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Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a…
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Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture (1988)

by John Lukacs

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I took this one along on our river cruise/trip that started in Budapest and ended in Prague. I knew little about Budapest or Hungary other than the outlines of events in the 1956 uprising against the Communist government. Budapest 1900 was a splendid introduction and goes beyond the turn of the century era of the title, both into history and the 20th century. The chapter titles give some idea of the scope of the book: "Colors, Words and Sounds;" "The City;" "The People;" "Politics and Powers;" "The Generation of 1900;" "Seeds of Troubles;" and "Since Then."

The turn of the century was a period of cultural flowering in Budapest, as it was in many European cities, and artists, writers and musicians flourished. Lukacs, a native of Budapest who settled in the US in 1946, a professor of history, revels in the period.

Published in 1988, the book obviously doesn't address the post-Communist era, and at least one of Lukacs' predictions, that American influence was fading and that German influence would supercede it, does not seem to have come to pass. English-language influence was far more prevalent in Budapest than any of the other cities we visited -- even the street signs were marked in both Hungarian and English.

We loved Budapest, and Lukacs was a wonderful guide. ( )
  janeajones | Nov 20, 2015 |
Author John Lukacs starts with a description of the funeral in 1900 of the painter Mihály Munkácsy. The huge size of the man's funeral and its elaborateness, Lukacs suggests, says much about the high esteem in which the city held its artists. Such reverence for the artist simply does not exist today. Lukacs then goes into a brief history of each of the city's 10 districts. (There are 23 today.) I enjoyed the descriptive writing, the architectural assessments, the overview of city planning in general (especially when augmented with photos from the web). The sophistication of Budapest at this time is truly stunning. It's the little Paris on the Danube, though distinctly Hungarian in its culture.

My interest in the book grew from reading Gregor Von Rezzori's novel, Memoirs of An Anti-Semite. That astonishing book showed me how very little I know about Eastern Europe, especially the states along the Danube. Lukacs shows us how Pest, once smaller than Buda, grew to dominate the city we know today. He marshals a lot of statistics, and is always careful to show how Budapest stacked up against the other major European cities in 1900. For that is the year he views as the city's high water mark or richest elaboration. We are briskly taken from the tiny Celtic settlement to Rome's establishment of Aquincum on the Buda side--for some reason the Romans did not often cross the river--to the Magyar settlement in 896, the Mongol invasion of 1241, the establishment of the royal seat of the Hungarian kings in the 14th century, the conquest two centuries later by the Ottoman Empire, and the reconquest 145 years later by the Hapsburgs.

There is one laughable passage in which Lukacs suggests that the lack of police evidence of homosexuality means that there was none. This is attributed to the stark masculinity of the local culture. The intimation being, I suppose, that all homosexuals are effeminate. Now, if that isn't bias I don't know what is. Funny, in this one instance he neglects the evidence of neighboring Danube states, a comparison he uses frequently at other times. The author resorts to some cheerleading in Chapter 5, "The Generation of 1900," for Hungarian arts and culture. One finds instances of inflationary prose like this on page 106: Whether optimists or pessimists, the people of Budapest, even in this bourgeoise period, were expressive. They wore their minds, if not their hearts, on their sleeves. Their concerns, problems, strengths and failures were evident in their conscious expressions of all kinds, rather than suppressed or submerged on subconscious levels. I find it ridiculous to claim that the citizens of an entire metropolis are without certain basic human psychological traits. Recommended with keen reservations.

PS: Lukacs' comment about Casablanca, directed by Hungarian Michael Curtiz--which he calls an "imbecile movie"--angered me. Granted, the picture's far from perfect. (The sets, for example, seem cheap and flimsy.) But it's Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman! Their performances alone diminish the flaws, if they don't annihilate them altogether. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
I enjoyed this book and found it useful for performing the task it describes. It is well organized and provides a historical interpretation of Budapest in the 1900s. I appreciate how goodreads provides detailed background information concerning the author and his personal history and political views. They add another dimension to understanding the author's strengths and weaknesses.

I am planning a trip to Budapest in May 2013 and wanted an overview of the city, its culture, population, politics, and artists. Professor Lukacs helped me get a flavor of the city. His first chapter on colors, words, and sounds conveyed the romantic atmosphere of an attractive center. I particularly enjoyed how he contrasted Budapest with Vienna and offered explanations for his favoritism. I understood two points that might make him prefer his hometown to Vienna. The first being its location on the Danube with so much of the city being included in the river and its long bend. The second is its significance and interaction with the nation state of Hungary, which has a complex and involved history with the Hapsburg Empire of Austria Hungary. I found the map showing the eight districts of the city in 1900 and Margaret Island instructive. His descriptions of those districts I also thought was informative and helped me understand more about how the city grew.

Lukacs appreciation of the Generation of 1900 seemed to reflect his national pride. I thought he gave a quick overview of the city's history since then. I look forward to exploring the city on my own and furthering my education about many of its attractions. ( )
  Your_local_coyote | Dec 29, 2013 |
A biografia, por assim dizer, da cidade que em 1900 era "Paris para iniciados".
Interessantíssimo. ( )
  JuliaBoechat | Mar 30, 2013 |
John Lukacs is a distinguished historian and native of Budapest. Having read several of his short histories I turned to this book as an adjunct to a class on Hungarian literature. In it he portrays Budapest in 1900 as a rich and vibrant place, of one of the great European cities at the height of its powers.
Budapest, like Paris and Vienna, experienced a remarkable exfoliation at the end of the nineteenth century. In terms of population growth, material expansion, and cultural exuberance, it was among the foremost metropolitan centers of the world, the cradle of such talents as Bartók, Kodály, Krúdy, Ady, Molnár, Koestler, Szilard, and von Neumann, among others.
John Lukacs provides a cultural and historical portrait of the city—its sights, sounds, and inhabitants; the artistic and material culture; its class dynamics; the essential role played by its Jewish population—and a historical perspective that describes the ascendance of the city and its decline into the maelstrom of the twentieth century.
Intimate and engaging, Budapest 1900 captures the glory of a city at the turn of the century, poised at the moment of its greatest achievements, yet already facing the demands of a new age. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Mar 3, 2013 |
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Dedicated to Monsignor Béla Varga, a God-given incarnation of what is noble and best in Magyar humanism. Ajánlom Főtisztelendő Varga Bélának, az istenadta nemes magyar emberszeretet megtestesítőjének.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802132502, Paperback)

"Lukacs's book is a lyrical, sometimes dazzling, never merely nostalgic evocation of a glorious period in the city's history. . . . {His} true sympathy lies . . . not with the famous expatriates, but with the writers and intellectuals who lived and died at home: the poets Endre Ady and Mihaly Babits; the novelists Ferenc Herczeg, Sandor Hunyady, Frigyes Karinthy, Dezso Kosztolanyi, Gyula Krudy, Kalman Mikszath, and Zsigmond Moricz; the political essayist DezsoSzabo; the playwright Erno Szep; the literary historian Antal Szerb; and others. . . . {John Lukacs} sets out to explain Hungarian literature to English-speaking readers. Though I have no idea whether or not he will succeed, few interpreters of Hungarian literature have made a more touching and eloquent attempt." -- The New York Review of Books

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:32 -0400)

"Lukacs's book is a lyrical, sometimes dazzling, never merely nostalgic evocation of a glorious period in the city's history. . . . {{His}} true sympathy lies . . . not with the famous expatriates, but with the writers and intellectuals who lived and died at home: the poets Endre Ady and Mihaly Babits; the novelists Ferenc Herczeg, Sandor Hunyady, Frigyes Karinthy, Dezso Kosztolanyi, Gyula Krudy, Kalman Mikszath, and Zsigmond Moricz; the political essayist DezsoSzabo; the playwright Erno Szep; the literary historian Antal Szerb; and others. . . . {{John Lukacs}} sets out to explain Hungarian literature to English-speaking readers. Though I have no idea whether or not he will succeed, few interpreters of Hungarian literature have made a more touching and eloquent attempt." -- The New York Review of Books

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