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on 17 June 2017
I am fortunate in possessing a first edition, hardcover copy of this book published 1943 by Cassell & Co. The translator's identity is not given but I have to say I find this rendering preferable to Anthea Bell's rendition. The differences are mostly subtle but sometimes quite significant. The original has a facsimile of Zweig's "suicide notice" together with a translation, neither of which are included in this paperback edition.
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on 25 May 2017
Although I haven't yet finished this book I shall be sad when I do because it is a wonderful read. The content fascinates me because I am interested in that period, especially the 15 years before WW1, but it is the quality of the writing and the clarity of the pictures drawn which make it exceptional. As a reasonably wealthy and successful man - and also as a Jew - Zweig was very well placed to observe Europe during that period and took full advantage of his ability to travel, observe, and meet the people who shaped contemporary thinking from relative peace and harmony between Austria, Germany, France and Italy through a period disruption and misery in the 1930s and 1940s.
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on 8 December 2014
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was in a privileged position to witness the dramatic changes that agitated Europe at the start of the twentieth century to change it forever. Born in the “Golden Age of Security” of the Vienna under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the end of the nineteenth century, within a bourgeois Jewish household, in the middle of a society with a high regard for culture, and the theatre in particular, Zweig developed a dislike for authority from his time as a student in the strict Austrian schools. But in Zweig’s milieu, a number of Viennese Jews had started to make significant changes in music (Mahler, Schönberg), in literature (Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler), in psychology (Freud)… with a vocation to refine Austrian identity by giving it a European expression.

A paragraph in the early part of the book condensates how these innovations in art were only the forerunners of general change: “The truly great experience of our youthful years was the realisation that something new in art was on the way — something more impassioned, difficult and alluring than the art that had satisfied our parents and the world around us. But fascinated as we were by this one aspect of life, we did not notice that these aesthetic changes were only the forerunners of the much more far-reaching changes that were to shake and finally destroy the world of our fathers, the world of security.”

A keen traveller around Europe from a young age, Zweig enjoyed the advantage of witnessing the developments that led Europe onto its first world war, and then the second, from the perspectives of different nations and also through the eyes of some of the actors who had a part to play in the entire drama. Zweig seemed able to somehow miraculously position himself in the right places at the right time to witness history making itself, and through his eyes we become witnesses on the ground too. And in the end disturbing questions are suggested that invite the reader to continue investigating the period with a keener eye for analysis.

This book is, moreover, not just a historical account, but a lesson on spiritual survival among the general moral decay that gave rise to fascism and nazism. This is one of the books everyone should read in their lifetimes, to be better informed and to become better people.
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on 30 April 2017
A fascinating read. Zweig's account of the
period in history he lived in is very illuminating, providing a first hand perspective of what we've learned in history books. Also, his international outlook as a European liberal thinker and how the continent descended into chaos draws parallelisms to modern times.
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on 8 January 2010
If you havent read Zweig then I beg you to do so.This is a staggering historical autobiography from the latter part of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th.
Stefan Zweig is one of the most underestimated writers of recent times.His 'Burning Secret' is a wonderful novella.
Bob Rowland
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on 18 July 2017
I love it; endlessly fascinating; specially for me, as my Parents were both living & young at that time; & both involved in resistance to the Nazis; & one of the best written books I have ever read,( tho I guess every one knows that!) What a great writer! MF
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On reading this book, my first thought is that this is much more than a biography. It is a portrait of an era and a love letter to Stefan Zweig’s beloved Europe; written after he was forced into exile by the onslaught of fascism. However, the book begins with Zweig growing up in Austria, prior to WWI, in, what he terms, the Golden Age of Security. Austria seemed to have a stable government and consistency in the Habsburg monarchy. There was a sense of order and everyone knew their place in society. Despite Zweig’s remembrances being a little rose-tinted, there are hints that not all was perfect. He admits to finding school pointless and dreary, complains about the lack of natural relationships between men and women and sneers at the duellists at university. Throughout the book, Zweig’s love is for literature and he opts to study philosophy not out of any love for the subject, but because he believes it will inconvenience him the least and leave him time to write.

There are many portraits of other authors, musicians and artists in this book. Zweig suggests that European Jewry saw their support of the arts as a way in which they could make their mark and find a niche for themselves – other avenues, like the army, being virtually barred to them. Luckily, it was an area he adored and he spent much of his time collecting memorabilia from those he admired. He writes of the unrest leading up to WWI and recalls how the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was greeted without distress, as he was generally unpopular. Zweig is always utterly honest in his writing, admitting, “there is nothing heroic in my nature,” and that he had a perfectly natural desire to evade dangerous situations. That said, he procured a post in the library at the War Archives, where he wrote movingly of his desire for a united Europe. He always resisted war and hatred and found Austria a different place after the war, with no Kaiser, financial chaos and raging inflation.

He also writes about his travels; to Paris, Berlin, London, India, America, Italy and a fascinating account of his visit to Russia. When Zweig asked his Russian publisher why he had not fled on the outbreak of the revolution, the Russian admitted that he had not believed the situation would last. Along with an anonymous note advising him not to take all he heard and saw at face value, Zweig was much more likely to question when fascism began to rise in Europe, suggesting that people used self deception because of a reluctance to abandon their accustomed life. Still, it made him more aware of the problems ahead. Despite being financially secure and imagining his life was settled, he found he was standing on very unstable ground.

Although the decade after the war was enjoyable for Stefan Zweig, as the 1930’s began, life became more difficult. By 1934, when his friends began to avoid him and he suffered the indignity of having his house searched, Zweig left for London, where he stayed for some years. Although he returned to Austria in 1937, he found nobody was prepared to listen to his warnings and it is obvious that, during this time, he felt terrible despair. In his fifties, he found himself homeless, stateless and with the possibility of becoming an enemy alien, if England went to war with Germany.

Despite much of Zweig’s musings being both moving and, at times, deeply saddened by events in his beloved Austria, this is by no means a depressing book. It is filled with anecdotes of literary and artistic life, of travel and his delight of discovery and friendship. At all times, Zweig is humane, intelligent and understanding company. If you have any interest in Europe, especially around the time of the first world war, this will present you with a vibrant and enticing portrait of a lost world. It is obvious that it’s loss saddened Zweig and that he was unable to come to terms with life as an exile – sadly committing suicide in Brazil in 1942. His death was a tragic loss to literature and it is wonderful that his books are now being translated into English. According to Zweig, his books never received much success in England, but that was surely our loss and it is wonderful that his work is now being rediscovered.
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on 23 March 2013
Essential reading for anyone interested in the life of Stefan Zweig and the period leading up to the second world war. He even explains how he managed to produce great books by eliminating all superfluous text. Zweig is always interesting and compared to many others he is an intellectual giant.
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on 25 May 2017
I haven't read it yet, but it looks refreshing and intriuging
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on 12 August 2010
There are several compelling reasons to read this book. Written in Zweig's crystalline prose (at one point he describes his process of writing as paring down to the essentials), he examines the effects of the turbulent events of the first half of the twentieth century on the cultural life of Europe. Zweig himself perfectly represents this cultural life. Growing up towards the end of the century, he describes how even as a boy he was a voracious imbiber of the latest books, plays, and music. His description of how the driest and dullest of lessons was alleviated by that old trick of hiding a book of poems behind his mathematics primer (not possible alas in today's 'child-centered' classrooms). As an adult he was immensely sociable with, and held a deep admiration for, the prime writers and thinkers of his time. Therefore the final chapters are all the more shattering as he delineates what Nazism destroyed, both in personal and cultural terms.

Twice now Zweig has illuminated my understanding of the 30's. Firstly in his marvellous novella 'The Post-Office Girl', where the desperation of post-war Austrians is shown to lead easily to radicalism (this is also described very vivdly in this book). And secondly, the intellectual costliness of Hitler's programme. Zweig is such a keen observer that I felt moved afresh by the atrocities committed then. I urge anyone to read this book.
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