Finally putting all those hours of watching Reign to good use (I did not), I reviewed the recent reissue of Stefan Zweig’s biography of Mary, Queen of Scots at NPR.

It’s a history obsessed not with “how” but “why”; facts are presented or debated with a scholar’s enthusiasm, but often they merely set the stage for discussion of the psychological and the narratively preordained. (The man loves a portent). To him, Mary Stuart was a Shakespearean tragedy and a figurehead whose character was inextricable from the state itself — a story impossible to resist.

It’s not pretty. The romance comes only in the failing. When Kirkus reviewed the 1935 edition, it noted Zweig seemed determined to bleed the legend from the legend: “Human, yes, but disillusioning.” That seems to have been a place Zweig was comfortable; his keenest insights are the follies, the theater of politics, a powerless populace that knows better than to buy it.