I found this a really interesting biography about Sisi's life. The way in which it was written was something I found very enjoyable, and made it a ver...moreI found this a really interesting biography about Sisi's life. The way in which it was written was something I found very enjoyable, and made it a very nice read. :) The idea you get about Sisi's life seems trustworthy enough. What I also liked is that Joan Haslip tried to make everyone look nice, and had an understanding for everyone. I liked that, because I mean - everyone has their motives and their good characteristics.. But somehow this approach wasn't used towards Stephanie, which I found a little surprising.(less)
Oh, Rudolf. What to say about these writings of Rudolf? I think he was a very interesting writer, definitely quite biased in his political and persona...moreOh, Rudolf. What to say about these writings of Rudolf? I think he was a very interesting writer, definitely quite biased in his political and personal writings, but interesting nonetheless. Also being a writer for the papers (something that would have been/was frowned upon by his family, naturally, as it's not fitting for a Crown Prince), his writing is surprisingly accessible and understandable.
Most of the political writings deal with the Balkan-situation. I think it's interesting to read Rudolf's point of view, even though he was never really allowed to mix in politics (Franz-Joseph liked his power too much, and seeing as Rudolf had quite contrary views..). History tells us that some of Rudolf's believes were right, which makes you wonder how history would have played out if Franz-Joseph had actually listened to him. Also nice to see: Rudolf's tolerance for religion, personal believes, etc. Definitely something that was unheard of at the time in Vienna.
Rudolf's other writings - personal writings, childhood essays, ornithologist writings - interested me slightly less. All the same, it's extraordinary to get a little glimpse into the mind of this tragic historical figure. Only recommended for those who are really interested in Rudolf von Habsburg or ornithology, it won't offer much of interest to casual readers, I think.
The book itself is cleverly put together. Brigitte Hamann is of course one of the better known Habsburg-experts, but she doesn't offer too much commentary here, still what she writes was cleverly inserted. It helps one to understand the text, and is also not devoid of humour: "The anonomity of the writer didn't stay anonymous very long, as Rudolf proudly handed out the book to his friends saying he was the author." The chosen texts - as Rudolf has written many, many more pages, especially related to his nature studies - show different sides to Rudolf's character, so I think they've been nicely picked.
Another point of interest is the older language used in the essays - as, of course, Rudolf wrote these texts over 100 years ago. You see the extra -e that's added to the noun when the Dativ is used (an example from the quote: "in meinem Kopfe"), the more ofted used ß, an extra h in the spelling of certain words ("Theil" e.g.), and more of these little things. So there's a certain something there for the linguistically interested among us as well.
Overall: it was nice to read something by this man, but the book is definitely not for everyone. Also, I think some knowledge on the First World War, and the problems in the Balkan during the time that lead up to WWI is definitely recommendable.
"Wer antwortet mir darauf? Niemand, und ich versinke wieder in meine Gedanken zurück, oft frage ich mich selbst, bist du schon ein Narr oder wann wirst du einer? Ich sehe ein, daß alles was ich wißen will, ich nie wissen werde; doch eins ist sicher, streben muß man, solange man lebt und immer trachten, mehr, immer mehr zu erreichen, nicht an Titeln, nicht an Würden, nicht an Reichthum, nein, dieses Geschäft laße man diesen feilen Geschlechtern, welche von Christi Geburt an ihre Ahnen kennen, nein, ich will Wißen, mich Ausbilden, mehr wißen wie ein anderer und jene Fragen mir lösen, die als gespensterische Schatten in meinem Kopfe wühlen."(less)
This is a good introduction to an interesting woman. It gives you a correct, though very incomplete, picture of who Sisi really was. It might be a goo...moreThis is a good introduction to an interesting woman. It gives you a correct, though very incomplete, picture of who Sisi really was. It might be a good start to see whether this woman does or does not interest you. The book is also accompanied by beautiful pictures, so it's lovely to have anyway. :)(less)
I bought this book because I was interested in the history behind the Arthurian Legend, which I love. I learned a very important lesson: do NOT try to...moreI bought this book because I was interested in the history behind the Arthurian Legend, which I love. I learned a very important lesson: do NOT try to search for the truth behind a legend, because it takes away some of the magic. At least that's what it felt like for me.
The informations on the various digs mentioned in the text is very extensive. It talks in detail about any relevant place (such as Glastonbury), what was found there and what it proves. I'm sure that for some people that would be an absolutely fantastic read. But I don't belong to that group of people and this bit of information bored me out of my wits.
I liked how they traced the history of the Arthurian Legend and how they tried to trace the real Arthur. It's interesting to see what things of the Legend that we know now showed up before Geoffrey of Monmouth, who appears to have been talking both truth and nonsense. For instance, Merlin was completely his invention and that makes me a bit sad. (Okay, so technically there was an inspiration for the character of Merlin, but he could never have met the 'historical Arthur', unless a very young Merlin had happened to meet a very old Arthur, which just sort of ruins it.) I'm just sad that most of the times it was just the men that were mentioned (even Morgan Le Fay only gets one mention, and at that point we're over 200 pages in) since I love the Arthurian women so much. But given the historical period, that's probably not surprising.(less)
"Thunder At Twilight" is not the only book Frederic Morton has written about Vienna. The other book, "A Nervous Splendor", preceded this book, and dea...more"Thunder At Twilight" is not the only book Frederic Morton has written about Vienna. The other book, "A Nervous Splendor", preceded this book, and deals with the years 1888/1889. In many ways, this book is a continuation of "A Nervous Splendor", so for completeness sake, I would definitely recommend "A Nervous Splendor" as well, but "Thunder At Twilight" can easily be read as a stand-alone book, too.
Both books are incredibly similar. They deal with two years out of the lives of prominent Vienna figures, with one figure taking the centre stage. In "A Nervous Splendor", it was Crown Prince Rudolf, and the book dealt with his suicide at Mayerling: what led up to it, and how it influenced the city. This book mostly deals with Rudolf's replacement, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination was the catalyst for World War I.
Despite having central figures, Morton talks about various other people who were in Vienna at the time. This way we also learn about Franz Joseph (naturally), Conrad (general of the Austrian army), but also Freud, Trotsky, Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Princip.. yet the book never becomes crowded. It's always easy to distinguish between different characters, and how they symbolize the time they live in. By doing this, Morton easily succeeds in showing the different ideas people had at the time, and so tries to offer an as complete as possible picture of life in 1913/1914, and how that would later affect European history.
Morton's main character in this novel though, is the city of Vienna: as it should be. Engagingly written, he describes several happenings, the moods of the time, sometimes even discussing the weather. The book is well researched, drawing on several newspapers and other sources from that time. Morton really makes you feel what it's like to live in Alt Wien (Old Vienna), and it's an interesting ride.
I have the same 'problem' with this book as I had with "A Nervous Splendor": the book is well researched, but there are so many details that at times I feel like Morton must have taken artistic license sometimes. The raw facts are most likely true, and he explains the reasons for World War I really clearly. The engaging style just makes the book feel slightly less scholarly to me, but on the other hand it definitely breathes life in a book that could easily have become a compilation of facts and articles.
Overall, Morton's style is extremely readable, and he makes Vienna history a joy to read. He is without a doubt one of my favourite non-fiction writers, and I greatly enjoyed this book. I would definitely recommend it.(less)
This book is just wonderful. Not necessarily for the information: the book begins with a 40-page introduction to Sisi's life, which for me was largely...moreThis book is just wonderful. Not necessarily for the information: the book begins with a 40-page introduction to Sisi's life, which for me was largely irrelevant because I'm well informed about her life already. It is well written though, clear and to the point, but of course that was not necessarily the aim of this book. This book concerns itself with pictures.
I think maybe all of the well-known pictures are in this book. I'd seen most of them before, but they're printed in really good quality and I can just spend many hours looking at the absolutely wonderful pictures. It's also funny because this book (occasionally) prints photos and lithographies made of the same photo, which is funny because you see what the artists have subtly tried to 'change' in the Empress (for instance, they may have added a smile, or made her face a bit smaller, etc.). Plus every picture is accompanied with background information: where it was taken, at what time of her life, and when possible who made the picture. It was very interesting, but I must admit I did not read all of it. It's perfect as a catalogue and has a wealth of background information, but I was distracted by the pretty pictures. And I think that in the end, that was the whole idea of the book, to gather all the pictures that are out there in one book for the benefit of the public, and in that, I definitely think they have succeeded.(less)
This turned out to be a much easier read than I had thought. It's not really in-depth, just a general overview of Rudolf's life and as such it's an al...moreThis turned out to be a much easier read than I had thought. It's not really in-depth, just a general overview of Rudolf's life and as such it's an all right read. I really loved the pictures.
I don't like the way Mayerling was dealt with though. The most popular theory (about Rudolf shooting Mary before shooting himself) was presented as the truth and only later were we informed that there were many other theories, some of which could prove true as well.. so I don't see why Thiele felt he had to present that one theory as 'the truth', because really, we don't know which one *is* the truth. That's the problem.
Overall verdict: okay and light read, nice for when you're just starting to get into this man.. but when you know a bit about the subject, it will hardly be able to tell you anything new.(less)
If I had to pick the most remarkable book on the subject of Sisi and her fellow family that I have read, this would definitely be that book. Why? Beca...moreIf I had to pick the most remarkable book on the subject of Sisi and her fellow family that I have read, this would definitely be that book. Why? Because it challenges the status quo, and quite plainly says that all biographies out there are mistaken in some very vital issues, the most prominent one being that Sisi and her mother-in-law, the Duchess Sophie, had a bad relationship.
Everything in this book is about trying to prove certain well-established beliefs wrong. It manages to do this because Gabriele Praschl-Bichler got her hands on a lot of letters written by the Habsburgs - mostly Sophie - during their life time. Most of the book combines background information with a lot of quotations from the actual letters, so that you get a good view of the Habsburg every day life. And that was exciting, and kind of refreshing. In these letters, Sophie comes off as a very nice and kind woman. And, perhaps surprisingly, so does Sisi.
Despite having problems believing the entire book (I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that apparently every other book out there must be wrong to some extent, if this is book true) I found it a very enlightening read, and I have ever so slightly fallen in love with Sisi and her family again.(less)
Oh, this book. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about it, and it all depends on which chapter we are discussing. It's sad, but the quality of the...moreOh, this book. I have a lot of conflicting opinions about it, and it all depends on which chapter we are discussing. It's sad, but the quality of the writing differed greatly between individual chapters.
Overall though, I would say that this book by Marek has a misleading subtitle. I don't see this subtitle in this English version, but the Dutch subtitle is "The ruination of the Habsburg House". Considering the book ends with Franz Joseph's death, which happened before Habsburg fully collapsed, that's a wrongly chosen title.
The English subtitle, "Franz Joseph, Elisabeth and Their Austria" is more fitting. This book is a mix between a biography on Franz Joseph, and trying to explain the events that led up to the First World War. As a biography, it fails: Marek is subjective, and seems overly biased against Franz Joseph (I understand his reasonings, but as a scholar you should at least *try* to be objective). He seems to feel more sympathy for Elisabeth than she deserves in this context (surely she was pitiable in many ways, but her political actions leave a lot to be desired). Rudolf and Franz Ferdinand really get the short end of the stick, Franz Ferdinand hardly has any good character traits, judging by this book. Rudolf's only memorable mention in this book is the summary of the events of Mayerling. Marek makes the comment that Franz Ferdinand's politics would likely have ruined Europe, but Rudolf's ideas aren't even mentioned, like they were of no importance at all. These are just a few examples, but I think it shows Marek's weakness as a biographer, and that he talks selectively about what happened.
It's not to say that Marek's book is entirely subjective or untrustworthy. It's clear that he has done a lot of research, and one thing I really appreciated were the transcripts of conversations he included from time to time (many of which I hadn't read before), and his description of Viennese gossip. He doubted many of these stories, and gave own interpretations, but in this case that was fun and enlightening: as it was clear he was offering his own opinions (also mentioning the reasons for his conclusion), and the gossip was generally just fascinating to read about.
Throughout the book, Marek seemed to have structuring problems: in the first few chapters, for example, he'd start off with the 1848 revolution, then include a chapter on Franz Joseph's life from birth till then, and then pick up his revolution story again. The structure was therefore slightly confusing at times. But the moments where he structured properly (most notably, the last half of the book) were clear, and concise. It's a shame not the whole book was written like this. His chapter on Mayerling is probably the clearest I have read on the topic (and I have read quite a lot about this), and the way he described Sisi's murder and the build-up to the Serbia conflict were good reads.
The thing that frustrated me most, is that he ended with Franz Joseph's death. The book had also attempted to describe Vienna life, and the lives of other prominent figures, and the political situations in Hungary and Serbia (other countries belonging to the empire were generally only mentioned in passing), but in the end Marek doesn't talk about the end of the Habsburg House, or how the war played out. He just gives a few statistics, and that was the end of it, for him. I suppose that's the signal for me, to pick up another book on WWI Vienna.
Shortly said: the combination of political history and biography doesn't always work out well, so if you're especially interested in either the politics or Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, you might want to pick up another book. I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction to the topic of Franz Joseph, Sisi and their Austria. But if you know a bit more, and know how to navigate around fact and opinion, Marek does offer some interesting insights, opinions and details. (less)
There's a surprising amount of information in this thin book. Granted, it's not really a biography of Winterhalter, but it's much more than that. Abou...moreThere's a surprising amount of information in this thin book. Granted, it's not really a biography of Winterhalter, but it's much more than that. About Winterhalter himself not a lot is known, safe for the assignments he took on, where he studied and where he lived, but in place of that information we read about the historical background about the people he has painted.. and they were some very interesting people indeed! Besides the historical background, some of his best known (and loved) paintings are discussed in detail, which I found particularly lovely since I wasn't familiar with most of them.
In short: an absolutely stunning book, with 47 paintings, amongst them some of the best Winterhalter has ever painted. (less)