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Book Review: Doomed Queens

In her introduction to the morbidly entertaining

Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends from Cleopatra to Princess Di

, author Kris Waldherr asserts that there are still “doomed queens among us.”

“Whatever your opinion of [Hillary] Clinton or [assassinated Pakistani Benazir] Bhutto, there’s one point we can all agree on: Their femaleness was – and is – considered a liability in their quest for power.”

Since there’s no mention of Sarah Palin, you have to assume this book went to press before John McCain announced her as his running mate. Although, given that Palin’s main liability appears to be her politics, not her sex, perhaps she simply didn’t fit with Waldherr’s theme. In casual style, with somewhat hokey illustrations and fun asides on everything from Indian funeral rituals to black magic to mermaids, Walderr offers up 50 juicy stories from the last 3,000 years detailing queenly deaths by beheading, burning, drowning, poison, stabbing, strangling, starving, suicide and more.

Readers will find Waldherr’s poppy writing style either amusing or irritating. Writing about Roxane, queen to Alexander the Great, Waldherr notes that her main competition was his best friend Hephaestion. When the men came of age, she writes, “evidence suggests that their friendship became a friendship with benefits.” (Roxane’s mode of death: poisoning.)

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Of Oghul Ghaimish’s grab for the throne of the Mongol Empire, the author writes, “it was as if Melinda Gates made herself chairwoman of Microsoft without first checking in with the shareholders.” (Mode of death: forced suicide.)

And Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VIII, Walderr writes, was “Tudor England’s Angelina Jolie amid a sea of Reese Witherspoons.” (Mode of death: beheading.)

If that doesn’t make you long for the guillotine, you’ll enjoy this book.

Cathy Matusow

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