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Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe
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Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  546 ratings  ·  100 reviews
A charmingly personal history of Hapsburg Europe, as lively as it is informative, by the author of Germania

For centuries much of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire was in the royal hands of the very peculiar Habsburg family. An unstable mixture of wizards, obsessives, melancholics, bores, musicians and warriors, they saw off—through luck, guile and sheer mulishness—any numb
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 1st 2013)
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Simon Winder's Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe was sometimes fascinating and sometimes tedious. His look into the long history of the Habsburg realms is deeply-researched and insightful, but not well-told. Winder delved into many of the fascinating and often amusing aspects of Habsburg political, military, artistic and dynastic history while maintaining a parallel travelogue too often accompanied by feeble attempts to be funny and the use of sophomoric vocabulary. Sometimes it see ...more
Just ok. I'm very easy to please with a passing reference to some eccentric bit of history, like microscopic kingdoms ruled by nuns or weird buildings or people with odd names, so this book had a head start with me. That said, It never did seem to find a good middle ground between telling some of the drier political and military history and merrily skipping away from it in favour of the funny stuff. Chapters and chapters did go on abouut successions or military campaigns, but with a carefully cu ...more
I should start this by saying that I adored Germania.... also that I, like Simon Winder, have a strange fascination with Central Europe. It is thanks to this fascination that I was lucky enough to spend a couple of years living in the wonderful city of Vienna, and that I have made several visits to other central European cities such as Prague, Brno, Bratislava Kutna Hora etc.... I've also been lucky enough to ski in the Tyrol.... all in all you could say that I am smitten with the region, and th ...more
Lyn Elliott
It took me quite a while to get used to Winder's freewheeling style and indeed found it so irritating that I abandoned it 14% of the way through to head for more illuminating territory - Claudio Magris, Joseph Roth and back to Norman Davies' histories and Patrick Leigh Fermor.
But some days later, in the absence of any other convenient book, I picked up my kindle again and found myself in a section that was both illuminating and more carefully written and have now finished it.
Danubia has filled
The language in this book is reminiscent of a what a tour guide sounds like guiding you around a historical site: they attempt to hold your attention with loud and crazy sentence structure, they jump around a ton in the historical timeline, and they only offer dumbed-down history.

I couldn't even get through the first chapter
Speaking of a little Alpine town which had changed hands several times, Winder writes:

"This new bilingualism has had a bizarre effect on the castle. In Italian it is called Castel Roncolo, which implies a pretty turfed courtyard with maidens in gauzy outfits skipping about to tambourines and lutes with weedy youths in coloured tights looking on. In German it is called Schloss Runkelstein, which implies a brandy-deranged old soldier-baron with a purple face and leg-iron lurching around darkened
I never really thought much about Central Europe. It seemed fusty; it was where much of the Holocaust occurred; and my parents were interested in it. I read about Latin countries and I learned romance languages. My only interests in the Hapsburg empire were waltzing and Viennese coffee. Then the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival's focus on Hungary made me think I may have been missing out.

Since I knew almost nothing about the Habsburg empire, this book gave me a good overview of Habsburg histo
Huw Evans
Have you ever bought something (in my case usually computer software) thinking it would solve a particular problem only to find that it doesn't answer your original question but leaves you asking even more? This is one such book. If you are looking for a historical timeline of the Hapsburg Empire it is best not bought. It is, however, completely fascinating and captivating. It is also intelligent and very well written.

The easily available information on the writer is sparse. He has taken the tim
Robert Morris
This book is a delight. It's billed as a "Personal History" of Habsburg Europe. The personal nature of the narrative makes it a bit more breezy, and allows Winder to skip over bits he doesn't feel like covering. The Author might claim that it is not serious history, but his treatment does a marvelous job of covering two aspects that would not have come across as well in a more traditional treatment.

Nationalism, which he describes as similar to the bubonic plague, Destroyed the 500 year old Habs
While Danubia continued to confuse my goal of developing a consistent foreign policy worldview, like consuming too much Hungarian liqueur, it was worth it. Winder is a wonderful companion through history, warning you ahead of time if he has to bore you for the sake of the story and letting you see all his charming obsessions. He refers to the book as a personal history not to be cheeky but because he has visited the settings of the various Hapsburg rulers and touch points that he discusses.

Gareth Evans
I guess like most Britons my view of European history is orientated very much toward the west unless there are major historical incidents (1917 etc). What Winder's book shows is that there is much more to Eurpoe than this. Indeed the very centre of Europe is much further East and it is a very different world. One of invasion, war, ethnic tensions and mass migrations. The dynastic history of the Haspburgs can by a little dry, too many similarly named emporers without a great deal of interest in t ...more
A mildly humorous history of the Habsburg dynasty, alternating anecdotes of random oddities of the sort that are bound to pile up in a family that was so prominent for such a long time with a deadly serious examination of what the Habsburgs actually meant to Europe. I would definitely recommend this book if you're interested in the parts of Central and Eastern Europe once ruled by the dynasty. And I really want to see the Budapest Guinea Pig Village.
Gave it 2 stars because I technically didn't finish the book, and assume there may be information in the other half of it. Otherwise, this reads like the History of the Habsburgs as told by Steven Moffat. The author is way too full of his own personal sense of wit, which seems to be the only thing holding together a story that jumps from time period to time period like it has ADD. Coupled with the fact that the author seems to have a tremendous disdain for every member of the dynasty, I wonder w ...more
Danubia is a very quirky book - part history, part travelogue - written by a very witty Englishman. It describes the land once ruled by the Habsburg family, who formed governments dominated by Germans and Hungarians, even though the people over whom they presided were a mixture of various and numerous Slavic nationalities (Polish, Croatian, Czech, Slovak, Ruthenian, Slovenian, Galician, Bukovenian, etc.). In addition, the history of the area requires a discussion of the influence of the Serbs, R ...more
Peter Kavanagh
A funny and deeply humane history of the Hapsburg Empire. Engaging and absorbing, this book is a must read for anybody interested in the empire or considering travel in the region. Incidentally, I really enjoyed tracking down and listening to the music referenced in the book.
Evan Ziporyn
I'm having about as much fun with this as I can having with a book, for me it's the perfect combination of entertainment and information. Both Winder's style and perspective are things a reader will either love or hate, and you'll know this within about 5 pages. His knowledge of both art and political history seems infinite, and he merges these with an acid and very British wit - Simon Schama meets Oscar Wilde. Personally, I'd love to tour Europe with him - and after reading this book I feel tha ...more
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I don't feel it would be fair to rate this one, as I'm not giving up on it due to its poor writing or anything the author did wrong. Instead, I'm giving up because much like elsewhere in Europe, my interest wains beyond the 1500s. I thought perhaps in a different region, it might too be different, but alas it is not.

It doesn't help that there are a ridiculous number of Maximilians, Leopolds, etc. I enjoyed the anecdotal history the aut
I haven't enjoyed a book this much in years. Quirky, but partly because it deals with quirky material, funny and profound. If you want some insight into Europe before nationalism and perhaps a touch of Europe imagined without nationalism, this delivers it. Be warned that this is not a history of the Habsburg Empire. But it captures the ethnic churn of Central Europe before the straight-jacket of national identity and modern states descended. Fascinating to find a strong case for treating the Aus ...more
Reviewing this book is difficult. I started out trying to read Danubia as a history - trying to keep everything is sequence and organized in my mind. I pretty quickly gave this up, there were simply too many guys (only one woman) with the same name, ruling too many places which never existed in maps printed during my lifetime and who were impossible to keep straight. I then began to read the sub-sections in each chapter as individual vignettes and found that I loved the book. Winder may or may n ...more
Julia Zee
I admit this may not be the best of all possible history books--its quirky digressions even annoyed me a little at first--but by the end I was totally convinced. Not that everything in the book is incontestable, but that Winder has eased the reader in his own highly eclectic way from the beginnings of political unification through the peak of empire to the catastrophe of the empire's irrelevance when faced with 20th-century nationalisms, all the while maintaining a sense of continuity. Most inte ...more
Goodreads rly needs to incorporate half star ratings into their website because I want to give this one a 3.5 rating. This s a pretty interesting book - actually I was surprised by how quickly it clipped along given that it's like 500 pages long and all about the Habsburgs without really being too much about them. It is kind of interesting to see the progression of their empire through the follies and failures of some of their rulers and (perhaps oddly, I don't know) by the end of this book I wa ...more
This is an amazing and wonderful book. If all history books were this fun, this quirky, this interesting, no student in the world would ever say, "History bores me."

I read a review in the NYT and thought, why not give it a whirl? I've done practically nothing else but read it since I got it - it's engrossing, funny, picaresque, informative, opinionated, (did I mention funny?), and full of a wonderfully broad range of topics, all of them written to enlighten and charm. If one were going to trave
Ronan Mcdonnell
I'm finished at last! A hugely entertaining and riveting account of the Habsburg dynasty. There are so few English titles in print on this topic that choice is severely limited. No matter, this is sublime in its conversational and straight forward approach. Hardly wait exhaustive it is nonetheless lengthy and digressive. A book to be lost in, for weeks.
Seth D Michaels
Loved this! Freewheeling, dry-witted, not-especially-comprehensive history of the very weird Hapsburg Empire. He's a really digressive writer, sometimes to the point of being rambly, but he makes up for it with an eye for the strange and a way of conveying just how arbitrary and contingent the borders of modern Europe are. I read this in preparation for a trip to Vienna, Budapest and Prague - the imperial cities of this no-longer-existing empire - and it gave me a lot of great guidance on where ...more
I will probably remember more about the Holy Roman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire from this book than all the history texts. It is indeed a "personal" history with author's comments directed at the reader as well as comments on art and music emanating from this part of the world. It's a book that definitely deserves a re-reading as there is so much to digest and learn.
Although I enjoyed reading this, I had a number of big problems with it. The earliest chapters were extremely confusing, it seemed to me you'd need to already be very familiar with 14th and 15th century history to make head or tail out what Winder was banging on about. Things settle down from the Reformation on, but the complete lack of citations ... or worse, quotes attributed to "someone" ... left me questioning the accuracy of the whole thing. Winder repeats himself a number of times and even ...more
Clarice Stasz
I read Winder's Germania, a book like this one, a mix of history with personal anecdotes and wit. Now that I'm writing a memoir about my Bohemian/Hungarian ancestors, I hoped he would have some useful background. Given the wandering organization, I was grateful to find a good Index at the end.

It is easy to get lost in Winder. As with his book on Germany, I found it easier to pick the book up intermittently. The material is complex, and his breezy writing helps one work through a topic. He is an
Friendly Bookworm
I’ve been working through this book for the past two and a half weeks, and to be quite frank I read 75% of the book in three days. Why did it take so long for me to get into it?

I think there are a couple reasons. One, it is non-fiction so it takes a bit more focus on my part, especially when dealing with the Habsburg decades of rule, hence I can’t skim pages. True, Simon Winder makes clear that he is choosing to focus on a handful of monarchs instead of drowning the reader with names and titles
Sort of an odd one. This is absolutely a personal history of Hapsburg Europe as the author sort of pervades most of this book. I imagine if you enjoy Winder's voice and tastes more than I do, than you might enjoy this book more than I did. The book is a combination of history of some of the more notable Hapsburg monarchs, (the Central European ones, not the Spanish ones,) and the larger cultural and ethnic life of their empire. A lot of this is subject to the individual taste of Winder, so there ...more
Al Stone
Not only am I jealous of the author for writing such a good account of a fascinating topic, I'm even more envious of the enjoyment he obviously derived from the research process. Some of the places I am already familiar with, and now, when I get the chance to revisit them or find myself in any of those I have not yet had the opportunity to see, it will be with a new sense of pleasure, wonder and curiosity thanks to this marvellous book,
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SIMON WINDER has spent far too much time in Germany, denying himself a lot of sunshine and fresh fruit just to write this book. He is the author of the highly praised The Man Who Saved Britain (FSG, 2006) and works in publishing in London.
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“In Transylvania it was memories of the Romanian revolt that stalked the Hungarian aristocratic imagination.. In Galicia it was memories of Tarnow that performed a similar service for the surviving Polish noble families. Both societies shared something of the brittle, sports-obsessed cheerfulness of the British in India - or indeed of Southerners in the pre-1861 United States. These were societies which could resort to any level of violence in support of racial supremacy. Indeed, an interesting global history could be written about the ferocity of a period which seems, very superficially, to be so 'civilized'. Southern white responses to Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion in 1831, with Turner himself flayed, beheaded and quartered, can be linked to the British blowing rebel Indians to pieces from the mouths of cannons in 1857.” 1 likes
“Rather than defeat the reader with a family tree which would look like an illustration of the veins and arteries of the human body drawn by a poorly informed maniac, I thought it better to start with this summary of just the heads of the family, so the sequence is clear. I give the year each ruler became Emperor and the year the ruler died. It all looks very straightforward and natural, but of course the list hides away all kinds of back-stabbing, reckless subdivision, hatred, fake piety and general failure, which can readily be relegated to the main text. To save everyone’s brains I have simplified all titles. Some fuss in this area is inevitable but I will cling under almost all circumstances to a single title for each character. To give you a little glimpse of the chaos, the unattractive Philip ‘the Handsome’ was Philip I of Castile, Philip II of Luxemburg, Philip III of Brabant, Philip IV of Burgundy, Philip V of Namur, Philip VI of Artois as well as assorted Is, IIs, IIIs and so on for other places. So when I just refer to Philip ‘the Handsome’ you should feel grateful and briefly ponder the pedantic horror-show you are spared.” 0 likes
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