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Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe Hardcover – 12 Sep 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (12 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330522787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330522786
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 4.7 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 206,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'It combines history, travelogue and digressive personal essay. Winder is a puppyishly enthusiastic companion: funny, erudite, frequently irritating, always more in control of his material than he pretends to be, and never for a moment boring . . . Danubia is a moving book, and also a sensuous one . . . Miniaturist in its eye for detail, grand in its scope, it skips beats and keeps our attention all the way' (Sarah Bakewell Financial Times)

'A fresh look at a region and a dynasty of which most of us in the English-speaking world are quite ignorant' Guardian

‘Memorably funny . . . wonderfully readable and entertaining’ Sunday Times

Danubia is 500 years of Habsburg imperial history told in the style of a bumbling English detective, the kind of sleuth who appears to skirt around a knotty case and then disarmingly poses a penetrating question . . . As with his previous work Germania, Winder describes this account as a “personal history”, allowing him space for whimsy, for a great deal of Haydn, for careful analysis of paintings and the freedom to favour certain emperors because they were interesting people rather than political heavyweights. It all makes for an excellent, rich and amusing read’ The Times, Book of the Week

Danubia is a logical sequel to Simon Winder’s quirky and delightful Germaina . . . Political and military history supplies Danubia with its narrative line, but Simon Winder loves to explore the byways and odd corners of this rambling empire. He is excellent on architecture, painting and music. Never averse to putting himself at the centre of what he discovers on his travels, he has written a book that is every bit as entertaining and enlightening as Germania . . . Anyone with an interest in a part of Europe and a section of history largely ignored in our schools and universities will find this book richly rewarding’ Allan Massie, Literary Review

‘Winder is an engaging host . . . The Habsburgs were, latterly, authoritarian liberals. They survived by guile and luck, by sheer chance and cold expediency. With the exceptions of figures like Rudolf II, that melancholy devotee of the occult, there are few of them one can imagine a novelist wanting to explore. Yet Winder rightly enthuses over the contribution this odd political amalgam made to culture . . . Danubia is astoundingly smart and negotiates the Scylla of elegy and the Charybdis of denunciation with expert skill. It’s also damn funny, and includes dodos, the banning of cribs, cockatrices and the entire history of Europe’ Stuart Kelly, Scotland of Sunday

‘There is travelogue here, with vivid descriptions of Ukrainian towns, and Transylvanian villages. There are snatches of autobiography too, often anecdotal and whimsical, but sometimes filled with passion about his discoveries of art or music. The main quality of this book, however, is its humour, which sets it aside from the standard histories. To say that Winder is a jokey writer would not begin to do him justice . . . And yet, and yet . . . As the chapters roll past in their gales of hilarity, Winder manages at the same time to do something remarkably skilful, handling complex issues of geopolitics, national identity and cultural change with a deep and surprising thoughtfulness’ Sunday Telegraph, Book of the Week

Funny and yet also fantastically informative (Books of the Year Observer)

Winder's "personal history" of the Habsburg Empire takes the form of a journey across middle Europe, where the "plural, anarchic, polyglot" lands of old have given way to the "small and dirty cages of the new nation states." He finds humor and pathos in the history of the Habsburgs, who for five centuries ruled over territories stretching from the North Sea to Peru with a "dizzying blend of ineptitude, viciousness and occasional benignity." For every Emperor Maximilian I, an early adopter of the printing press and a patron of Albrecht Dürer, there is a King Carlos II of Spain, who could barely speak or eat, thanks to his family's incessant inbreeding (New Yorker)

Book Description

Danubia is the brilliant and entertaining companion to the Sunday Times top ten bestseller Germania. It was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2013.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Another idiosyncratic, rollicking book, dealing with a highly complicated not to say confused subject: the history of the Habsburgs. Simon Winder achieves the virtually impossible: he manages to throw light on while retaining our interest in the doings of this family who exercised such enormous influence over large chunks of Europe through the ages. Obviously a sound historian he also has an impressive appreciation of the wider, cultural landscape in which the history is set. A gift much appreciated and sadly not shared by many other historians.
Highly enjoyable follow up to his Germania, highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
For years I thought that I was the only person who had heard of Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen or Mecklenburg-Gustrow. So Simon Winder's book on Germany was proof that in my fascination with the old Holy Roman Empire I was by no means alone - and the fact that it became a well-deserved bestseller shows that either lots of other people out there prefer 15th century German small towns to getting sun poison on a Mediterranean beach or that Winder's brilliance convinced them that he (and I) were right after all.

Now comes the natural companion volume, on the Habsburg Empire, and it is fully worthy of its predecessor. No one was ever quite as wacky as the Habsburg dynasty, who managed to rule over most of Central Europe for a good 600 years, right down until 1918, and this book, that blends historical research, travellers' tales and the sheer enjoyment of the author, is the idea place to start for anyone who prefers Vienna to St Tropez, or Prague to the Ligurian Coast.

And in fact the book is just fun for anyone who loves accurate but popular history, enjoyable armchair travels and an old fashioned rattling good yarn.

And heard of Lower and Upper Austria? This book tells all you need to know about FURTHER Austria, and with its publication there will now be more than two of us for whom such places will be of total fascination.

Christopher Catherwood (Churchill and St Edmund's Colleges at Cambridge): [...]
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very personal history, more like a companion to the history of the Holy Roman Empire. The author doesn't pull any punches in his descriptions of the Emperors, most of whom were eejits.

You do need a reasonable history of Europe to get the best out of this; if you don't you will be totally lost very quickly. And you won't learn the sort of stuff that's needed for exams, but you will discover all the quirks of Europe, the strange half-forgotten trivia that makes life so interesting.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The thing about this book is that the book edition has five maps which you need to refer to, to make sense of the text. But the Kindle edition lacks these, I ended up buying a second-hand edition of the paperback on eBay. It may be four times the thickness of my Kindle, but at least it makes sense.

Having said that the book is an ideal introduction into the intricacies and convulsions of central European history. It is VERY VERY complicated, and this book does go a long way towards explaining why it is so complicated - here's some examples

I became interested in the Empire as I was tracing my wife's parents, both born in the Empire during its last days. My father-in-law was was born in what was Stanislau or Stanisławów depending on whether you were ethnically German or Polish, became Ivano-Frankivsk, and is now Іва́но-Франкі́вськ. His parents were born in what they called Lemberg but has since been called Łviv, and most recently Львовv. My mother-in-law grew up in Gablonz and worked in Reichenberg, but these are now Jablonec nad Nissou and Liberec.

You need the maps to make sense of the text, and Kindle lacks them. You won't get the best out of this book if you start at the front cover and plough through the end. I read this book going back to re-read sections as my understanding grew, check the maps and so on - it's a delight - but only as a paper edition.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Despite my reservations, for the most part I enjoyed Simon Winder's latest volume on European history. Danubia is a vast subject gamely tackled by the author with great erudition and obvious love for the subject. It isn't quite as hilarious as some reviewers might suggest, but Winder's witty tone is very welcome in levitating what could otherwise be a very dry book.Winder is far less impenetrable and hard work than Claudio Magris in his imperious volume 'Danube' (recommendable to the brave reader!), but because of its very subject, Danubia still demands careful attention and a good memory to get the most from it. If you do make it through you will find it a rewarding and stimulating read that poses as many questions as it answers.
It was good of Winder to share his enjoyment of central European music and its place in societies across the region. If you are introduced to the works of Haydn (the over-written-about Mozart barely gets a mention!), Bruckner, Zemlinsky, or Bartok then Winder will not have written in vain. And in the same way some of the more obscure writers and poets he writes about seem to be worth investigating. He mentioned railways in passing but the fundamental impact of this mode of transport was not given the emphasis I thought it might have been. Still, for this one can always read Christian Wolmar's exemplary 'Blood, Iron and Gold - How the Raiilways Transformed the World', and in particular his 'Engines of War' which describes the some of the strategies used by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its enemies and the effects of the flow of battle, soldiers and refugees.
All the same, it seems churlish to criticise something so enthusiastic and well-researched as Danubia. Despite the richness of the contents, Simon Winder is let down by his editors in many respects.
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