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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1913 - art in the German speaking world
This book focuses mainly on the artistic world of 1913, with a strong emphasis on what was happening in Germany and Austria at that time. Ranging across art, literature and music the author introduces a range of characters from a single year; Thomas Mann, Kafka, Rilke, Picasso, Coco Channel, Egon Schiele, Sigmund Freud, and Hitler, amongst many others, appear in these...
Published 21 months ago by markr

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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, but significant?
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...
Published 21 months ago by Ian Hassall


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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly disjointed, 30 Aug. 2013
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This may seem a little unfair, but I found this book rather disjointed. I realise that in some way this is the point: what was happening in different lives at a similar point in time. Even so, a little less satisfying than I had hoped. I think this might, ultimately, be the somewhat speculative nature of the reanactment of these moments in time: i.e.
Hitler and Stalin may have been in a given park at a given time. Also, unless you are well-informed about early twentieth century art you may struggle to follow the protagonists.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning!, 26 Sept. 2013
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The years just before the outbreak of war were not the golden days of long hot summers, garden parties and peace. They were a period of turmoil in every area of human activity - human rights and the Suffragettes, new styles and movements in music and dance and writing, the determination of workers across Europe to receive fair compensation for their work. Discontent and revolution were in the air! Florian Illies links many strands from the epicentre in Vienna. A fascinating and moving read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars That was the Year that Was, 2 Oct. 2013
Anecdotal histories are all the rage. Last year Kevin Jackson skipped through 1922 in his Constellation of Genius, charting social, cultural and technological advances in bite-sized chunks. Florian Illies had already pipped him to the stylistic post, wowing the German press with his sprint through 1913, know as Der Sommer des Jahrhunderts. Now the book, called The Year before the Storm in an English translation by Shaun Whiteside and Jamie Lee Searle, is climbing up the reading lists here. It is an infinitely more interesting, more imaginative affair than Jackson's oddly lame duck, but you can't help feeling that both authors have offered telegrams where really a proper letter is required.

According to the dust jacket Florian Illies 'studied the history of taste at Oxford', though his book is oddly Germanocentric. Hitler and Stalin walk the gardens of the Schönbrunn in Vienna, the 15-year-old Brecht writes in his diaries, while Thomas Mann fears, post-publication of Death in Venice, that he's going to be outed. There are, of course, references to other important centres and cultures, but unlike Philipp Blom's The Vertigo Years, which surveys a vast amount of information with remarkable ease, Illies is stuck on a more or less permanent loop between Vienna, Berlin and Munich.

What he reports from these centres is, of course, interesting, in a style that is immediately winning. Too often narrative history lacks imagination; that is not the case here. Illies really allows us to picture Thomas Mann returning to Munich on the train or Kafka deep in thought in Prague. He's amusing, touching and personal. Teasing open seams of history, making the mundane seem magical, Illies slowly builds a picture of the year before bullets were exchanged.

He creates motivic links between the month-by-month, chapter-by-chapter structure of his book, replete with historical aphorisms and mini-essays on his various characters. Yet by the time you reach the mid-point of the year, Illies is risking information overload. The consistently pithy, witty tone, the brevity of the anecdotes... it all leaves you wanting sentences and paragraphs of a more Proustian scope. There is no doubt that The Year before the Storm is a treasure trove about a hugely redolent year, but Illies is a better and broader writer than he's currently allowing us to realise. Maybe for his next book he'll pick one character, imagine as deeply as he has here and thereby offer a truly impressive full-blooded history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facinating, 8 Mar. 2014
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E. K. Browne "The Exiled Saint" (Salop, England (UK)) - See all my reviews
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I never knew that ALDI, the inexpensive supermarket chain, is 101 years old, nor that Hitler and Stalin used the same Viennese public park for their daily stroll.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book., 1 Sept. 2013
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Baudouin De Witte "Baudouin" (Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Fascinating book, very interesting to read. It tells you all about what happened just before the Great War (World War I).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Non-Fiction, 1 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: 1913: The Year before the Storm (Kindle Edition)
This non-fiction book follows the lives of many famous and infamous artists, poets, scientists and thinkers in Europe in 1913. It is a easy read that is easy to mistake for a work of fiction.
The prose is beautiful and the author is obviously inspired by the people he was writing about and this really reflects in his writing.
A wonderful book and well worth a read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Manages to evoke the ambiance of Mitteleuropa before the Great War through many pictures, 5 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: 1913: The Year before the Storm (Kindle Edition)
Great sequence of stories which the author manages to narrate in parallel, yet intertwine them through facts or through some spirited speculation. Particularly helpful to read a book like this on the kindle with direct access to the net, so that one can read up on background and context of less known public figures and personalities.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An odd, idiosyncratic book, that is less than the sum of its parts, 24 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: 1913: The Year before the Storm (Kindle Edition)
This was a book club choice, and not a great one. Here are my notes.

Overall:
What was the point of this book? It surveyed the lives of German Avant-Garde artists during 1913, but their foibles cannot be extrapolated to paint a picture of German or European society in the year before the First World War. The chief lesson that I took away from this book is that although Bohemian artists of the period rejected the morals of society it did not make them any happier. An odd idiosyncratic little book, that is occasionally entertaining but less than the sum of its parts.

The good
I enjoyed the structure of the book with its pithy little vignettes. The strengths of this book are in his scholarship, and intimate knowledge of the diaries and letters of his subjects. Some of the little factlets I enjoyed:
• Stalin, Hitler and Tito were all in Vienna in 1913 where they may conceivably have unknowingly bumped into one another
• Egon Schiele received a rejection letter from the director of a gallery stating that his latest painting was far too obscene for public display, but also stating that the director himself wished to buy it: as the author states that is a neat encapsulation of public and private morality
• There was already war in the Balkans in 1913 between Bulgaria and Serbia, which was not something I knew. However, this book is not about the political situation of the period, and this whole subject is only lightly explored.
• Adolf Hitler was a draft dodger who was sought after by the Austro-Hungarian military police
• Kaiser Wilhelm II shot 1,100 pheasants in 2 days. This seems barely plausible, is this credible? Has the author swallowed Royal propaganda?
• The whole section covering Franz Kafka’s letters to his fiancée, and his fiancee’s father, is hilarious. He wrote the worst love letters in history.

The bad
Why should I care about the tortured lives of these obscure German artists? He fails to make a compelling case for their relevance. Frankly much of the book went in one ear and came out the other. There is not enough discussion about the political and social concerns of both Germany and Europe. There is not enough about Europe outside Germany.
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4.0 out of 5 stars 1913, 15 July 2014
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D. Wrench (France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1913: The Year before the Storm (Kindle Edition)
I grew to love this book which, at first, seemed like a scrapbook of anecdotes. It is largely a very well-researched account of the cultural, scientific and political events on the eve of WW1. It presents a world (largely the axes between Vienna, Paris and Berlin), which seems much more vivid and dynamic than now, but this may be a false analogy. Some fascinating people and circumstances appear: it is not widely known that Lenin, Trotsky, Tito and Hitler were all in Vienna at the same time early in the year. What might have been! One thing is very clear, that no one, even those in high political office, seems to have had any idea of what was about to happen. This is a theme in many of the books being issued during this WW1 centenary and it does make you wonder.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read, 10 May 2014
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This review is from: 1913: The Year before the Storm (Kindle Edition)
A fascinating and informative book, written in a very off-beat style. Many interesting facts an insights into the lives of those whose work was inevitably affected by what was to come.
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