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Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age
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Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  1,731 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
A brilliant work of history and imagination that probes the cause and effect the Great War had on western culture. With the war over, a deep psychic depression settled over Europe, broken only by hysterical events. 16-page photo insert.
Hardcover, 396 pages
Published March 1st 1989 by Houghton Mifflin
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I was spurred to read this book by a discussion in the History of Sexuality class I am teaching this summer. I had assigned some readings exploring how the modern West has responded to political, economic, and social changes through conflicts over sexuality and gender roles. We spent some time discussing how important World War I was as an accelerant to tensions over increased sexual freedom, the roles of the New Woman and the New Man in Western society, etc. It seemed like a good time to delve ...more
Feb 02, 2011 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada-eh
Modris Eksteins' fantastic autopsy of the European mindset before, during, and after the Great War—the half-decade of unmitigated slaughter that brought a thunderous mailed fist down upon all that a near century of European peace had accomplished—opens with an electrifying setpiece, one which brought to my mind Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. The frenzied response to Diaghilev's The Rite of Spring at its opening in Paris anticipates the currents that would flood though the sluice when the Guns ...more
R. Shurmer
Simply stunning - beautifully structured and written arguments and an immensely informative text on not just World War One but a wide variety of cultural issues from the 1850s to 1945. Ekstein has attempted the most difficult of tasks facing the historian, i.e. to describe the cultural and social nuances of an age and explain how and why they change; and he succeeded brilliantly here. A single poignant event, such as a performance of the Ballet Russe in 1913 or the Unofficial Christmas Truce of ...more
Aug 27, 2012 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, great-war
I didn't get around to reviewing this in June, though since then I have often thought of Eksteins’ description of a dazed and traumatized post-WW1 Europe flirting with Fascism, and the politics of mystic restoration:

…the devastation was so wide and the task of reconstruction so staggering that notions of how this was to be accomplished dissolved often into daydream and wishful thinking.

And I thought of it a lot while reading John Ellis’ The Social History of the Machine Gun this weekend. Ellis d
howl of minerva
Flashes of brilliance but tedious and repetitive for large stretches, sort of an exceptionally cultured pub bore. The final chapter on Nazism was superficial and trite and presumably tacked on at the publishers' behest.
John David
Much ink has been spilled in trying to locate the fons et origo of modernism, and Modris Eksteins is not the first historian to suggest that it occurred on or about the evening of May 29, 1913 at the Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.” Eksteins’ social history, however, is as thoroughly compelling as any, re-introducing you to characters in both the balletic production, but also the broader cultural mise-en-scène: the eccentric Diaghilev and Nijinsky, the founding of the Ball ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This well-researched and well-written history spans about 35 years, from the Parisian performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" to brief mentions of the end of WWII. Different sections focus in on different elements of the arts and political upheaval, including chapters highlighting specific cultural works, cities, or moments in time. I am still pondering the ongoing connection between societal change that could simultaneously create the environment where such important musical and artistic d ...more
May 27, 2011 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read and enjoyed Paul Fussel's The Great War and Modern Memory I came to Modris Eksteins’ The Rites Of Spring and discovered another great work of cultural history that both augmented and complemented Fussel's book. The author transports the reader by demonstrating the advent of the modern through a mood laced with death, movement, irony, rebellion and inwardness. The book unveils a pre-war world of German industrialization and avant-garde art, discusses the disillusionment of an unending ...more
Jan 03, 2008 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic-history
I hold this book in very high esteem, not only because it is very well-written, but because it forced me to completely revise my understanding of twentieth century nation-states.

In Rites of Spring, Ecksteins argues that fascism represented the ultimate manifestation of the "modern" nation-state. That is, Nazis (and many of their admirers such as American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh) saw themselves as cutting-edge modernists, and were merely applying technology worship, industrialism, Darwini
Mar 26, 2008 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Along with Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory," this is the best cultural/literary history I've ever read about The Great War.

I became, for a time, obsessed with WWI, partly because I felt that I hadn't learned enough about it in the course of my traditional schooling (as was the case with so many historical subjects, alas), and partly because I began to understand that it was *this* war, and not WW2, which is in some respects the defining event of the twentieth century.

Paul Fusse
Charles Phillips
Eksteins presents the reader with an argument for an interesting link between modernism in art and the modernism leading to and resulting from the destruction of much of traditional European culture in WWI. More importantly, he presents the reader with a wealth of details about WWI and the growth of fascism.

His argument, to me, is neither terribly convincing nor interesting. To summarize my discontent let me just say that The Rites of Spring and The Second Battle of Ypres are not even in the sam
Probably my favorite history book I've ever read. Eksteins calls himself a post-modern narrativist, and he gives the reader a lot of responsibility. Presenting events, roughly in chronological order, he tells a cultural history from the days leading up to World War One to the beginnings of World War Two. He uses events like the opening night of the Rites of Spring ballet, or the 1914 Christmas Truce, or the flight of Charles Lindbergh to reveal the hearts and minds of Europeans. Eksteins often w ...more
May 28, 2009 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
If you've read Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, then you must read this one as as well. This is one the most important books I've ever read. If you decide to read this book, seek out an edition (paperback or the original hardback) that has Nijinsky dancing on the cover. A later paperback edition does not include the photographs that Eksteins selected to underscore powerful points made in the text. The exlcusion of the photographs was an incredibly stupid thing to do in order save ...more
Jan 24, 2015 Jacky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 stars. 4 staples.
Oct 17, 2012 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of WWI literature

This is a fantastic read; at once both profound and pretentious, tying disparate threads into a very plausible tapestry. I was fascinated by it from the beginning where Stravinsky's ballet 'Le Sacre du Printemps' (The Rites of Spring) and it's infamous premiere are offered as a precursor and motif of the world transformation wrought by the coming storm of World War I. The author draws on just about every cultural source and reference that the he could lay his hands on, from the breadth of cultur
Jan 31, 2010 Paula rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Interesting yet unsatisfying on several levels. I read along enjoying the review of the era, but acquiring few new insights, except perhaps in Ekstein’s depiction of the general mood at the opening of WWI as largely euphoric/ heroic / romantic, unlike the mood fraught with a sense of futility, waste and negation of the war that came afterward and which infused the post-war literature about WWI. My own exposure to the period comes largely from that literature and some contemporary fiction, such a ...more
Dec 30, 2013 Ilinca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you're looking for a pretentious bit of philosophizing around one of the most interesting and least easily understood dramas of the 20th century, this is the right book. It makes grandiose claims that it only backs by - oh wait, by nothing at all. It discovers the link between Stravinski's Rites of Spring and World War I in just the same way that some of us discover the meaning of life in a dream, then fail to remember it in the morning. Only this particular guy fails to say "oh shoot, I just ...more
Sep 05, 2009 Daphna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Daphna by: Intro to Modernism
This book succeeds in doing exactly what it sets out to do, which is provide a cultural history of the Great War, beginning with the avant-garde and the premiere of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in 1913 and ending with Hitler's rise to power. The approach works well: Eksteins strikes the right balance between supplying general information and counting on the reader to have a little background on the subject; he writes with both the rigor of academia and the accessibility of popular history. I al ...more
J.M. Hushour
Ambitious but shitty. This book, cribbing much from Paul Fussell's work and refusing to acknowledge that, argues that "modernism" and irrationality sprang from the depths of WWI and an innate German mythicism which permeated the continent. Maybe. I'm actually not sure what Eksteins is arguing, but that is my best guess. Eksteins co-opts the premiere of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" as a running metaphor for this "modernist" transition in European social/cultural thought. But he never really defi ...more
Dec 01, 2010 Bookworm1858 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school, read-2010, own
Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins
First Mariner Books, 2000
Originally published 1989
331 pages
Non-fiction; History; WWI
4/5 stars

Summary: A new examination of WWI, its origins, actions, and aftermath on the twentieth century.

Thoughts: I read this for class and I enjoyed it a lot. It's not too scholarly (ie not esoteric) but it is in depth looking at motivations for war on all sides, art, literature, the battles, etc. as well as looking at the end and the lead up to Hitler. I appreciated the fact t
Beginning with the debut of the then-controversial ballet The Rites of Spring in Paris in 1913 and ending with the death of Hitler in 1945, Eksteins has written a unique cultural history of the time period. His main emphasis is trench warfare during WWI, and how it affected a whole generation and led to WWII. There is a whole chapter on the spontaneous truce that erupted the first Christmas in the trenches, and quite a penchant explanation of why it never happened again. It also discusses Paris ...more
Sherwood Belangia
Fantastic, illuminating account of the Modernist mind and its impact on 20th Century European history and the reciprocal impact of the Great War on the consciousness of the West. Eksteins makes connections that seem implausible until he connects the dots -- then, it's "Aha!" A great aid to understanding the art and literature of the first half of the 20th Century.
Tina Davis
Nov 06, 2011 Tina Davis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books, on any topic, that I have ever read. Rarely do I recommend historical monographs to non-history majors, but I think anyone interested in modernity and its origins should read Rites of Spring.
Nov 10, 2008 Mamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the text for a class I took on the Birth of Modernism. It changed how I saw the world and helped me understand the effects of WW1 on the 20th century and beyond. It's totally NOT boring!
Phenomenal book -- compulsively readable
Shane Avery
Oct 13, 2009 Shane Avery rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An absolute triumph. One of the best books I've ever read...
Abigail Turner
Sorry this review got so long...I got carried away...

Rites of Spring is a fascinating look into the cultural tensions emerging in Europe in the years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War. I read this book for my World War One history class in college. I normally develop an irritation with books that I'm forced to read (and write papers about), but this book I found fascinating and engaging. I loved the use of music and art as a gateway into interpreting not only social history but m
Nov 22, 2011 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
this book gave me lots to think about. it's a beautifully written cultural history of WWI, with a particular focus on the arts as they relate to national identity. rites of spring is probably best approached with a rudimentary understanding of the war, but it's also written with literary flair and a lack of military tech-talk. it's probably the most approachable book on the subject i've encountered, though not dumbed-down in any way.

as someone with a background in the arts, the book was particul
Rites of Spring is, as you might suppose, as much about the time period surround WWI as the years of the war itself. Rather than a straightforward history book, Eksteins (much like Paul Fussell, although less literary) examines . . . what I tend to think of as the zeitgeist. In this instance, he discusses the Great War and the modern world - and also, kind of, Modernism - so there's plenty from people who never picked up a gun, or who lived with the aftermath of the war but didn't experience the ...more
The author's apparent aim -- it's never really clear -- is to demonstrate the thesis that early modernist culture anticipated or prefigured WWI and the radical shift in society and politics it signified. An old argument that I'm sympathetic with at this very broad level, while recognizing it's one-sidedness. Others have correctly argued that the early C20 european avant-garde's revolt against bourgeois society often blindly reproduced or exaggerated central aspects of that society. The modernist ...more
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