that some of the information she’s giving you will help you with obscure trivia shows and maybe a history category on Jeopardy!
I was familiar with many of the stories, especially Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I think they are probably one of the most studied and written about couple in history. There are countless books, movies and TV shows about them. But the author still managed to make this material seem fresh even after nearly 500 years of writing about them. Some of the stories I was either less familiar with or hadn’t heard of them at all and probably never would have known that these people existed if it hadn’t been for this book and now I’m wanting to go read more about them and their nasty breakups!
Read about Emperor Nero and Poppaea and her surprising replacement. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, an example of an incredibly strong and influential woman in an era when women didn’t have a voice. Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of a pope, who had a family that believed she deserved better and staged the annulment of the millennium. Henry VIII and not only Anne Boleyn, but also Catherine Howard, both women lost their heads over Henry. Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton, Norman Mailer and the list goes on. The author stopped at thirteen of these stories of heartbreak and love gone wrong. I wished for more!
If you like history with a twist, told by a voice with a touch of sarcasm, cynicism and a lot of wit…I think you’ll really enjoy this book. The only reason that this book lost a star was because the sarcasm and author commentary became a bit heavy handed at times. Instead of lending to the stories, it either didn’t mesh well or it took away from the authenticity of the story being told. That being said, the book flowed very well and I believe it was in chronological order, so that was nice for OCD people like me! Overall, I really did enjoy this book and will recommend it to all my friends who sit and watch I, Claudius with a bucket of Ben And Jerry’s (Caramel Sutra for me!) ice cream in their lap.