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

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  952 Ratings  ·  155 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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Lyn Elliott
Aug 28, 2014 Lyn Elliott rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, europe, austria
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
Jan 19, 2014 Manray9 rated it liked it
Shelves: germany-austria
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
Sep 29, 2013 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Huw Evans
Jan 08, 2015 Huw Evans rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 21, 2014 Kirstie rated it did not like it
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
I blame Wes Anderson for this obsession.

As soon as I sat down and the Russian Doll opening of 'Grand Budapest Hotel' was presented before me, I wan transfixed, it was the most pink ornate cake like looking movie I had ever seen. Usually with Wes Anderson I get a little board half way after the gimmick has run it's course. But I loved it all, Ralph Fiennes (I sleep with all my friends, hands off my lobby boy), Zero, Jude Law's character, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody's hair, the lift operator (I h
Robert Morris
Jul 10, 2014 Robert Morris rated it it was amazing
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
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
May 31, 2015 Aisling rated it it was amazing
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
Gareth Evans
Sep 19, 2013 Gareth Evans rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 20, 2014 Carol rated it it was amazing
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.

Oct 13, 2016 Irina rated it really liked it
I have very mixed feelings about this book. First of all, as someone who gets their bachelor's degree in history next year, I was baffled because of the scarcity of references and footnotes, the first hint of a serious historical research, and as a Transylvanian Romanian some things regarding this region and my ancestors seemed... off. But then I looked at the title and I realised it's a personal history, it's not meant to be a scientific research. The author tries to be as respectful as possibl ...more
Sep 10, 2015 Cass rated it it was ok
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
Apr 04, 2014 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, europe
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.
Peter Kavanagh
Jan 19, 2014 Peter Kavanagh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 27, 2017 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Just loved this book! I really wish I had read it before our Danube - Main - Rhine cruise last autumn. Like all writers who have a tremendous enthusiasm for their subject, he makes you love it too and want to know more. I've never felt much interest in or sympathy for the Habsburgs, but Winder brings them to life as fascinating, infuriating, often incompetent but certainly survivors, above all very human figures.

You really want to read this with Wikipedia, Google and Google Play close by, so tha
Aug 10, 2014 Jill rated it really liked it
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
Feb 26, 2017 Christopher rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Something about the 2016 presidential election just put me in the mood for a tragicomic history about the rise and fall and oddities of the Hapsburg Empire.
May 11, 2014 Doug rated it really liked it
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
Apr 16, 2014 Julia Zee rated it it was amazing
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
Evan Ziporyn
Aug 11, 2014 Evan Ziporyn rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 06, 2014 Mackay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel
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
Daniel Kukwa
Very engrossing...but very odd. This is a book of tangents, self-deprecating humour, quirky observations, and a loose command of chronology. None of that is a drawback in the slightest -- it's easily the most original take on history I've read in some time. What sticks in my craw is that the conclusion of the book seems to sputter to a halt. There doesn't seem to be a proper end to the story of the Hapsburgs...their epic tale, and the writer's enthusiasm, seems to simply fritter away, as if unab ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
The Hapsburgs are a subject most people do not jump into. The history of central Europe under these monarchs from about 1450 to 1918 is a little off the beaten path even for history buffs but the author makes the book quite enjoyable. The region which used to be a polyglot empire is now a host to about a dozen nations and many more ethnicities and languages. The Hapsburgs had a long run of over 400 years and were major players in Europe in the modern period but their legacy especially in the 20t ...more
Jul 21, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
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
Seth D Michaels
Mar 23, 2014 Seth D Michaels rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Dec 29, 2015 Lysergius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A wonderful book. Once you start it you will not be able to lay it down, even though the ending is well known. Simon Winder approaches the history of the Habsburgs with humour and insight. This has to be one of the best history books I have ever read. There is no shortage of dates and battles and names of Habsburg dignitories, but they are added as flavouring not as the main dish.

There is also an extensive bibliography which will no doubt source many Amazon orders.

Read and enjoy!
Apr 02, 2014 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really fascinating book and big and heavy, even in paperback. It follows the author's prior book Germania which was equally good. However, since this book is focused on the Hapsburgs you had best be prepared for them. What a motley crew they were.
Winder can rustle up an amazing number of interesting insights, terrific facts, and he keeps it all moving. I know more about why Eastern Europe is as it is now. Recommended highly.
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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.
More about Simon Winder...

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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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