The Last Emperor of Mexico: The Dramatic Story of the Habsburg Archduke Who Created a Kingdom in the New World

Basic. Oct. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781541674196. $30. HIST
The latest from historian Shawcross (France, Mexico and Informal Empire in Latin America, 1820–1867) continues his research on colonial powers in Mexico. He writes that in 1862, with the United States involved in its own civil war, French emperor Napoleon III saw his chance to wrest hegemony over Mexico from the States. Through a combination of lies and half-truths, he persuaded Maximilian, restless younger brother of the Austrian emperor, and his Spanish wife Carlota to leave Europe for Mexico to become emperor and empress of a country that knew little about them and hadn’t asked for their involvement. Four years later, with the American Civil War over, the United States pushed back, aiding the forces of former Mexican president Benito Juarez in fighting against Maximilian’s imperial soldiers. Shawcross adeptly narrates the fallout, with Napoleon folding under international pressure and his own failures at home and withdrawing all support for the young monarchs. Maximilian died in front of a Mexican firing squad, and Carlota struggled with mental illness for the remainder of her life. Shawcross argues that the story is the same as Algeria or Vietnam but a century earlier: the same hubris and a botched withdrawal, with tragic consequences.
VERDICT Crisply written and meticulously researched, Shawcross’s engaging book tells a lively story that will appeal to most history buffs.
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