18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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 pages, and are all featured in interesting anecdotes.
Whilst this book does focus on happenings in the German speaking world Louis Armstrong, Proust and Stravinsky all appear, and add something to the picture.
All this makes for interesting reading which creates the atmosphere of the arts world on the eve of a destruction they couldnot fully forsee. An index would have been useful, but there is a splendid bibliography for those who want to learn more
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2013
I adored this book. It's a strange one, a bit of a cross between fiction & historical fact. Month by month, the book lets us into the lives of the wonderful & talented of Europe in 1913. We see what people like Freud, Franz Ferdinand, Picasso, Hitler, Stalin et al were doing & where they were during this year. It also gives a feel of the political situation of the time, & in places you can see the cogs in place moving Europe towards war.
The prose made the book for me. It was almost poetic in parts & some of the little snippets read like a short story. I found myself re-reading lines over again to take them in. I enjoyed it so much I almost wished I could read German proficiently enough to read the original.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
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.[...]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2014
An enormous disappointment. The idea -- a collection of anecdotes about prominent artistic and other people throughout the year before the breakout of the First World War -- is promising. But it needs an organizing principle. This book has none, beyond returning month by month to a few particular individuals: Franz Marc, Rainer Maria Rilke, Artur Schnitzler, Alma Mahler and Sigmund Freud among them. I bought the book because of a continuing interest in Alma Mahler and Freud, but there's absolutely nothing new here. On the contrary, what there is is superficial and often inconsequential. Worse, the effect is simply silly. For example, the idea that, since Stalin and Hitler were in Vienna at the same time, imagine that they might have passed each other while walking in the park. So what?! The speculation is entirely idle, and completely meaningless. It says nothing about either man, but a lot about the author's barrenness of ideas. Also, though it could be the fault of the translation, the writing is often slipshod. A waste of time.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This book focuses on events in the German speaking world, especially in Vienna and Berlin. The political background is always there (especially as we know what they didn't about what was coming next), but its main concern is with artistic, musical and literary events and personalities. I found the best way to read it was to break off and look up the works of art and pieces of music mentioned although I must confess I haven't yet been motivated to read any of the, rather heavy sounding, literature referenced. The revelation, to me at least, that Max Weber was an alcoholic and drug addict was somehow immensely disappointing; I don't know why.
Anyway, notwithstanding the rather intellectual content of the book I am also pleased to report that I remain shallow enough to be amused by the appearance of a character by the name of Bruno Frank, if you know what I mean Harry.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2013
This is not a history reference book or a novel. It is a diary of 1913, presented as a series of footnotes, asides, gossip and waggish speculation. The personal & professional lives of everyone from Picasso to Kafka, Mann (Heinrich) to Mann (Thomas), via Duchamp, Else Lasker-Schuler, Freud and Jung get a thorough ventilation - but national issues are not left out. A well written counterpoint, if a bit too "chatty" at times, to the dry, pre-war dominoes history that was forced upon us English speakers at school... And a reminder of how the art world (German speakers in particular) was to be decimated and scattered by that war. It presents interesting contrasts: Some of those mentioned are starving in garrets while others are at the height of their fame. Twentysomething Hitler is living as a (sortof) itinerant painter. Teto drives racing cars. Thirtysomething Stalin is (sortof) working on an essay. Though it focuses mostly on Paris, Berlin and Vienna every city from Chicago to Moscow gets at least a mention (The South Pole even gets in there). It seems it was a very busy year though the book never feels "crammed". The pace, moments of levity and pathos give, by turns, an absurdly logical character and a sense of glowering immanence to the great convulsion that is soon to come. Well, well worth reading. Best read in sequence the first time around and then dipped into here and there (as a throat clearer) between novels or (for men) "auf der klo" reading. With or without it's modish dust jacket a handsome book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2013
This is an entertaining and informative book about literary and historical figures and what they were up to in 1913. However it lacks some depth (compared to the superior and more erudite "1922") and contains too much trivia. And to say that certain persons such as Hitler and Stalin, who were in the same city around the same time, "may" have met or "may" have been sitting at the same cafe at the same time is very unfair on the reader. Facts are sacred and presumptions and possibilities have no place in a serious history. Having said that, the book is well researched and does provide an informative, even detailed, record of the period.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2013
It is a fruitful change to read about Europe in particular in that last year before the outbreak of war from a European author. A highly recommended selection of material, some trivial, most not..
on 12 October 2014
The main character in this book is, unusually, a year, which is explored chronologically through its comprising months and the lives of a large cast of players.
The tone is that of a social observer, or a soap opera, or even like reading a Facebook news feed. The author writes with the hindsight and style of the modern age but nevertheless with affection and humour.
Regarding the cast of characters, the focus is on the German-speaking and the cities of Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Prague with mentions of New York or London being few and far-between. This meant that many of the names were at the edge of consciousness for me and I had frequent diving into Wikipedia to remind myself of who was who. I read the Kindle edition and I'm not sure whether the paper editions have more pictures, or maybe a "cast list", but I would have found both of these helpful.
Having said that, I did become immersed in the stories of many of the individuals. Like watching the film "Titanic", you know where it's all heading, but you nevertheless become involved in the lives and loves of writers, painters and poets living on the cusp of the modern age, in the days when the full title of the emperor ran to 20 lines of text!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2013
This is an excellent introduction to the book that can never be written: Europe if the great war had never happened.
It is clear to me now that we live in similar times and that another great cataclysm is just around the corner. Let us hope I am wrong. And read this book, a celebration of the rich joys of peace.
For non German speakers..I mean for the English edition, a biographical gazetteer would have saved me many, admittedly enlightening forays off to Wikipedia. Which is perhaps why I found this book so enriching. And from time to time, funny.