Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe

Overview

A charmingly personal history of Hapsburg Europe, as lively as it is informative, by the author of Germania

For centuries much of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire was in the royal hands of the very peculiar Habsburg family. An unstable mixture of wizards, obsessives, melancholics, bores, musicians and warriors, they saw off—through luck, guile and sheer mulishness—any number of rivals, until finally packing up in 1918. From their principal lairs along the Danube they ruled ...

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Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe

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Overview

A charmingly personal history of Hapsburg Europe, as lively as it is informative, by the author of Germania

For centuries much of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire was in the royal hands of the very peculiar Habsburg family. An unstable mixture of wizards, obsessives, melancholics, bores, musicians and warriors, they saw off—through luck, guile and sheer mulishness—any number of rivals, until finally packing up in 1918. From their principal lairs along the Danube they ruled most of Central Europe and Germany and interfered everywhere—indeed the history of Europe hardly makes sense without the House of Hapsburg.

Danubia, Simon Winder’s hilarious new book, plunges the reader into a maelstrom of alchemy, royalty, skeletons, jewels, bear-moats, unfortunate marriages and a guinea-pig village. Full of music, piracy, religion and fighting, it is the history of a strange dynasty, and the people they ruled, who spoke many different languages, lived in a vast range of landscapes, believed in rival gods and often showed a marked ingratitude towards their oddball ruler in Vienna. Readers who discovered Simon Winder’s storytelling genius and infectious curiosity in Germania will be delighted by the eccentric and fascinating tale of the Habsburgs and their world.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Andrew Wheatcroft
[Winder's] tales are spellbinding because he does not just sit in an archive or a library, but takes the reader out into the real world…A "personal history" is necessarily unpredictable and idiosyncratic…and anyone who wants a solid, middle-of-the-road trudge through the Hapsburg lands might pass on this book. That would be a major mistake. Behind the pantomime flummery there is an acute and agile intellect at work, allowing Winder to move effortlessly from the Big Picture…to pointillist detail…Winder is the best-read cicerone imaginable. He never stops talking and rarely pauses for breath. Even then, however, you want to tell him: Forget about breathing and just go on talking.
Publishers Weekly
10/28/2013
The Habsburgs, Europe’s most durable, powerful dynastic family, held sway from the late Middle Ages till the end of WWI, ruling lands that now comprise 19 modern countries. Penguin UK editor Winder offers a meandering combination of history, travelogue, and personal digressions to follow his previous work Germania. He begins with flighty, indecisive, mid–15th-century dynasty founder Frederick III and moves mostly chronologically down the line. Maximilian I, Dürer’s patron and an intellectual man of action, stretched Habsburg holdings “from the Danube to the North Sea.” Grandson of Maximilian as well as Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the canny yet overburdened Charles V opposed the Protestant Reformation, successfully aided in the Italian Wars against France, and nearly ruled all of Europe in the 16th century. Maria Theresa, the sole female sovereign, kept the Habsburg lands intact in the 18th century, had 16 children, and successfully ruled for 40 years. Her son Joseph II liberated the serfs and the Jews, carved up Poland with Russia, and helped repel the Ottomans. In the face of Napoleon, “feeble” Franz II’s self-elevation as hereditary Emperor of Austria gave the family another 114 years of power. Overall, Winder’s longwinded and self-indulgent rhapsody is knowledgeable and perceptive, but he lets his wit overwhelm the narrative. Illus. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2013 Praise for Danubia

“[Winder] never stops talking and rarely pauses for breath. Even then, however, you want to tell him: Forget about breathing and just go on talking. Danubia is a long book, yet this reader would not mind if it were longer still.” —Andrew Wheatcroft, The New York Times Book Review

“In a rollicking book that is part travelogue and part history, Winder takes up the unwieldy topic of the Habsburgs. The sprawling family empire ruled much of Europe for more than centuries, owing to a combination of 'cunning, dimness, luck, and brilliance.' From the Middle Ages until the end of the First World War, Winder writes, 'there was hardly a twist in Europe’s history to which they did not contribute.' Winder, whose best-seller Germania took a similar approach to German history, explores the story of the dynasty and the lasting imprint of its reign by travelling the expanse of its former empire and giving a lively account of his research. He is thorough and funny, and the book is rich with anecdotes and enthusiastic appreciation, and it includes a broad survey of the artifacts and landscapes that tell the story of the family that laid the foundation of modern Europe.” —Andrea Denhoed, Page-Turner, The New Yorker online

“Making five centuries of Habsburg history fun seems like a tall order, but Winder pulls it off. He entertains because he is entertained . . . With unrelenting wit—sometimes smirking but also self-mocking—he traces the Habsburgs’ fortunes . . . What gives the text verve is Winder’s ability to interweave the eccentric details of the Habsburgs themselves with an absorbing cultural history, driven by his exuberant passion for the lives and music of great composers and textured by his skillful physical descriptions of forgotten corners of the realm.” —Foreign Affairs

"With hearty dollops of humor in a unique blend of travel writing, historiography and speculation, Simon Winder remains clear-eyed and witty . . . Danubia is thick with scoundrels, dullards, the occasional wizard—and great art, architecture and musicians from Haydn to Mr. Winder's spiritual doppelganger, the mysterious Romanian Bela Bartok." —Carlo Wolff, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“As with his previous work Germania, Winder describes this account as a ‘personal history’, allowing him space for whimsy, for a great deal of Haydn, for careful analysis of paintings and the freedom to favour certain emperors because they were interesting people rather than political heavyweights. It all makes for an excellent, rich and amusing read.” —Roger Boyes, The Times (UK)

“Winder is a puppishly enthusiastic companion: funny, erudite, frequently irritating, always more in control of his material than he pretends to be, and never for a moment boring . . . Danubia is a moving book, and also a sensuous one: we feel the weight of imperial coins, hear and smell the ‘medals and spurs clinking and everything awash in expensive gentleman’s fragrances’ as emperors and regiments meet at formal occasions. Winder says he researched it largely on foot, seeking out museums and castles, and listened to all 106 Haydn symphonies just to get in the mood . . . Miniaturist in its eye for detail, grand in its scope, it skips beats and keeps our attention all the way.”—Sarah Bakewell, The Financial Times

"Winder's amalgam of travelogue and personal history follows on from his bestselling account of Germany, Germania, and is similarly infectious in its enthusiasms. In pages of cheerful, slang-dotted prose, Danubia dilates knowledgeably on the Habsburg dynasty as it flourished along the river from its source in Bavarian hills through Austro-Hungary and the Balkans to the Black Sea . . . Danubia is a hoot and well worth reading." —Ian Thomson, The Independent (UK)

"[Winder] is an extremely interesting fellow and a very good writer . . . the journey is so interesting, exciting and very often laugh-out-loud hilarious . . . [a] glorious romp of a book." —Rosemary Michaud, Charleston Post and Courier

“[Winder’s] personalized, almost you-are-there view of history results in an arresting combination of anecdote and scholarly examination, where the interests of serious armchair travelers and devoted students of European history meet.” —Brad Hooper, Booklist

Praise for Simon Winder

“Winder is an entertaining writer, and an erudite one.” —Ian Brunskill, The Wall Street Journal

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-11
Offbeat portrait of the lost past of Central Europe, ruled by the dull but dependable Habsburg dynasty. That history stretches out for nearly half a millennium, and Penguin Press U.K. editor Winder (Germania, 2010, etc.) pokes into nearly every corner to examine both the stability of what would become the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its inevitable decline in the aftermath of World War I. With characteristic lightheartedness, the author ascribes the dynasty's longevity to "the ability of the senior male to produce heirs and avoid going mad," but it did not hurt that the Habsburgs introduced a perfectly functioning if soulless bureaucratic machine of the sort that Habsburg subject Franz Kafka would lend his name to. Winder ranges broadly in space as well as time. As he notes, half of the time it took to research and write his book was spent simply wandering the streets of provincial and national capitals as well as small villages, turning up treasures such as the great imperial cathedral at Speyer, where Rudolf of Habsburg lies buried: "For anyone growing up in England or France and used to Gothic it is very alarming to be surrounded by Romanesque gigantism, particularly when made expressionist by malevolent pools of darkness and weird echoes from shuffling feet." Winder's offhand, jokey mannerisms could be precious in lesser hands, but he pulls it off, and his book has plenty of serious turns, as when he ponders the curious rise of nationalism in a country that embraced several quite different nations, from Transylvania to Slovakia to a large stretch of the German-speaking world. That nationalism, of course, eventually produced Adolf Hitler, who may have been inevitable. "Was it inherent in the destruction of the Habsburg Empire," Winder wonders in closing, "that Nazism would result?" It's a meaningful question, one of many that Winder raises in this lucid, often entertaining historical travelogue.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374175290
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 1/21/2014
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 65,462
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 11.70 (h) x 2.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Winder is the author of two books: the Sunday Times (London) Top Ten Bestseller Germania and the highly praised The Man Who Saved Britain. He works in publishing and lives in Wandsworth Town, London.

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