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Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,794 ratings  ·  260 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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Start your review of Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe
Half an hour's drive north of me, following the path of the River Reuss, is the little hamlet of Habsburg. The first time I saw it on a roadsign, I assumed it was a coincidence, since the House of Habsburg is something I would generally associate with the bustling metropolises of Austria and Hungary, not a damp cowfield in the back end of the Aargau. But sure enough, this turns out to be where the whole gargantuan dynasty acquired its name.

The ‘castle’ here was built in the 1020s, when castle te
Jan 19, 2014 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 insightful, but not well-told. Winder delved into many of the interesting and often amusing aspects of Habsburg political, military, artistic and dynastic history while maintaining a parallel travelogue characterized by feeble attempts at humor and the use of sophomoric vocabulary. Sometimes it seemed as if I was reading a teenage ...more
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, history_modern
Part of my heritage/ancestry is Austrian/Bavarian, with my grandfather's German name being forcefully "Italianized" during Fascism; on the other hand, my grandmother experienced being treated by the Italian Fascists first (and by the Nazis later) like a second-class citizen simply because of her Slovenian origins.
The irony is that her Slav origins did not spare her (and my grandfather's) experience of being deprived of their house on the Istrian littoral near Trieste (a city that belonged to th
Lyn Elliott
Aug 28, 2014 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
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
Jeannette Nikolova
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog. "

During my first ever trip to Vienna this year, I spotted Danubia in the airport bookstore and despite my best efforts, I couldn't stop myself and bought it.

In fact, unbeknownst to me, Danubia was exactly the thing I had been looking for. After several trips around Central Europe, I decided that my historical knowledge of the region was rather limited to the bits of history that related somehow to Bulgaria in any given time period. Sure, I knew of the
Sep 29, 2013 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
Left Coast Justin
In my review of this author's earlier book 'Germania,' I referred to him as "the irrepressible Simon Winder". In the first chapter of 'Danubia,' we find this pearl:

There is a particularly hysteria-edged frieze in the Western Bohemia Museum in Plzen by V. Saff, carved in 1900, imagining the ancient Czechs in a forest, torturing and killing their enemies, tying them to trees, strangling them. In the usual proto-Art-Nouveau style, the sculptor follows through on an ethnographic hunch that surprisin
Huw Evans
Jan 08, 2015 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
This was fantastic. Winder is an extremely erudite and fun personality to stalk through the history of Central Europe with. It was such a pleasure to tag along with his asides and enthusiasm that I was almost blind-sided how quickly the whole thing moved. I also have to mention how thought-provoking his depiction of the end of the Habsburg Empire was. The unforeseeable viciousness of national consciousness and the complete destruction of the civilization that had existed before. Great stuff.
Mar 21, 2014 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
Julia Zee
Apr 16, 2014 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
Alex Sarll
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Rather than defeat the reader with a family tree which would look like an illustration of the vein and arteries of the human body drawn by a poorly infomed maniac..." Personal history in the modern mode can often be little more than some bumptious prick skipping over the good bits so as to wedge in some more Relatable Content and Personal Journey, but Winder pitches it wonderfully, somewhere between a more woke version of the old gentleman scholar, a historian mate getting drunk and expressing ...more
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 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
May 31, 2015 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
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This reads like a travel guide written by a history professor. The focus in on Europe drained by the Danube river. The historical range covered in the book is on the order of a thousand years although there is more on the later Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg, and European political history up through the world wars - mostly WW1. Simon Winder writes in an easy and personal style and still manages to tie together hundreds of people and places so that one can place them in broader timelines. He se ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So I read this book as part of a reading challenge - I had to find a book about Austria. I thought this book would be appropriate (and it was). Although it can't really be said that this book is about Austria per se, it is a worthy read. This book is really about the contradictory state that was the Habsburg Empire/Holy Roman Empire/Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Simon Winder presents a refreshing style of history writing. It doesn't come across as overly academic, although it must be said that Winder
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
Oct 13, 2016 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
Feb 20, 2014 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.

Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been looking for a good book that would explain the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a historical phenomenon. When downloading this audiobook from the library, I hadn't realized that it covered the entire Habsburg family Dynasty, so that the first half of the book features the Holy Roman Empire.

At first, I thought that may be an issue, but I didn't know much about that either, so all was good. I'm going to deal with the only negative aspect in that the book was very, very long. I had to put it
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
While reading Simon Winder’s Danubia I was visited by the ghost of Rebecca West, author of that tremendous doorstop of a historical travelogue Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. The apparition never spoke to me but I looked up from my book now and then to see her nod affirmatively or shake her head. I assume Winder has read West, since his own historical travelogue covers some of the same territory and many of the same events and people, but he never mentions her.

It may be that he’s afraid of her, and
DeAnna Knippling
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A charming overview of the madness that was central Europe, to the end of World War I.

This is amusingly written, with personal observations that are both witty and poingant at times. I always mentally complain about overview books like this while I'm reading them: why couldn't the author zoom in whan I wanted them to? But of course it's impossible. Well written.

Recommended for anyone who cares to read nonfiction.
Monty Milne
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this, though he is a writer whose style some will hate. Usually I too would hate something so discursive, especially in a history book, and I don’t like chumminess or informality in almost any context (pompous arse that I am). Winder addresses the reader like an old friend, and can often be so discursive that he veers completely off topic and starts meandering down the unlikeliest of avenues. What saves this, for me, from being annoying is that he actually is an old friend (well, it’s tr ...more
Gareth Evans
Sep 19, 2013 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
Sep 10, 2015 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 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. ...more
Peter Kavanagh
Jan 19, 2014 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.
Ivan Stoner
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Two stars is maybe a little harsh because Danubia isn't a bad book. Some people might really get a lot from it. But I can't say I'll be looking for more from Winder.

This is a sort of meandering walk through early modern eastern Europe, sometimes tracking Winder's actual travels, sometimes just talking through courses of events, selected seemingly at random, that happen to grab his interest. In some ways this is an effective presentation because the Habsburgs are just so freaking weird, so they
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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.” 2 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.” 1 likes
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