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4.9 out of 5 stars
14
4.9 out of 5 stars

TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 February 2008
Building on his experiences writing his previous 2 year background to the death by suicide of the previous Austrian Crown Prince (Rudolf) ("A Nervous Splendour: Vienna, 1888-89"), Morton has developed in confidence as a social historian. I think the best thing about his writing is that it is so stuffed with snippets of information that you select in your own mind the themes that best attract you.

All I particularly knew about the subject was "archduke assassinated, Sarajevo-start of World War One." Franz Ferdinand, a second uneasy peace-making prince in waiting to the aged Emperor Franz Josef dies a tragically violent death on his wedding anniversary after surviving the previous assassination attempt earlier that day. With him dies his wife Sophie- who he married for love in defiance of the Establishment. In revenge the Establishment forced him to accept that her mere descent from nobility rather than through the Habsburgs's centuries long inbreeding scheme meant that she would always be several turns down in official ceremonies and that their children could never inherit. Court officials would even snootily deny her accommodation in Imperial Palaces until the ageing Franz Josef had graciously dispensed with the natural order - for that one occasion only. Naturally in 21st century Britain we can look down on this royal flimflam from a bygone age (Don't mention the Duchess of Cornwall! I did once, but I think I got away with it). He receives no state funeral. He liked roses a lot.

What Morton emphasises is how strange it is that in the previous year Stalin, Trotsky, Hitler and Tito were all present in smugly conventional Vienna. In fact the Austrian authorities were happily nurturing the seeds of the Russian Revolution. Anything to allow a thorn to stick in the side to Tsarist Russia. He reflects Freud's psychoanalytical dogmatic battles with the more sensible upstart Jung- contrasting Franz Josef's reaction to another annoyingly passionate rebellious heir.

That and King George V was too scared to ride his horse in a London park anymore because he didn't like suffragettes jeering at him. Superb- ~I couldn't put it down.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 September 2003
Choosing to focus on just two climactic years, Morton manages to recreate not only the splendor of the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the vibrant intellectual and cultural life of Vienna, the seething nationalism of the Balkans, the Machiavellian intrigue among the political rulers of the European nations and Russia, and the human frailties of the seemingly larger-than-life characters presented here. Best of all, Morton is rigorously selective in his choice of detail, bringing to life the activities of a broad cross-section of Viennese society in 1913-1914, while simultaneously recreating the intellectual ambience which made possible the later rise of some of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century--Trotsky, Stalin, Adler, Freud, Jung, Lenin, Hitler, Tito, and a host of others.
Morton's seriousness of purpose and his scholarship are undeniable, yet his primary contribution here, it seems to me, is his ability to make these historical personages come to life, to make the reader feel that they were real, breathing humans with both virtues and frailties, and not the cardboard characters one finds so often in history books. Vienna, too, has a real heart, albeit beating in ¾ time. From its masquerades and balls by all classes of society, to its revolutionary movements, innumerable newspapers and pamphlets, lively coffee houses, and seemingly endless games of political oneupsmanship, one feels the ferment and activity which must lead, eventually, to change. The liveliness of the city is a visual and intellectual contrast to the formality and frailty of Emperor Franz Josef, making the twilight of his empire understandable and its demise inevitable. But even the demise is stylish--as "The World War [came] to the city by the Danube, [it came] dressed as a ball. Tra-la...Hurrah!" Mary Whipple
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 July 2014
The author wrote an earlier book about life and times in Vienna – A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889 which covered a two year period when life in Vienna seemed to change forever; the buildup to the major event of that time and how it impacted on Austria as a whole, and potentially all of Europe lingers on into this book.

This book covers Vienna and the Austrian ethos in the momentous years 1913/1914. The Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand is champing at the bit over the Austrian policies of the All-Highest Emperor Franz Joseph, and his war and foreign ministry champions. There is turmoil in the Balkan states – but while some call for a pre-emptive war to stop the Slavs and their Russian allies, Franz Ferdinand offers alternatives. But he is not universally popular, even within Austria. It is his fate that will tip the balance in 1914, but he doesn’t know that.

Meanwhile, life in Vienna goes on – but while in some regards it seems just the same as it always has, some things start to change – the Emperor’s health suffers somewhat, and people begin to realise that while Franz Joseph has been their ruler for some sixty years, he will not be there for the next sixty years. And then what will happen?

Ordinary people live their lives as well – we follow life over 1913 and 1914 for the unnamed masses, as well as a few others who lived in Vienna at the time, and whose lives have left legacies way beyond their years – Freud, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Tito, Trotsky and more. For the reader, who knows where 1913 leads when it turns to 1914, there is much to engage here; even what is known can be rediscovered anew and refreshed in a new approach to the facts and narrative. For a reader for whom 1913 and 1914 is a new discovery in European politics, culture and history, there is an awful lot to be learned in this book; the basis of Bolshevism, Serbian nationalism, Austrian pragmatism, German expansionism. It all leaps from the page to the reader’s eyes and mind, and we can picture those last heady days of Viennese life, both for the rich and powerful, and for the poor and powerless as the world is about to change forever in June 1914. Great stuff and definitely recommended, as is the other book by the author I have read, A Nervous Splendor.
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on 6 April 2017
I wish there were more books like this. It is like stepping back in time. No mindless politically correct revision of history here.
(I actually got the audiobook which is very well read - it is one of those books that bears repeated reading it is so full of memory and detail)
Another wonderful book like this is Modris Eksteins "Rites of Spring"
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HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 September 2005
Focusing on just two climactic years, 1913 - 1914, Frederic Morton recreates Vienna in all its splendor during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The vibrant social, intellectual, and cultural life of Vienna is examined within the context of the seething nationalism of the Balkans, the Machiavellian intrigue among the political rulers of the European nations and Russia, and the human frailties of the seemingly larger-than-life national leaders, which assure that the twilight of the empire will eventually be overtaken by darkness.
Rigorously selective in his choice of detail, Morton brings to life the varied activities of a broad cross-section of Viennese society, and reproduces the intellectual milieu which eventually leads to the rise of some of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century--Trotsky, Stalin, Adler, Freud, Jung, Lenin, Hitler, Tito, and a host of others, all of whom are part of Vienna life.
Morton's seriousness of purpose and his scholarship are undeniable, yet his primary contribution here, it seems to me, is his ability to make historical personages come to life, to make the reader feel that they were real, breathing humans with both virtues and frailties, and not the cardboard characters one finds so often in history books. Vienna, as we see it here, has a real heart, albeit one that beats in 3/4 time.
From the masquerades and balls held by all classes of society, to the revolutionary movements, innumerable newspapers and pamphlets, lively coffee houses, and seemingly endless games of political maneuvering, one feels the ferment and activity which must lead, eventually, to change. The liveliness of the city, as depicted here, is a visual and intellectual contrast to the formality and frailty of Emperor Franz Josef, making the twilight of his empire understandable and its demise inevitable. Even the empire's demise is stylish, however. According to Morton: As "The World War [came] to the city by the Danube, [it came] dressed as a ball. Tra-la...Hurrah!" pp Mary Whipple
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on 17 September 2001
This book should be read by anyone with a genuine interest in the watershed that began the First World War. Taking as his cue Disraeli's assertion that biography is the best form of history, Frederic Morton gives us an account of the intellectual ferment that was Vienna in 1913, seen through the lives of not only the prime movers in the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but also of the great artists, writers and musicians in the city at the time. A particular strength of the author is to pull out of this tapestry individual threads of human experience, happy or sad. This "slice of history" approach works superbly, generating a gathering storm in which ultimately the assassin Princip appears no more than a product of his time.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 July 2014
The author wrote an earlier book about life and times in Vienna – A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889 which covered a two year period when life in Vienna seemed to change forever; the buildup to the major event of that time and how it impacted on Austria as a whole, and potentially all of Europe lingers on into this book.

This book covers Vienna and the Austrian ethos in the momentous years 1913/1914. The Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand is champing at the bit over the Austrian policies of the All-Highest Emperor Franz Joseph, and his war and foreign ministry champions. There is turmoil in the Balkan states – but while some call for a pre-emptive war to stop the Slavs and their Russian allies, Franz Ferdinand offers alternatives. But he is not universally popular, even within Austria. It is his fate that will tip the balance in 1914, but he doesn’t know that.

Meanwhile, life in Vienna goes on – but while in some regards it seems just the same as it always has, some things start to change – the Emperor’s health suffers somewhat, and people begin to realise that while Franz Joseph has been their ruler for some sixty years, he will not be there for the next sixty years. And then what will happen?

Ordinary people live their lives as well – we follow life over 1913 and 1914 for the unnamed masses, as well as a few others who lived in Vienna at the time, and whose lives have left legacies way beyond their years – Freud, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Tito, Trotsky and more. For the reader, who knows where 1913 leads when it turns to 1914, there is much to engage here; even what is known can be rediscovered anew and refreshed in a new approach to the facts and narrative. For a reader for whom 1913 and 1914 is a new discovery in European politics, culture and history, there is an awful lot to be learned in this book; the basis of Bolshevism, Serbian nationalism, Austrian pragmatism, German expansionism. It all leaps from the page to the reader’s eyes and mind, and we can picture those last heady days of Viennese life, both for the rich and powerful, and for the poor and powerless as the world is about to change forever in June 1914. Great stuff and definitely recommended, as is the other book by the author I have read, A Nervous Splendor.
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on 25 February 2008
This was as readable as I expected. It was more informative than I expected about Ferdinand, the politics around him and his assassin.

While Freud's work and life in these two years is covered in adequate detail, I had hoped for slightly more of the artistic milieu. For instance, there wasn't as much about musical life in this period as I wanted. My other slight criticism is that the author writes some sections as if this was a historical novel. He will sometimes enliven situations with details which feel fictional rather than factual.

That said, the book has certainly improved my understanding of pre-war Viennese life and I would read more by this author.
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on 20 January 2010
This splendidly evocative book tells the story of events leading up to the outbreak of the first world war from the viewpoint of Vienna's citizens both ordinary and exalted as they go about their daily lives under the looming shadow of war.

Through his ingenious use of a variety of fascinating detail, Morton meticulously recreates the atmosphere of the period, with the as yet distant rumble of conflict reverberating through the city's deeply fractured society.

But this is far more than just a book about Vienna; in tracing the history of the years 1913 and 1914, Morton also captures the sweep of international relations, and in so doing explains how an assassination in a remote corner of an empire led to a devastating world war.

If anyone wants to know how things looked in Vienna as the sands of time ran out on the dual monarchy, then this is the book to read.
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on 11 December 2008
I am just getting into this book and am nowhere near as erudite as other reviewers but had to write this just to comment upon Morton's style. It's wonderful! He teases the imagination and then reveals often surprising information. For an historian, his writing style is truly gripping.

He has brought to life so many places in Vienna, a city I love dearly. Having sipped a grosser brauner coffee in the Café Central, it's a wonder to know I may have been at the very table Trotsky used! To walk along where Stalin will have walked and to visit the Parlament and see where the young Hitler would have observed the hotbed of political humanity that comprised the Austro-Hungarian empire ...

Superb!
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