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The Vertigo Years: Change And Culture In The West, 1900-1914 [Paperback]

Philipp Blom
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Sep 2009

Europe, early in the twentieth century: a world adrift, a pulsating era of creativity and contradictions. But did this era vanish in the trenches of the Somme, of Ypres, and of Passchendaele? Look closer and the more this world seems like ours: feminism, democratisation, commercial branding, genetics, consumerism and racism, radioactivity and psychoanalysis are all terms first used during this period.

This was a time in which old certainties broke down and many people lost their bearings. At the heart of this vibrant Europe, was a contradiction that would cause its collapse: the new, modern world of mass production, urban life, technological warfare and a rapidly growing working class that was still ruled by men who preferred the image of dashing cavalry officers to the prosaic slaughter of the machine gun, and national mythology to political cohesion and democracy.

The eventual scope of the catastrophe often obscures the fact that the great cultural divide in Europe's history lies before 1914. This book brings to life the immediacy of the lives and issues of this fascinating and flawed period.



Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (3 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753825988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753825983
  • Product Dimensions: 3.4 x 13.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

offers stimulating insights into the period and is illuminating on Austrian contributions to the innovative ferment of the time (SUNDAY TIMES)

[Blom] aims both to highlight the prophetic power of the first globalised age...and to shun the easy hindsight that would throw the blight of the Great War back over all that came before. It's a tough course, but one he negotiates in style. (INDEPENDENT)

Blom's is an ambitious project that delivers a fascinating whistle-stop tour of European history (Naomi Booth DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A breathtaking account of a world in flux told with engaging attention to detail. (BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH)

Review

"an ambitious book - a one-volume assessment of the gravity-eroding, giddying sweep of European cultural, social, political and spiritual change that permeated the first 15 years of teh 2oth century. But Philipp Blom has pulled it off triumphantly... a work of narrative history at its best." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Calm Before the Storm 19 Oct 2008
Format:Hardcover
An excellent and erudite work which expresses cultural history in palatable (yet enticingly contentious) anecdotal portions. Most importantly Blom identifies neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion)as the lasting product of these years - as automated lifestyles separate themselves from the holistic materialism that preceded. This, alone, makes the book valuable as a diagnosis for even 21st Century ills, as well as putting the final dagger in the heart of the Romantic idyll (that never existed) to be conveniently shattered by the travesties of the Great War.

A book that would appeal to anyone interested in cultural history as well as those of us that simply want ammunition for duller moments at the bar! My only reservation is the seemingly arbitary year-by-year chapter divisions, simply because most events covered are so homogenous, so inter-related that they can't credibly be focussed by an annual lens. Nevertheless this is a compulsive and fluent read - highly recommended,
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars solid rather than popular history 3 Nov 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I must confess to having been taken in by the adjectives used by the editors and reviewers like 'breathtaking', 'anecdotal' and 'compulsive'. Basically, this is very solid history writing by someone who repeatedly assumes that the reader will nod sagely when reading lines like:"There is an obvious kinship between Einstein's radical relativity of space and time and Ernst Mach's epistemological impressionism" without getting further information on the subject.

It is of course extremely flattering to be repeatedly treated as a highbrow intellectual, but to mere mortals this doesn't always make the book unputdownable. And I do agree with the reviewer remarking that the year-by-year division of the chapters is arbitrary and often illogical. The author moreover repeatedly has trouble sticking to his own chosen format.

This book does get the message across that 1914 was no abrupt break from a sleepy 19th century or easygoing fin-de siecle way of living, but that the previous years were a period of unprecedented development and innovation. Anecdotal or witty is however not how I would describe the narrative style. Rather: a serious book for the serious student of the era.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent cultural survey 2 Sep 2013
By MJ
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wide-ranging and consistently fascinating survey of the early years of the 20th century, picking a theme per year - from military armament to modernism, neurasthenia to New Woman, the Dreyfus affair to relativity - to build up a collage of the shock of the new and the anxieties and cultural shifts that accompanied it. Blom makes the familiar seem fresh and intersperses it with narrative threads that will be new even to those who know the period well (the emphasis on continental Europe is particularly refreshing for Anglophone readers). Highly readable, its whiplash velocity sustained throughout.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Format a bit flawed but a decent enough read 18 Mar 2010
By Big Jim TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The year by year format used here is not a chronological description of events leading up to 1914 but a means whereby the author picks an event from that year and shows how it affected events elsewhere and else when (sic) and allows digressions into the late Victorian era to show how we got to that point as well. As other reviewers state, this is not always successful. As an example the entry to do with the Belgian Congo starts off promisingly but ends up being a discourse on empiricism which was a bit slight, Of course whole volumes have been written on this subject alone so some pruning has to be expected but this just serves to make the point that the author felt he had to make his content fit the format.

Given that the author is Austrian, there is a bias towards central European affairs which for me was interesting but in some cases missed the point. For example, in the same Empire chapter mentioned above, Britain, Germany and France get equal billing but there is no mention whatsoever of what Spain was doing in south or central America and Russia barely gets a look in -perhaps because it gets its own chapter later on.

For me the advantage of this book's episodic format means that you can read a chapter or two then put the book down to read something else then pick it up at a later date and carry on.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Changing nature of change 7 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback
This enjoyable and accessible book evinces plenty of fascinating and compelling historical evidence to support its contentions, but seems to run out of historical conclusions as it plods year-by-year toward its last chapters.
By 'the West', author Philipp Blom mainly scopes Britain, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent, the United States. He acknowledges that the 1900-1914 period begin and ends points are arbitrary, and would probably have seemed nonsensical to most people living through those years, for who the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 would have had the most defining significance. The period 1900-1914 is generally ascribed as constituting the 'Edwardian' era; Blom does not make the error, but it's often overlooked that strictly speaking the Edwardian era ended in 1910 when George V succeeded Edward VII to the British throne - and not at war's declaration in August 1914.
In regard to the cause and effect of successive cultural paradigms, Blom does not really resolve the key question in the 'the roots of Modernism' debate: can a few 'progressive'/'enlightened'/'visionary'/'unconventional'/'deranged' individuals spark widespread cultural change of profound importance? Or are they more likely to be the 'lightening conductors' of progressive phenomena that is already bubbling under in the zeitgeist? Or, to put a neo-post-modernistic spin on it, is it a bit of both? 'The Vertigo Years' will do much to help you arrive at an informed and entertained view. PS: if you can get a copy, I'd also recommended Stephen Kern's excellent 1983 study 'The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918', which surveys the impact technological innovation on cultural development.
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