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The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  891 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
Europe, 1900–1914: a world adrift, a pulsating era of creativity and contradictions. The major topics of the day: terrorism, globalization, immigration, consumerism, the collapse of moral values, and the rivalry of superpowers. The twentieth century was not born in the trenches of the Somme or Passchendaele—but rather in the fifteen vertiginous years preceding World War I. ...more
Hardcover, 488 pages
Published October 21st 2008 by Basic Books (first published August 1st 2008)
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Riku Sayuj

Dangerous Ideas; Necessary Ideas

The Vertigo Years traces the initial eruptions of some of the most explosive ideas and social phenomenons of the century that bore the brunt of the first mad rush of modernity —  from socialism and fascism, to nuclear physics and the theory of relativity; from conceptual art and consumer society, to mass media and democratization; to feminism and psychoanalysis. The many issues and the intellectual interplay is explored in great detail and gives an overall impre
Nov 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing

As I have read this book thanks to Kris Rabberman, it is to her that I shall dedicate my review. And since it is also her birthday today (January 22nd), this is my gift to her.

This book has a smart and clear structure. Blom has taken the fifteen years that preceded WW1 and surveyed the key cultural and social aspects that, mostly in Europe, accompanied the political events that led to the declaration of the Great War.

These were times of rapid change. The relative political and diplomatic weight
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone interested in European history
After reading numerous non-fiction books dealing with the infamous European history of the first half of the 20th century, I thought I deserved a break from all this madness, atrocities, and right-out horror. So I decided to read “The Vertigo Years”, a book about the so-called “Belle Epoche”, expecting it to be a light read about golden times and containing an abundance of entertaining juicy stories.

Mind you, I had read several reviews of this book and, thus, should have known better. But this h
John David
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-history
“The Vertigo Years,” much like Blom’s earlier “Wicked Company,” is a history for the general reader who wants to gain a feel for the general Zeitgeist of fin-de-siècle Western Europe coming up through the beginning of World War I. If you desire a history of something specifically with “the events leading up to WWI” in mind, keep looking, as this book has almost nothing to do with the complicated set of alliances and feuds that eventually resulted in the death of Archduke Ferdinand. It is, in the ...more
Mikey B.
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A wide scope of a book that successfully presents the period 1900-14 (pre- World War I) within in own context, not as a retrospective of the build-up to World War I.

As the author states, in July 1914 the major news headlines in France were about the murder of a newspaper editor by Henrietta Caillaux, not the assassination in Sarajevo.

We often think of changing to the 21st century as a period of intense upheaval – the advent of the computer age. This book demonstrates successfully that there were
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Dec 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in history

For a further review:
Jill Hutchinson
Jul 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-history
This is a different kind of history book as the author does not confine himself to the causes leading up to WWI but, rather, what was happening across Europe at all levels of society and thought. Each chapter concentrates on a specific year and addresses a particular issue which was in flux at the time.
It becomes a bit pedantic but generally is a unique and interesting approach to a changing world.
Mar 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi, own
Machines, women, speed and sex: a rather bourgeois look at the opening of the 20th century

What if World War One hadn't happened and we looked back on the preceding 15 years without the shadows of that conflict cast over it? Almost like those that lived through it might have seen it. What was on their minds?

Rather than covering the tracks of political, economic and social histories of the start of the 20th century, Blom tries to picture the state of mind of Europe. And for this he picks the dynam
Survey of the western world 100 years ago. The existing academic categories of defining western thought were not challenged or expanded, but well explained. It's unnerving how much is lost so quickly, this book unintentionally shines light on modern culture's branding of individual endurance, i.e. modern culture trains us, or we train each other, to perceive a lifespan, a generation, as being much longer and enduring then it actually is. A year is a measurable timespan, with a beginning and an e ...more
James Murphy
Jun 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's usually thought WWI brought about the enormous changes in Europe which ushered in the modern world. Blom's great lesson is that the social and cultural changes we associate with the war and after had already occurred or were underway. The war acted as catalyst causing processes in motion to speed up, to sometimes bring about collapse of ways of thinking or to shift identities or create new enthusiasms. Each chapter is headed by a year, and the course of the narrative is generally chronologi ...more
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philipp Blom's central thesis is that the years 1900-1914 tend to be overlooked by historians analysing twentieth century history due to the dramatic events that followed, however he asserts that everything that followed has it genesis in these years. He makes a good argument too. Like our own era, the era was characterised by an incredible rate of technological change, profound social upheaval, etc. and Blom's book has given me a good insight into life during the early years of the twentieth ce ...more
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author takes an event in each year from 1900 to 1914 as the basis for each chapter. He then expands on the theme, so that Chapter 1 on the Paris World Fair also gives a wider coverage of France at the time, the Dreyfus affair and antisemitism, Chapter 2 on the death of Queen Victoria looks at Britain and the changing role of the aristocracy there and throughout Europe, Chapter 3 on Sigmund Freud finally getting a post and recognition discusses psychoanalysis and its effects on thought, art a ...more
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I liked that the author had a particular theme for each year (1900-1914. Each chapter could be read on its own.

Among the topics I found most interesting were: the suffragettes, the genocide in King Leopold's Congo (must read King Leopold's Ghost), the Curies, the development of cinema, and Russian thought and society.

I also enjoyed reading about the pacifist Bertha von Suttner, who was an entirely new name to me. It was interesting reading about Rudolf Steiner too. I
Дмитрий Филоненко
I'm reading the news about investigation of the death in 2013 of some Japanese girl who worked as a journalist. And they say that this happened because of extreme overwork and exhaustion. Then in "The Vertigo Years" I read about a new phenomenon born in XXth century: neurosis caused by high workload... The next news in today's feed is a massacre in Las Vegas when a single man killed more than 50 people. The same day I read in the book about Ernst Wagner, a silent and descent school teacher who o ...more
I did really enjoy this but it seemed uneven, so only 4 stars not 5. Each chapter is a different topic and the topics were almost all very interesting (and those that weren't to me were because of my interest in the topic, nothing on the author's part). It just seemed to jump around a bit which decreased some of my enjoyment of it.
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent work. Blom's goal is to re-examine the years preceding WWI as unlinked from the War itself, on their own merits and features, debunking the myth of a period of calm that was devastatingly shattered in August 1914. He does an outstanding job of focusing on the years at hand, and I found it very easy to not think ahead, and instead ponder the many seismic changes of those 14 years.

I liked the construct of taking a particular topic/emphasis/occurrence of each year and examining that infl
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it
It is a very good, albeit limited assessment of the first 15 years of the last century. Blom, who picked up later with a book about the post-World War I world, whips the reader on a tour of Europe's changing landscape in the run up to Sarajevo --- which of course no one knew was coming. But Europeans knew something was happening, and Blom makes a persuasive case that this is perhaps the most important decade in modern history. Everything changed, and although he does an excellent if slightly mun ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Pretty scattered (inevitable in a book covering these years in the major countries of Europe and -- to a lesser extent -- the U.S.) but an enjoyable corrective to the idea that WWI marked a complete break with the past. Blom shows that, at least for elites, the psychological crack-up brought on by rapid technological and social change was well underway before 1914. There are no foot-notes, although there are "notes" at the end of the book, listed by page, so if you think the author thought somet ...more
Kenneth Kovacs
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The Great War didn't unhinge the West, as Blom demonstrates, it was rapidly and gradually coming undone for almost two decades before the war. And the West continues to live in the wake of these cataclysmic years.
Roxy Katt
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm no expert on this period, and happened to read the book only because a friend of mine who is a fanatic on all things fin-de-siecle recommended it. But I found it fascinating, accessible, and very interesting. It's a very spicey survey of various elements of culture in this period. One of its weak points, however, is its rather careless and uninformed disparagement of socialism. A few rhetorical shots and evasions, and presto, one of the most significant movements (probably THE most significa ...more
Dipping in and out of the arts, literature, science, politics, and social history, swinging back and forth through Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, Blom enacts a dizzying waltz through the dawn of the 20th century.

His central purpose is to portray these fourteen years as a dynamic part of the 20th century as opposed to the last gasp of the long nineteenth. He does an excellent job of sampling a sufficient variety of modernist thought and bewildering social change to make hi
Russell Bittner
If you want to get an insider’s angle on why Europe ultimately engaged in “the war to end all wars,” this may well be your book. Yes, it’s just one of many written about the period of 1900 – 1914 (e.g., Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August comes most immediately to mind), but it’s also probably one of the best. Are there perhaps thousands of details we could do without? Possibly. But a pointillist creates the big picture by including thousands of details; should (s)he leave any one out, it’s n ...more
Feb 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I supposed when I've thought of the span of twentieth century history, I've been guilty of thinking of the fourteen years preceding the First World War as nothing but a prelude, a working-up to the cataclysm that befell Europe in the summer of 1914. Phillip Blom invites the reader to try to forget everything from that summer onwards and to examine the artistic, social, political, military, literary, scientific and technological developments of that period as if it were an open-ended era, not kno ...more
Feb 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a well written, well researched cultural history looking at the factors that lead to profound changes in the way the world was viewed in the opening years of the Twentieth Century. It is information rich and I learned quite a bit. I didn't entirely agree with all Blom's arguments and I thought there were some sins of omission, but I found it very well argued and stimulating reading.

Blom's central theme is that the period can be explained as a nervous reaction to Europe's perceived loss
Feb 19, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Das Kernproblem dieses Buches ist wohl, dass es ein zu weites und zu ungenau umgrenztes Feld abdecken möchte: Russland, Deutschland, England, Frankreich und das Habsburgerreich (und noch den einen oder anderen zusätzlichen Schauplatz) in den ersten 14 Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts. Kultur, Politik, Gesellschaft, Wissenschaft usw. Soetwas ist wohl enorm schwierig zu fassen und zu strukturieren. Dementsprechend konnte ich als Leser nicht immer nachvollziehen, warum sich der Autor nun gerade diesem o ...more
Not so much this-and-then-than happened, as an attempt to get at the zeitgeist. I don't know enough to say whether its a good attempt, but it was certainly an interesting read. Culture, politics, morals, women, technology, health, race, art and a very great deal of sex. The world was moving too fast, capitalism was destroying identity, the right sort of people were having too few children and everyone else was having too many, the traditions of earlier ages were being shattered, technology was c ...more
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was led to this book by Margaret McMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road To 1914. She views the 1900-1914 era in light of the build-up to a war that she argues did not have to happen. Philipp Blom wants us to take her word for that, forget the war, and view this fascinating era on its own merits.

This time period is in many ways so similar to our own, and Blom provides thought provoking coverage of much of it. I just can’t find a way to write a meaningful review that is worthy of this boo
Nov 12, 2011 rated it liked it
I was excited to read this book, so I'm sad to say that I'm happy to be done with it. The subject has great potential — the world changed tremendously between 1900 and 1914 — but it's too big for a book like this. Topics are covered quickly, often with little more than lists of events or names that simply must be mentioned. The moments when it enters into narrative are its best. I wish this book covered half the material in twice the depth. It reminded me a great deal of Graham Robb's _The Disco ...more
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In fifteen chapters, one for each year from 1900 to 1914, Philipp Blom shows how Europeans in this period had good reason to feel dizzied. But the chapters aren't about the years per se. They're about the Paris Exposition Universelle, the launch of HMS Dreadnought, the suffrage movement, and other events that took place during these years. Blom makes a good story of each.

None of the figures portrayed in this book see the Great War coming. Nor do the events described make it inevitable. As revie
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
A well-written, interesting book, rather dry at times. It's given me a better perspective on the period 1900-1914.

There was more about crime, sexuality and mental health than I expected.

The chapter that focused on eugenics was very detailed and I found it unsettling.
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Bright Young Things: October 2014- The Vertigo Years by Philipp Blom 23 16 Oct 27, 2014 03:41PM  
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Philipp Blom is a German novelist who currently lives and works in Vienna, Austria. He is best known for his novel, The Simmons Papers (1995). His 2007 novel, Luxor has not yet been translated into English. He is a professional historian who studied at Vienna and Oxford with a focus on eighteenth-century intellectual history. His academic works include: To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of ...more
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