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The missing piece of the jigsaw,
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This review is from: Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe (Hardcover)
At last I understand what the two World Wars were about! This book is a real eye opener. Perhaps it is not possible to understand history without some idea of what happened in central Europe.
I did not get on with Germania (I gave up less than half way through), and here too I found Winder's style to be an acquired taste. However, once I got more than half way into the book I was finding him less irritating, and by the end I didn't want it to finish.
This is a book of immense sweep, starting back in medieval times. I like the way the author includes much music and art along the way. Once we get to the Vienna of Mozart, Winder gives a strong reference point and I felt as if we were starting to enter more familiar territory. He describes various places he visited during his research, and I am already planning about ten holidays to different Eastern European and Balkan countries as a result.
One thing that struck me was the appalling and constant violence these places had to endure throughout their entire recorded past. The history of the UK, or of France, in no way prepares you for this. Coming from a safe country surrounded by water distorts one's perspective. No wonder Germany felt so threatened in the early twentieth century, surrounded as it was by a hostile Russia and France. The panicky response of these countries' leaders makes more sense in this context.
I admit that I was getting confused by the various Rudolfs and Ferdinands at some points, and perhaps I will have to read it all again. But as I proceeded, gradually the penny started to drop, that Winder was unlocking an understanding of the twentieth century. This is a remarkable achievement. 'The Economist' magazine has a review of World War 1 books this weekend, and I once again was irritated by how little new insight any of these are giving. Simon Winder has done a better job than any of them, without even consciously trying to!
Buy this book and persevere to the end. It provides this missing piece of the jigsaw. Your understanding of the world will never be the same again. Highly recommended.