Top critical review
29 people found this helpful
Well researched, but significant?
on 17 August 2013
This book is very well researched, providing personal and sometimes intimate information on the literary, artistic and political giants of 1913, some already famous, some, like Hitler to emerge later. The book is arranged on a monthly basis through the year, and provides shortish snippets on each individual and his/her relationships, gaining some narrative force by building on these through the year.
I learned quite a lot, for example the extent of Kafka's neuroses, Hitler's single minded pursuit of a living through production line painting, and Thomas Mann's homosexuality, the autobiographical links to Death in Venice and the fact that Katia his wife is upset. However after a while this all began to jar on me, there seemed to be no underlying thesis or dynamic, and it began to feel like voyeuristic tittle tattle. This was heightened by the author's rather amused, God-like overview; he knows what's going to happen but they don't, and in this sense it felt disrespectful towards his subjects.
Furthermore, referring to the book's subtitle "The year before the storm" I was expecting greater resonance between the lives described and the broader political and social mood and events leading to war.
Looking at the other reviews I can see I'm rather out on a limb here, a disappointment for me, but an informative book for those wishing to know more about the remarkable individuals depicted.[...]