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4.6 out of 5 stars
The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European (B-Format Paperback)
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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 26 March 2015
dear sir
I was searching the second hand book and i got it in Cassell Biographies. It is very remarkable autobiography and very sad indeed that the author finished his precious life before the Second World War ended. Long before Lord Edward Grey declared at the beginning of Great War ^ The lights of Europe are put out, we shall never see them again in our lifetime.^ He was correct so as Mr Stefan Zweig that culture of the Europe is completely destroyed.
He correctly writes ^There was no protection,no security against being constantly made aware of things and being drawn into them. There was no country to which one could flee , no quiet one could purchase; always and everywhere the hand of fate seized us and dragged us back in its insatiable play.^
The world is remembering the trauma of great war as Centenary has quietly passed. We hope the civilized people would never allow the vision of nuclear Apocalypse come true to destroy the world again and politics should dominate the literature and other fine arts. It is disheartening that no new edition of this fine book was published recently and people knew little about this book and its author.
At last i quote from the book ^Only that which wills to preserve itself has the right to be preserved for others. So choose and speak for me, ye memories, and at least give some reflection of my life before it sinks into the dark!^
I very strongly recommend this fine autobiography to be read by every one who is interested in the history, literature and great authors.
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on 18 April 2018
Beautifully written chronicle of a society's slide into war and barbarism. Many heart-rending moments, such as the author's last visit to Vienna to see his mother - very movingly conveyed. Only thing that grates at times - the reminders of Zweig's very privileged life and a sense that he laments the loss of that elevated social circle around him more than the masses of the lowly and impoverished, who are also people too. Issues of social class are never far from the central narrative although these are questions with which Zweig never engages, sadly. Still, a very valuable and touching account. Well worth reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 July 2012
How to describe this book? It is a personal memoir by a gifted writer who was raised in Vienna before the Great War, then watched his country suffer after defeat, and crumble with the rise of Nazism. To read it is to be inducted into the world of a Viennese writer at a special moment in history, meeting the people he knew (his memories of Rilke make compelling reading).
But it is so much more than that.
This book is a testament to civilised life that flowered all too briefly in Austria - and by that I do not mean a closed world of privilege, but the broader realm of culture and ideas centred on life in the coffee house (and from where it spread both upwards, and downwards, on the Viennese social ladder).
It is, to my mind, one of three indispensable books on Viennese culture from the dawn of the 20th century to the incursions of Nazism: the other two being an autobiography - Last Waltz in Vienna; and an intellectual history - Wittgenstein's Vienna. These three works interweave and complement each other, filling in gaps in the others' accounts and perspectives.
Do read them. You will not regret it.
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on 22 January 2015
Absolutely necessary reading. It's a fine historical document of Zweig's life and times, written unpretentiously. The early chapters describing Vienna in the good old days were absolutely enchanting. But in the subsequent chapters, what struck me most were the parallels with today. We tend to view WW2 and Fascism from 1945, backwards. But Zweig explains the gradual snowballing of events from WW1 onwards, illustrating amongst other things, how fascism surfed on a wave of frustration and resentment - the Lost Generation, mainly men who either fought in WW1 or came of age in the interwar period of mass unemployment and inflation. Hitler of course was one of these examples, who'd been rejected by Vienna, and was on some vengeance. Zweig also illustrated how the menace of Bolshevism created this overall climate of extremism... and graducaully how the moderate, middle ground got swallowed up.

But unlike history books, Zweig shows all these events from an intellectual angle. He knew all the influential minds of his generation: Sigmund Freud, James Joyce, Theodor Herzl, Maxime Gorki and many others. So the whole story of Europe in the 1890-1945 period is told from the artist's perspective. And it's a far more interesting one than you'd think. These artists saw what was happening before everyone else realised.

People, buy this book with your eyes closed. It's the best book I've read in years!
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on 27 July 2016
One of my favorite books. It is all about changing times and how a generation can feel disconnected from the times in which it lives. Written about the pre and post world war one Vienna, but lessons are applicable to today's world as well...

Also some wonderful reflections on the essence of artistic creation.

A must read!
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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 29 January 2015
This writer is unknown, almost: refereed to on the TV program last week on VIenna.
Described 1900 Vienna and Austria superbly, you almost want to go there (in 1903). Writing of this kind, that is not monomaniac , is now rare, not aligned with a politic, that Stefan saw invading our very lives to destruction. I find his poetry average, perhaps something is lost in translation.
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on 22 October 2015
An outstanding book. Zweig lived through the break up of the Austro Hungarian empire , it's destruction in the first world war, the invasion by nazi Germany, the rounding up of the Viennese Jews and the gathering apocalypse of the Second World War. His description of the destruction of Europe is chilling and prescient .
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