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The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 Paperback – 2 Nov 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (2 Nov. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020294
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.8 x 25.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 502,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Guardian" The vertiginous atmosphere of a tumbling prewar societyat the same time exciting and frighteningis described with atmospheric clarity. The combination of easily worn scholarship, fascinating character studies and fluent story-telling that is often very funny makes this a hugely enjoyable and illuminating book.... A work of narrative history at its best. "The Economist" Impressive and thought-provokingencapsulate[s] complex historical and biographical events pithily and in an illuminating context.... The book brings the fears, enthusiasms and blindspots of the period brilliantly to life. "Globe and Mail" In this enthralling, panoramic sweep of the 15 years preceding the First World War, Blom convincingly argues that it was this decade and a half that truly marked the start of the modern age, with all its grandeur and calamities.... With his impressive synthesis of historical literature, old and recent, and his finely drawn portraits of both emperors and workers, Blom's "Vertigo Years" will surely enlighten and interest another generation of readers in an era far in the past, yet worth understanding all the same. "New York Review of Books" [Blom] brings an appealing energy and curiosity, and occasional humor, to his subject.... [He] has been remarkably successful at synthesizing a wide range of material, creating a panorama of the whole European culture during this frantic time. "New Yorker" Engrossing.... Imaginative.... A multifaceted, panoramic approach animated by vivacious narration of individual stories. "Wall Street Journal" Mr. Blom gives us a picture of a Europe that, in spite of its wealth and sprawling empires, had become profoundly uncertain of itself. "CultureBot" Blom is an amazingly talented writer who seamlessly draws the cultural and philosophical connections between art, science, politics, culture, literature and society as a whole.... Two thumbs WAY UP for "The Vertigo Years." "

About the Author

Philipp Blom holds a doctorate from Oxford University and is the author of "To Have and To Hold" and "Enlightening the World." He frequently contributes articles to "The Financial Times," "The Independent," and "The Guardian" among others. He lives in Vienna.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By nigeyb TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 4 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback
Philipp Blom's central thesis is that the years 1900-1914 tend to be overlooked by historians analysing twentieth century history due to the dramatic events that followed, however he asserts that everything that followed has it genesis in these years. He makes a good argument too. Like our own era, the era was characterised by an incredible rate of technological change, profound social upheaval, etc. and Blom's book has given me a good insight into life during the early years of the twentieth century.

There's a chapter for each year beginning in 1900 and ending in 1914 and each year is introduced by a significant person or event. Each chapter works as a stand alone article and I jumped around a bit when I read the book.

The book places an emphasis on social and cultural history, and covers a wide range of topics e.g. modernism, women's suffrage, philosophy, Freud, telecommunications, neurasthenia, the Dreyfus affair, the growth of cities, etc. and convincingly demonstrates how the social and cultural changes often associated with the aftermath of WW1 would probably have all happened anyway.

The final chapter is called “1914: A political murder” however it's not about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, it's about Henrietta Caillaux, the wife of the French finance minister, who killed the editor-in-chief of Le Figaro. The background of the crime is a tale that Blom could not have invented any better, a sleazy affair and an aggressive media campaign against the minister, combined to create the dramatic crime. The French public lapped the story up, meanwhile the shot in Sarajevo, fired at the same time, was hardly noticed.

The book packs a lot in and is well worth reading for anyone interested in the era, or indeed twentieth century history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Item arrived promptly and was well packaged and in good condition. I don't know why you require me to add more words to this report, what else is there for me to say? The book itself--as a text--is really excellent; but this is not relevant to any report on how
the sellers responded to my order. However, for the record: this is a first-rate book which everyone interested in recent European history should read. In addition to his short, but very good summaries of the work of Freud and of Einstein, Blom provides a very revealing account of the atrocious behaviour of the Belgian king, Leopold II, in the Congo: the ten million native inhabitants whom he murdered in the course of eight years; the men whose hands were cut off as a punishment for not having collected enough rubber; the others whom he flogged to death. Owing to the very efficient Jewish lobby, everyone knows about Hitler and the Holocaust: but the even worse activities of the Belgians in the Congo have, for some reason, been 'swept under the carpet'.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charles Osborne on 10 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found the book very interesting and well-written, with a striking thesis - essentially that the early years of the 20th century were a time of great change which virtually predicted later events - which was presented with ample evidence in an engaging and convincing manner.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 38 reviews
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
The Vertigo Years from 1900 to the outbreak of World War I were a dizzying time in European culture 29 Oct. 2008
By C. M Mills - Published on
Format: Hardcover
My dictionary defines "vertigo" as a state of dizzy disorientation. Think the film "Vertigo" directed by Alfred Hitchcok in 1958. In the excellent history book under review in this article we see Professor Philippe Blom of Vienna dissect European society during the last 15 years of the long "nineteenth century" world prior to the holocaust of World War I.
Blom devotes one chapter to each of the years. In this intellectually acute book he explores such subjects as:
1. The suffragete movement in several European countries focusing on the cause in Great Britain.
2. We see how the building of the huge Dreadnought ships led to an arms race which would plunge the world into war in the summer of 1915. Germany wished to become a mighty foe of England.
3. Eugenics and racial anti-semitism is discussed in depth. The trial of General Alfred Dreyfus made palpable the hatred of Jews in European life.
4. Russia was trapped under the feudal stupidity of Nicholas II but revolution in 1905 was a strong bellwether of the later Bolshevik revolution which succeeded in 1918. Russia was a land of peasants, poor education and unbelievable backwardness.
5. The concept of the Dynamo and the Virgin first enunciated by American scholar Henry Adams at the Paris World's Fair of 1900 emphasized the importance of dynamic machines changing daily life. The development of the telephone, motor cars, telegraph and the airplane changed daily life. Women were becoming more assertive due to the ability to obtain contraception devices and the anonymity of life in conurbation cultures.
Speed and virility were becoming important in the male chauvinistic culture of Europe.
6. Blom traces the rise of mass entertainment through the phonograph and motion picture screen. Caruso sold the first record to sell one million copies when he recorded "Pagliacci." Movies were the rage!
7. Blom traces the genocide of Leopold II King of Belgian who presided over the Belgian Congo. Over 10 million of his black subjects died there due to starvation, brutal mutilations and overwork on his rubber plantations. Blom uses this horror to discuss the evils of European colonialism. All the major European players participated in their greed for gold and land.
8, Avant-gardism was manifest in the arts through the works of such figures as Kandinsky, Mahler, Stravinsky,Braque, Picasso, Matisse and others. Traditional cultural values were,however, hotly and staunchly defended.
9. We see the rise of popular culture with the cultivation of mystery and detective fiction in such characters as Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
10. Modern psychiatry was born in the writings and research of Sigmund Freud. The subconscious was being explored and sexual desire in humans was being opely discussed. The subconscious motivations of humanity were explored. Nihilism and the disturbing philosophies of Nietzsche were popular.
Blom shows how the certainties and hypocricies of the Victorian age ending with that venerable queen's death in 1901 were being effaced by the speed and phobias of modern life.
Blom has presented a thoughtful and sage overview of this critical but often overlook time as the twentieth century began. It was a time of transition, contradiction and momentous change. It was, if you will, the birth of the modern age.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The Vertigo Years 31 Oct. 2008
By Stephen Balbach - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
`The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914` is Philipp Blom's third non-fiction book. I bought it on the strength of his former two, both of which are fantastic, and I'm happy I did - his ability to write engagingly on just about any time period is demonstrated here in what is probably his strongest book yet. Bloom's central thesis is that, traditionally told, the years leading up to WWI were overshadowed by the war - it was an idyllic "long summertime" of peace, an extension of the assuredly naive 19th century. However Blom reveals just about everything we think of as "modern" was happening before the war, it was a time not of coasting, but of "machines and women, speed and sex," a disintegration of the old world without a clear vision of a new. Like a teenager getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time, it was exciting and dangerous, a cocktail of fundamental social changes converging all at once. Technology of the car, movie, photo and electric light; class relations; women's roles, Freud; Eugenics; colonialism; modern art; cult of "manliness", etc.. all combined to create a fractured new world, where individuals don multiple identities no longer tied to tradition, and an endemic vertiginous exhaustion flourished. Bloom crisscrosses the continent from Russia to England, from the Balkans to Sweden, each page a small feast of ideas, people and events. As a native of Vienna, Bloom commands a deep understanding of central European history in a way I have never seen before, revealing insights and people entirely new to me - it's a true pan-European perspective told with compelling prose.

Like the subject it describes, the book is fractured, moving between ideas, people, events, places and times - but Blom is nothing but orderly in his exposition of how things were related. Freud's theories for instance were mirrored by the political realities of the Austrian culture he lived in. Each chapter has a human interest "frame story" providing a smooth flowing narrative and Ken Burns-like feel for the time. There are ample quotations and fascinating black and white pictures, including a color plate section of modern art. It is a social history not only about the wealthy and intellectual elite, but the attitudes of the general public and zeitgeist of the many. A very long and up to date bibliography and notes section provides a lot more reading.

It's one of the better history books I have read, enhancing my understanding not only of the early 20th century, but its inheritor the present.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Dislocation and chaos 16 Nov. 2008
By S. McGee - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Imagine, suggests historian Philipp Blom, that an army of bookworms munched their way through every piece of information that we have available to us about the world after the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914. Only then, he insists, can we begin to understand the impact of the first 14 years of the twentieth century, a time of chaos when old, established truths vanished for good and were replaced only with speed, change and uncertainty.
Blom takes a novel approach to constructing his argument -- that the world being created was one where vertigo and fear dominated from the worlds of economics and politics to the arts and gender relations -- by devoting each chapter to a year and a theme. Thus, the chapter headlined 1901, the year of Queen Victoria's death, serves as Blom's vehicle for recounting the collapse of the old land-based aristocracies against Europe and the rise of new kinds of leaders. Chapters are devoted to scientific discoveries, which in turn give Blom a way to explore how fields as different as psychiatry (Sigmund Freud) and physics (Marie Curie) demolished the concept of time, space and identity. Women asserted their rights and along with visionaries and dreamers, occupied a new place of prominence in the public debate. Some tried to cling to old ways -- Blom explores the naval arms race of 1906 as a way to discuss how society's anxieties produced a new emphasis on military identity.
While the author almost never refers to the great event that looms on the horizon -- World War I and the killing fields of France and Flanders -- our own awareness of where this is leading adds a chill to to the year-by-year recitation. A chapter devoted to random violence (1913), those exploring the myriad new machines that came to dominate popular culture -- it's impossible to read those in ignorance of the ways that the machines would soon be used to maximize the murderous power of armies and the way in which violence would become an integral part of all the societies that Blom explores.
It is common to refer to those who came of age during the Great War and the 1920s as the 'Lost Generation' -- individuals who had to struggle in the wake of that carnage to find some sense of identity and purpose. What Blom has succeeded in doing is showing that crisis of identity began much earlier -- and the astute reader can find all too many reflections of the themes he explores in the early years of the 21st century. Replace the automobile with the Internet, and...
The only reason I haven't awarded Blom's opus five stars is an unfortunate tendency to repeat himself; retelling the same anecdote in the same context, hammering points into the reader's mind with far too heavy a hand. This reached its climax in the final chapter, which was a great disappointment, offering little more than a summary of themes which had already become more than clear and where I would have expected a historian and writer of his obvious talents to find a more thoughtful, provocative and perhaps even forward-looking manner of wrapping up his narrative.
Overall, however, this is a triumph. Given the author's ability to mix politics and culture on all levels, it will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Paul Fussell's more focused "The Great War & Modern Memory" or Modris Ekstein's "Rites of Spring" (which begans at a later date and carries through to the 1920s.)
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An Epoque That Wasn't So Belle 6 Dec. 2008
By John D. Cofield - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Too often we are tempted to see the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a kind of utopian "belle epoque", a long lazy Edwardian summer afternoon that was rudely shattered by 1914. Philipp Blom, in the introduction to his fascinating history of Europe from 1900 to 1914, suggests that imagine that all of our knowledge of what occurred from 1914 on has been destroyed, so that we can examine those years without grim foreshadowings. Its a good idea, because Blom has provided an excellent history of the first few years of the twentieth century in Europe that lets the reader recognize that the belle epoque wasn't such a golden afternoon after all.

Taking each year chapter by chapter, Blom moves from one interrelated topic to another. I was fascinated by his many short histories of various topics like anti-Semitism, eugenics, the suffragette movement, the Congo atrocities, and the armaments race. He covers social, artistic, and cultural history as well as, if not better, the standard political/military narratives. Not since Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower have I read such fascinating history of that period. Like Tuchman, Blom excells in selecting intriguing but not well known people as exemplars of particular trends or movements.

I will reread and enjoy The Vertigo Years many times, and if I occasionally experience some nostalgic regret for that now lost golden afternoon, I will find the rich stories and vignettes provided by Blom an excellent substitute.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable and inspiring 19 Mar. 2009
By Queen Margo - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books I've read in recent years and I am sure I will come back to it for reference many times.

History books are often dull and loaded with dry fact. This one is engaging and inspiring. It reveals many little known events that were a sensation in their time, but we know little about them today. Starting from an intimate story, Blom moves to analyze a whole period and shows how the story fits into it or even symbolizes it.

His style is engaging, witty and full of surprises. For example, I first read one of the latter chapters, titled Wagner's Crime, because I thought it was about the composer whose music I like. Instead, the chapter centers around an insane serial murderer, a provincial Austrian teacher. The last chapter, about year 1914 is titled Murder Most Foul. I had no doubt it was about the assassination of the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo. Wrong! The chapter derives its title from the sensational murder committed by the wife of a French politician.

I disagree with the reviewer who said the last chapter is repetitive. I am glad Blom summarized the points from his previous chapters, rounding his image of the era.

The book was hard to put down. And more importantly, it inspired me to reach for other history books, Internet, or whatever, to find out more about the topics Blom tackles. For example, I played my Stravinsky CD while I read passages about the Paris premiere of the Rites of Spring.

I have always been interested in the early 19-hundreds and fin-de-siecle, but this book really gave me the flavor of the era, as if I were living through it.

In addition, I found in it a lot of parallel with our times, 100 years later. We are going through similar anxieties and insecurities at the beginning of a new century. People suffer from similar mental and other diseases. I found, for example, similarities between neurasthenia and fibromyalgia. Serial killings such as Wagner's also take place, including those committed by deranged teenagers. The battle between the sexes is far from over. And while some of us are "futurists," others would like to stop the clock from ticking and hold on to the 20-th century beliefs and practices.

I cannot think of a better book to read at this time.
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