Before traveling to Vienna my expectations of the city were all filtered through a foggy lens of elegance and sophistication. The glories of the Hapsburg monarchy, Beethoven’s music and classic art collections floated through my imagination rather loosely and in tiny, shiny snippets.
This book pulled the fragments together. It depicts only a ten-month window of time, but this portion of a year was a hum-dinger in the city’s history. This was the year that Sigmund Freud started writing his theories, Gustav Klimt struggled with public acceptance of his art style, Theodor Herzl was actually a dreamy playwright, Gustav Mahler became obsessed with old bones, the progressive prince Rudolph committed a murder-suicide, and Adolph Hitler was born. And all of this was taking place within the context of an incredible economic transition overseen by political leaders who wanted to stifle the growing socialist movement.
So yeah, it’s a jam-packed read! It certainly appealed to the history buff in me, but I think what I valued most was the author’s effort to present the city of Vienna as a character itself. It seemed that all the famous personalities were unconsciously creating a composite Viennese psyche, which in turn then inspired significant events.
It’s a great book to read if you like ambiance and stage setting. There’s no grand mystery to solve, or dramatic plot to follow. It’s all about bringing you to a particular place and time where some incredible things happened to some very interesting people. And the influence of this year on the personalities involved can still be seen as you walk the modern streets of their city. An excellent book to read while you’re there!