1913: The Year Before the Storm

1913: The Year Before the Storm

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by Florian Illies
     
 

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An International Bestseller

“An absolute gem of a book.” —The Observer

Just before one of its darkest moments came the twentieth century’s most exciting year . . .

It was the year Henry Ford first put a conveyer belt in his car factory, and the year Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet. It was

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Overview

An International Bestseller

“An absolute gem of a book.” —The Observer

Just before one of its darkest moments came the twentieth century’s most exciting year . . .

It was the year Henry Ford first put a conveyer belt in his car factory, and the year Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet. It was the year Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie contract, and Coco Chanel and Prada opened their first dress shops. It was the year Proust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, and the first Armory Show in New York introduced the world to Picasso and the world of abstract art. It was the year the recreational drug now known as ecstasy was invented.

It was 1913, the year before the world plunged into the catastrophic darkness of World War I.

In a witty yet moving narrative that progresses month by month through the year, and is interspersed with numerous photos and documentary artifacts (such as Kafka’s love letters), Florian Illies ignores the conventions of the stodgy tome so common in “one year” histories. Forefronting cultural matters as much as politics, he delivers a charming and riveting tale of a world full of hope and unlimited possibility, peopled with amazing characters and radical politics, bristling with new art and new technology . . . even as ominous storm clouds began to gather.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 11/15/2013
Although some in Europe were superstitious that 1913 would be an unlucky year, it proved to be one of change, possibility, and progress. German journalist Illies vividly re-creates Western society before the war by constructing a month-by-month narrative made up of quirky snippets about happenings of all sorts—cultural, technological, biographical. In some ways it was a world brimming with newness and optimism—modern art was emerging, geothermia was being discovered, a drug later nicknamed "ecstasy" was synthesized, Detroit rolled out its first assembly line, and the Federal Reserve was founded. Geniuses abounded: Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sigmund Freud, and D.H. Lawrence. Albert Schweitzer was planning to visit Africa. While culture takes center stage in this microhistory, readers are also alerted to portents of political trouble: Stalin was in Vienna, soon to meet Trotsky, while Hitler was painting watercolors and looking for his big break. Some, such as Rudolf Steiner, felt that "the war keeps threatening to come." Others were sure it could not happen. The rich range of subjects, the vibrancy of the writing, here translated by Whiteside and Searle, and the intimate details of the biographies all make this a fast-paced and engrossing read. VERDICT For general readers interested in history, art, culture, and literature. Highly recommended.—Marie M. Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-30
In his first English-language translation, German author Illies scours the landscape of the year 1913, making a leap into a fascinating new structure of writing. The author uses excerpts from journals of now-famous people in the capitals of modernism, including Vienna, Munich, Paris and Berlin. He explains their ideas and snatches quotes and tosses them apparently willy-nilly into chronological chapters. However, due to the author's creative talent, the structure of the narrative works like a charm. Among the many events that occurred during that year: Franz Kafka wrote bizarre letters to his love, Felice Bauer; the Die Brücke group of expressionist artists stumbled toward collapse; Hitler sold a few watercolors; Stalin remained in exile; the Mona Lisa was still missing; James Joyce was teaching English in Trieste, Italy; and Gustav Mahler's widow, Alma, was refusing to marry Oskar Kokoschka unless he painted her in a masterpiece. Though the narrative may seem disjointed at first, readers will continue to turn the pages to see what becomes of Thomas Mann and his brother or to see Carl Jung daring to challenge Freud's theories. Illies happily neglects all the political stirrings that would lead to war the following year. Instead, he follows members of the modernist arts, with Marcel Proust touching a nerve of the avant-garde and Mann exploring tormented passions in Death in Venice. Also included: Ezra Pound contacts Joyce, Kafka broods, Albert Camus is born in Algeria, and 15-year-old Bertolt Brecht has a cold. With exceptional wit and understanding, Illies shows the societal and cultural changes propelling man toward modern art, new thought processes and war. An excellent companion to Keith Jackson's equally illuminating Constellation of Genius (2013), which gives similar treatment to the year 1922.
From the Publisher
Praise for 1913

“A vivid, richly textured book that chronicles a world crackling with talent, energy and foreboding. The pace and scale of activity is at times breathtaking . . . Illies’ talent is to weave all this together in a way that keeps the reader with him.” —The Financial Times

"An utterly delicious treat or an ideal present for anyone even mildly interested in 20th-century art, music and literature....a sexy, comic and occasionally heartbreaking soap opera.... an irresistible book, excellently translated and packed with factoids and surprising encounters."
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post 

"Illies’s stylish evocation of 1913 is thrilling entertainment for those who have heard it all before but wish to experience—one more time, perhaps—the bleary-eyed ecstasy that is the result of staying up all night reading a book in one sitting."
The Weekly Standard

“Already an international bestseller, German author Florian Illies’s 1913: The Year Before the Storm is an absolute gem of a book. His snapshot approach to the year, recorded month by month, is the most original historical account I’ve come across . . . Illies’ genius turn of phrase, beautifully retained by Shaun Whiteside and Jamie Lee Searle’s elegant translation, can be found throughout . . . The entries read like history’s footnotes, but as anyone who’s read Freud knows, the footnotes always tell the best story.” —Lucy Scholes, The Observer
 
“An entertaining and illuminating study.” —Shirley Whiteside, The Independent
 
“A hugely enjoyable idiosyncratic month-by-month narrative, in which the frenzy of artistic activity in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and Trieste is conveyed with vigour and humour.” —Juliet Nicolson, The Daily Telegraph

“This highly entertaining month-by-month account of 1913 . . . is rich in detail, humour and vivid pen portraits . . . 1913 is the best possible holiday read—or gift—as it is so enjoyable, yet the breadth of information and astute insight will prevent one feeling guilty of indulgence.” —Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

“Illies is as astute a researcher as he is an observer of the zeitgeist . . . Reads like something out of a magic realist novel.”The Guardian

“The rich range of subjects, the vibrancy of the writing, here translated by Whiteside and Searle, and the intimate details of the biographies all make this a fast-paced and engrossing read… Highly recommended.”
Library Journal,
STARRED REVIEW

"A fascinating new structure of writing... With exceptional wit and understanding, Illies shows the societal and cultural changes propelling man toward modern art, new thought processes and war."Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

“Illies shapes his material not as a scholar, but as a wordsmith, as a story-teller with a strong sense for dramatic effect and composition . . . The most enjoyable book I’ve read in years.” Die Welt

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781612193519
Publisher:
Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
10/29/2013
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
787,345
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 8.74(h) x 0.98(d)

Meet the Author

Florian Illies is a German journalist who has worked for major European newspapers and magazines and cofounded the art magazine Monopol. He is the author of four previous bestselling books, which have sold more than 1 million copies. 1913 is his first book to be translated into English.
 
Shaun Whiteside’s translations include Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and Robert Musil’s The Confusions of Young Törless. Jamie Lee Searle’s recent translations include works by Ursula Poznanski, Frank Schatzing, and Dora Heldt.

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1913: The Year before the Storm 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't really understand why the author felt it necessary to detail each individual day of 1913 the way that he did but I found it tedious. I couldn't get interested enough to stay with it. Too bad because I think there is a story to be told, just not to this level of detail.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
1913 is a nonfiction history book and... it was spectacular! Classical music concerts inciting pandemonium and near-riots. Mervyn O'Gorman's incredible autochrome photographs (no photos in the book, just enticing descriptions which made me look them up - take a look and remember, these were taken in 1913!?!). There was even a little bit of mystery, as we wonder from month to month, where is the Mona Lisa? I loved Florian Illies's slightly mischievous sense of humor and gift of storytelling, which reminded me of the late Paul Harvey's style of sharing the news. "We can't forget Kafka, or his bride! So how did Felice Bauer react to the most preposterous marriage proposal of all time?" "So: worries about worries in Augsburg. Was anyone in a good mood in May 1913? Plainly not." I also found that some ideas and actions aren't quite as modern as I might consider them to be: men walking around with their trousers hanging low (painter Oskar Kokoschka), worries that technology will destroy nature, and more seriously, school shootings. 1913 does put a heavy focus on figures and events in European nations, especially France and Germany. But the abundant cast and their fascinating stories kept me clicking over to Google to research more. That made for a slightly slower read, but I was enthralled from beginning to end. This is exactly the kind of non-fiction read that keeps readers engaged and brings history to life! Loved it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
Steeleman More than 1 year ago
An interesting chronological account of a year that saw the culmination of many modern-isms that would have long term historical effects on the world. Although the book can seem somewhat haphazard, all of the elements are related to each other and help to explain why 1913 was a pivotal year for humanity. My only caveat: the author assumes the reader will have a pretty thorough knowledge of all of the people in the book, offering little if any background about them.