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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889
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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,165 ratings  ·  140 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,
Paperback, 340 pages
Published October 30th 1980 by Penguin Books (first published 1979)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  1,165 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Jun 16, 2011 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 ...more
Apr 13, 2013 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
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
Aug 07, 2011 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
Dave Clark
Apr 16, 2008 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 ...more
Jul 29, 2012 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 ...more
Ghost of the Library
***minor editing done, review still a work in progress***

The Austrian - Hungarian empire in the years before the world lost its innocence has long been an interest of mine, partly because of Empress Elizabeth (Sissi).
I've read multiple sources on politics, economy,cultural life, private life of Vienna and the Viennese, and yet somehow always managed to bypass this one.
If you have been looking for a book that does indeed open a window into that city and its people, that lets you walk the palaces
Laurie Neighbors
Jul 20, 2014 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.
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.
Feb 16, 2010 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
Dec 11, 2010 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
Jun 19, 2012 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
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
Sherwood Smith
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
Feb 03, 2012 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
Lauren Albert
I really enjoyed this and appreciated the way Morton reveals the nervousness under the "splendor" I felt it was stronger than 1913 (similarly focused on a short period of time) because Morton chooses to let us experience the year through the eyes of actual people.

We see Freud struggling with rejection by his professional peers and worried aboout money. We see the competitiveness between now-famous musicians. We learn of the Crown Prince's struggle with his uncomfortable powerlessness and feel
Jul 21, 2007 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.
Beth Duke

As a person who loves Vienna and the history of the Habsburg Dynasty, I expected to enjoy this book. Given a subject so dismal as this "nervous splendor", I suppose it was difficult to craft an absorbing and engaging account without becoming tedious at times. Even so, I found this book's typographical errors unforgivable and felt the story could have been better written.
Bob Newman
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
PEOPLE magazine hits Vienna !

Yeah, well, you can see that I didn't like this book very much. It just wasn't my style. But I realize that some people might like it a lot. If you are more interested in lush description of balls, funerals, palaces, and royal shindigs of all kinds than in history, you're gonna love this tome. And I admit, you get some certain information on life in Vienna in the late 1880s. But for me, kings ain't that cool. I'm not a PEOPLE magazine person. I don't give a rat's
May 08, 2014 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
Feb 15, 2013 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
Feb 18, 2013 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.
Feb 06, 2013 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
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 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
May 27, 2008 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 ...more
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014
Book didn't work for me despite being about a really interesting period and revolving around a fabulous story. Dashing, reform-mided prince in fin-de-siecle Vienna is stymied by an autocratic father, kills himself and his 17 year old lover in a murder suicide pact that the palace tries to hide from the public. Dull writing and a disjointed attempt to interweave the lives of other prominent Viennese (Freud, Mahler, Brahms, Klimt) into parallel storyline keep me from recommending the book, but do ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Beautifully written and evocative recapitulation of the "official version" of the death of Rudolph Hapsburg, Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Paints a splendid picture of Vienna at the end of the 19th century and where Rudolph fit into it. Utterly fails to in any way solve the mystery of why he died when he did.
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The 1880s are very interesting years in history. I really liked reading about Crown Prince Rudolf, his mistress, I liked reading about Brahms, Strauss, Bruckner, Herzl, Freud, etc. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in European history in the late 19th century.
Oct 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book deals with the endlessly fascinating subject of pre-war Vienna and the Hapsburgs. It has but one thesis and it is not a new one. That the Austro-Hunagrian empire lived its last days in a sort of denial, denial of modernity, denial of social and ethnic tensions and denial of change. Vienna turned its back on the future at its own peril, by hoarding the symbols of continuity, if not their substance. Hence the nervous splendor. It tried to build itself out of conflict with the fabulous ...more
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it
This book gives a view into Vienna in the years 1888 and 89, when the Austro-Hungarian empire was still in existence, the middle class was trying and failing to emerge, and the crown Prince Rudolph was waiting and growing ever more depressed while doing so for his father to pass on so he could take over. It gives this view by covering notable people of the period, some of whom you would recognize like Freud and Strauss, and others you might not know. The story takes you through the suicide of ...more
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Frederic Morton (born Fritz Mandelbaum) 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 ...more