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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889

3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  749 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
On January 30, 1889, at the champagne-splashed hight of the Viennese Carnival, the handsome and charming Crown Prince Rudolf fired a revolver at his teenaged mistress and then himself. The two shots that rang out at Mayerling in the Vienna Woods echo still.Frederic Morton, author of the bestselling Rothschilds, deftly tells the haunting story of the Prince and his city, wh ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 30th 1980 by Penguin Books (first published 1979)
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Vienna/Wien
6th out of 201 books — 126 voters
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Austro-Hungarian Empire
7th out of 41 books — 38 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,746)
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William1
Dec 28, 2012 William1 rated it really liked it
A portrait of Hapsburg Vienna about a generation before its dissolution. The monarchy is a class-driven machine producing much punctilio but apparently little in the way of strategic planning. The growth of nationalism among its polyglot population is viewed by Emperor Franz Joseph with trepidation, but ultimately the official attitude is wait and see. We as readers know these nationalist pressures will tear the Empire apart in 1914 when, in Sarajevo, Serb Gavrilo Princep blows a hole in Archduk ...more
AC
Apr 18, 2013 AC rated it liked it
Shelves: vienna
This book is fairly good, though narrow and somewhat overwritten (too novelistic -- the author is, after all, a novelist, and not an historian). The truth is that I grew a bit impatient with it, as the topic continued to narrow even after the suicide of Rudolph, rather than broadening out to take on at a deeper or more serious level the implications of this 'peaking' of the Golden Age of Vienna.

At any rate, Morton's Rudolph is a fascinating and attractive figure, though Morton possibly downplay
...more
Kay
Apr 26, 2009 Kay rated it really liked it
Another outstanding book by Morton, though I didn't find this one as gripping as Thunder at Twilight, in part, I think because he spent too much time trying to make Crown Prince Rudolf's suicide in 1889 resonate with sense of unease that permeated Viennese society.

Still, a very intriguing book overall. The chief players in this book, whose lives are viewed in intertwined brief episodes, are the Crown Prince, a thwarted liberal who was not permitted any real power, and ultimately sought a twiste
...more
Michael
Jul 29, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, European Historians, Austrians
Recommended to Michael by: Hans Carter
Shelves: popular-history
This is an example of popular history at just about its best. Morton takes just a few months in 1888 to 1889 as his subject matter and examines those months in intimate detail, using various well-known names as his focal points, and telling a story as compelling as any novel. There is also a great deal of subjectivity and "historical license" (not to say outright fiction) mixed into the narrative, to make it more readable and exciting. Nonetheless, Morton avoids distorting the facts, and he make ...more
Dave Clark
May 02, 2008 Dave Clark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Frederic Morton brings to life 1888 and 1889 Vienna through artistic prose and brief, but vivid depictions of people, the places the lived, and the lifestyles they led. Morton does not convey history in a conventional academically charged sense, which is evinced in his lack of footnotes or endnotes; instead he uses an approach that mirrors a novel. The book is a great read for anybody who is interested in a casual understanding of Vienna during this period, or someone who is interested in the de ...more
Jonfaith
Jul 21, 2011 Jonfaith rated it liked it
This one reminded me of Solomon Volkov's cultural history of St. Petersburg: that isn't a compliment.

I think two stars in closer to an estimation. As the narrative shed its filler in the second half, fewer peeks into the diaries of Freud and Mahler, their was a whsiper of verve. The figure of Crown Prince Rudolf is a curious one, but one they maintains the enigma.
Sloweducation
Aug 07, 2011 Sloweducation rated it did not like it
I just recently moved to a new city. While I am not the "packing light" type, I had run out of all my light reading, except this little guy. Blurbed by John Irving as describing his favorite year of Viennese history (more than a little precious to have a favorite year of Viennese history, I dare say), this book is simply a pop history mess.

Morton seems to believe he is a novelist: he is constantly getting in his character's heads or describing their conduct in mundane situations. I tend to find
...more
Sandra
Apr 07, 2011 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sandra by: Daniela
"Wozu hast du gelebt? Wozu hast du gelitten?"

This book was a gift from my dear friend Daniela. She gave the book to me because we both love the musical Rudolf by Frank Wildhorn, and he based that off this book. She said that this made for a really good read. So I was curious: what did this book have to say, that made for such a historically incorrect (although in my opinion, still enjoyable) musical?

This book paints a mostly historically correct view of Vienna, in 1888-1889. So far, so good. It
...more
Mark
Feb 03, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
Chronicling the months leading up to and just after Crown Prince Rudolph Habsburg's suicide with a young lover in Mayerling, just outside Vienna. Morton paints a portrait of the city and the imperial sham that the Austro-Hungarian Empire had become, centered on this frustrated young man who was sharp, educated, sensitive, and utterly impotent to do anything constructive under the show-piece reign of his father, who seemed to believe that as long as the forms of empire were managed properly, the ...more
Colleen
May 08, 2014 Colleen rated it really liked it
This slice of history is fascinating. It's part of the story of Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. He is somewhat at odds with his emperor father and perhaps more liberal and forward thinking. He's also dissatisfied with his role in life since he's given few real responsibilities. The book parallels Rudolf's experience with others in Vienna such as Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, Gustav Mahler and others.

Vienna itself is almost a character. It's the capitol of the empire but it hasn
...more
Elliott
Jul 21, 2007 Elliott rated it it was ok
The switching between characters was atrocious (in the unsmooth sense), and his style of relating so much at the end to Hitler & the concept of anti-semitism is so far stretched it's incredulous.
Vicky
Nov 29, 2015 Vicky rated it really liked it
I think what confuses some people about this book is that it's neither a completely non-fiction book following an argument-based narrative, nor a historical fiction novel. It's more of a mixture between both, and in my opinion it manages to fulfil its purpose, namely to create a very atmospheric portrait of Vienna and its people from the summer of 1888 until the post-Mayerling spring months of 1889.

Reading some reviews, I came across complaints concerning the narrative structure. True, it's not
...more
Denis
Feb 15, 2013 Denis rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book, which is both the biography of a city, of an era, and of a bunch of very different people who have become legendary figures in Europe: Freud, Brückner, Klimt, Mahler, Schnitzler, the emperor Franz-Josef, to name a few. But at the heart of this historical account which reads like a novel, is one of the great scandals, mysteries, and romanticized events of the XIXth century: the Mayerling affair, that Morton analyzes in great depth. The two main characters of this tragedy ...more
Lil
Jun 30, 2012 Lil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly enjoyable read, Morton has an astounding ability to weave events together and give me a clearer picture of all the incredible intersections of this time. I can't comment as to the accuracy of his research - and there were times when I had to wonder how he could possibly know certain things - but even with a liberal dose of fictional prerogative this is an impressive work.

Actually, I think what kept me so engrossed was Morton's ideal mix of celebrity gossip and class analysis. The l
...more
Alexander Veee
"But the happiest event in musical Vienna occurred one April evening at the Rothen Igel restaurant. At 7 P.M Professor Bruckner appeared with two friends. The waiters were astonished. Usually the peasant maestro ate elsewhere, at the restaurant Zur Kugel on Am Hof Square. And the wonders of the night had only begun. A few minutes later Johannes Brahms marched in, complete with white beard, nimbus, and a retinue of three. After a stiff greeting he took a seat at the opposite end of a long table. ...more
Robert
Feb 18, 2013 Robert rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book about a single year in Vienna, in the not-too-distant past.

This was mentioned by a GoodReads friend, with a recommendation along the lines of "interesting to read, but not for the serious historian." I thought to myself, "Hey! I'm not a serious historian! This book could be for me!"

And it pretty much was. It's written more in the way that fiction is written than history. A lot of vignettes, a lot of mood, and a lot of assumptions about what people are thinking and feeling. E
...more
Kirsten
Feb 23, 2013 Kirsten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a novel. A cultural history that takes you through ten months in Vienna, from 1888 to 1889, and weaves together mini-biographies of the Emperor Franz Joseph, his son Crown Prince Rudolf, artists (Klimt), composers (Brahms, Bruckner), writers, and others who were on the verge of making their mark (Freud). I felt so sorry when Crown Prince Rudolf ended his life. Toward the beginning, Morton introduces Rudolf's problem, which he then explores throughout the book: "he had never been given ...more
James
Aug 24, 2011 James rated it it was amazing
"In the first July week of 1888 Mahler sat down in his childhood room at his father's house in Iglau and worked out great sound-metaphors of perdition, the first movement of his Second Symphony. He would call it Totenfeier or Death Celebration. And to [his] friend he would confess: 'It is the hero of my First Symphony I carry to the grave here. Immediately arise the great questions: Why hast thou lived? . . . Why hast thou suffered? . . . Is it all nothing but a huge, terrible joke?'"

This is a c
...more
Sherwood Smith
May 06, 2009 Sherwood Smith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-19th-c
This intense, nervy historical look at the city of Vienna during the time the crown prince contemplated (and then carried out) his murder suicide, is vivid and so effective that the novelist John Irving wrote a novel around it, called Hotel New Hampshire, quoting some of the punctuating observations, like a famed musician recording in his diary every time he did the mattress Olympics with his mistress.

This was the first history I read in which I could see how very close fiction and history reall
...more
Erik
May 29, 2008 Erik rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I have always been fascinated with the myth of Vienna, even before I visited it for the first time. And I have always been interested in the birth of Modernism, which many historians often trace as beginning in fin-de-siecle Vienna. Thus, one would think that any book describing the years leading up to the birth of Modernism in Vienna would be a book I would be interested in recommending to others. Not this one, though. Frederic Morton is a terrible writer. His native language is German, but som ...more
Laurie Neighbors
Aug 14, 2014 Laurie Neighbors rated it it was amazing
Never has an in-depth account of a history-changing suicide pact been so much darn fun. Morton's prose is amazing -- he is compassionate, passionate, and snide, sometimes all in the same paragraph. I did, in fact, laugh out loud. My eyes welled with tears. And now I have a heady crush on a dysthymic, dead, frustrated prince. Good times.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A royal mess, more like it. But an important piece in the puzzle of understanding the period between 1865-1914 and why it was the most intellectually fruitful time in history yet the root of so many wrong ideas and evil events of the 20th century.

Genius abounded in Vienna--Freud, Mahler, Klimt, Brahms, Strauss--yet so did a proto-anti-Semitism that planted a seed in the minds of the Hitler family, parents of little Adolf born in Austria in 1889. Royalty ruled the "united" Austrian empire with ap
...more
Glen Engel-Cox
Dec 03, 2014 Glen Engel-Cox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Glen by: Bob Gore
Bob Gore loaned this book to us in response to our plea for information about Austria and Switzerland. I was unsure of its interest for me at first, fearing that it might be little more than a condensed version of the scholarly work that kept popping up on all my book searches called The History of the Hapsburgs from way too long ago until 1918 (I paraphrase from memory). On the other hand, I had to admire an historian who limited himself not only to one city, but to a nine month time period. Th ...more
Bonnie Stanard
Aug 10, 2015 Bonnie Stanard rated it really liked it
An aptly titled book. It cuts a wide swath, following the lives of 4 or 5 famous characters living in Vienna in 1888, including Freud, Strauss, Klimt, and Mahler. Overshadowing their stories is Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austrian throne, who is denied a voice in governing the country by his austere father Emperor Franz Joseph. An apathetic grandeur affects a self-indulgent and lavish nobility. The author describes the year with historic details but doesn’t provide possible emotional ground ...more
Alicia
Jun 23, 2015 Alicia rated it really liked it
We find some books and some books find us.
This is a personal note, not a real review but I honestly hope I never forget the moment I read the final page of this book while listening to the last notes of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony, specifically the fourth movement: "Urlich", performed by Janet Baker. Its lyrics are the perfect embodiment of this book, of its spirit. Nothing else to add but the beauty of those words.

"O little red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
Even
...more
Doria
Feb 07, 2016 Doria rated it really liked it
A breathless and detailed description - an ode, really - devoted to the city of Vienna and its denizens, during six fateful months in the waning of the nineteenth century. Brahms, Freud, Klimt and Crown Prince Rudolf are a few of the notables who people the pages of this high-class tell-all. Death and drama stalk the streets of the imperial city, yet the book manages to escape being merely morbid; while gently mocking at times, it never stoops to being scurrilous or snide. Humanity is observed i ...more
Tocotin
What a hysterical (not funny hysterical, but unhinged hysterical) book. Exclamations, declamations, ejaculations, oh my! Sometimes the writing catches itself by the tail, like here: “The Vienna-loving Viennese could tolerate their city again.” Lolwut?

Well… I wanted to like this more than I did. I have a drop of Austrian blood, my grand-grand-grandfather sat in the Vienna City Council or some such body, I don’t remember… Anyway, Vienna is a fascinating city, Old Prohazka (aka Franz Joseph) and hi
...more
Linda Hiemstra
Oct 25, 2015 Linda Hiemstra rated it liked it
Eh. I have to admit, this *is* quite a fast read, as it's written almost like a novel. It has several 'main characters', giving an overview of life in Vienna in 1888-1889. The downside is that is, well, written like a novel, and the author's sympathies rather clearly lie with Rudolf, who is depicted as the tragic Wise Prince, who was unfairly bullied by his father but who would surely have been the perfect emperor had he only had the chance! In the meantime he cheated on his wife, giving her an ...more
Bibliophile
Jan 31, 2015 Bibliophile rated it really liked it
As the subtitle helpfully explains, this is about Vienna in 1888-1889. At its center is the Crown Prince Rudolph, whose story ends with the infamous Mayerling incident. There is a lot of reflection on the stuffy political climate and the lack of social change. Morton is very knowledgeable, but he is also a novelist. I prefer my history with a little less artistic license, so to learn more about this period in time I'd rather consult a more traditional historian, who can describe a street without ...more
Realteenreviews
Mar 28, 2011 Realteenreviews rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Viennians
The Gist
The time is 1888. The place is Vienna, Austria. Let history run its course.
This book, A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton, chronicles the city of Vienna for almost a year, from July 1888 to April 1889. It details everything from the price of sugar to the rising rate of suicide, and everyone from a lowly shoe-maker’s son to the Crown Prince of Vienna. It comes back to Prince Rudolf and his mistress Mary Vetsera most often, and circles around their lives up to their deaths, when the kil
...more
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Frederic Morton (born 5 October 1924) was a Jewish Austrian writer who emigrated to the United States in 1940. Born Fritz Mandelbaum in Vienna, Morton was raised as the son of a blacksmith who had specialised in forging imperial medals. In the wake of the Anschluss of 1938 his father was arrested but later released again. In 1939 the family fled to Britain, and the following year they migrated to ...more
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