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The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 (original 2008; edition 2010)

by Philipp Blom

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Member:JimDaues
Title:The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914
Authors:Philipp Blom
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The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 by Philipp Blom (2008)

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Attempting to write of Europe prior to World War I while adopting the pose that the Twentieth Century was an unwritten book, Blom's overarching response is that this was no "Belle Epoch" but a century that started out compromised. Compromised by its bewilderment that scientific rationality and economic development had produced incomprehensibility and social disorder. Compromised by how sexual relations previously constrained by convention and religion seemed to breaking down. Compromised by political leadership unable to recognize that there was a systemic crisis taking place and that even if there had been a general recognition it's unlikely that empty place holders such as the likes of Wilhelm of Germany, Franz Joseph of Austria or Nicholas of Russia could have been circumvented to provide answers. All of this leading to a flight to unreason as the avenue by which to relate to what could not be assimilated, which found a variety of expressions ranging from modern art to fascist politics to desperate throws of the geopolitical dice.

While I'm not really the person for whom this book was written, Blom writes with aplomb and wit and I greatly enjoyed his style. He also does nothing to assuage my own unease at the current state of things. As another generation of futurists noted (the "cyberpunk" writers such as William Gibson & Bruce Sterling) the future is unevenly distributed and the United States seems to be leaving the last time bubbles of 19th-century thinking with about as much grace as the European powers did. In my darkest moments I hope that we do not commemorate the centennial of 1914 with another Great Power war. ( )
  Shrike58 | Mar 28, 2014 |
Divided by year, but each year takes a thematic subject, usually provoked by an event of that year.

1900: France
1901: the aristocrats
1902: Austria-Hungary & Sigmund Freud
1903: science, especially physics
1904: Europeans in Africa; especially the Belgians in the Congo
1905: Russia
1906: the military
1907: the Bohemian fringe - pacifists, nudists, Mme. Blavatsky & friends
1908: "women with stones" - the Suffragettes
1909: machines and speed
1910: the arts
1911: popular culture
1912: eugenics
1913: crime and insanity
1914: summation

Due to its thematic nature, probably not the first book on the period I'd give someone - but possibly the second. ( )
  SusannainSC | May 15, 2013 |
"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 purest sense of the term, cultural history. Almost anything and anyone of significant (and many things of insignificant) amounts of cultural relevance are described in the book, but at 400 pages, Blom never grows ponderous. The chapters on Marie and Pierre Curie are just detailed enough to where almost everyone learns something new. And many of the chapters are wholly based around people or events with which I had little or no familiarity, like the political assassin and wife of the former French Prime Minister Henriette Caillaux, as well as the influence of Bertha von Suttner, the peace activist and first woman to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

There are fifteen chapters in the book, each covering one year beginning in 1900 and ending in 1914. Instead of trying to write the history of each individual year (which would probably read much more confusedly and frenetically), Blom introduces each year with one seminal person, event, or idea with a striking vignette and uses the rest of the chapter to both branch out and go into some of the finer details of what's really going on. Some of the most wonderful chapters include the ones on the 1900 World Fair in Paris, Freud's revolutionary idea of "culture as sublimated sexuality," and the journalists who broke the story about King Leopold's atrocities in the Congo. Interspersed through the text are wonderful black-and-white photographs, with quite a few color plate photographs in the middle for visual reference to the varied artists Blom alludes to, everyone from Schiele to Picasso to Derain.

For those who have read Blom's "Wicked Company," this book is much, much better. None of the characters here seem to incur the author's ire like Rousseau does. And while "Wicked Company" is almost a multiple biography of half a dozen characters or more covering a very wide swath of a century or more, this is book is a set of tightly controlled, engaging bits of history with which we should all be familiar. It comes highly recommended for anyone with an interest in turn-of-the-century science, art, literature, technology, and society, and politics. ( )
1 vote kant1066 | Oct 14, 2011 |
One of the best background readings to the causation of WW1 ( )
  MichaelHodges | Jul 11, 2011 |
This is a book, by a German-born author, which discusses what happened in some aspects of European life during the years indicated. Much is intellectual history, some of which was of interest and some of which was not. The accounts of actual happenings, such as the 1905 revoluiton in Russia and of the fight for women's suffrage in Britain was of interest, but more time was spent analyzing what happened than telling what happened. The book explicitly does not consider events in the light of the First World War. Not without interest, but often not highly interesting. ( )
  Schmerguls | Sep 2, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Niets is minder ethisch dan de zogeheten seksuele 'moraal'; die berust geheel op sociale wenselijkheid [...] misschien wel het belangrijkste psychologische gegeven van onze tijd is de spanning tussen ethiek en sociale regels, die langzaam toeneemt en steeds onontkoombaarder wordt. Op dit procrustusbed wordt de moderne ziel zodanig uitgerekt, zo diepgaand verscheurd en beproefd, dat het moeilijk is in de ideeëngeschiedenis een vergelijkbaar voorbeeld te vinden...
Tweede probleem: dat van de moderniteit, hoe de ziel te verzoenen met het enorme aantal nieuwe zaken. Het specifieke karakter van vandaag ligt in het feit dat geen andere tijd ooit het hoofd heeft moeten bieden aan zoveel nieuwe elementen.

- Dagboeknotitie van graaf Harry Kessler, 7 april 1903
Nothing is less ethical than so-called sexual 'morality'; which rests entirely on social convenience...perhaps the most important psychological fact of our time is the tension between ethics and social rules, which is growing slowly and being more and more acutely felt. On this Procrustean bed the modern soul is so overstretched, so wrenched apart in its innermost fibres and made oversensitive, that it is hard to see a parallel in all of intellectual history...

Second problem: that of modernity, how to reconcile with the soul the enormous mass of the new. The particular character of today lies in the fact that no other time had to conquer such a multitude of new elements.

-Count Harry Kessler, 'Diary', 7 April 1903
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Voor Cecil
en voor Chelsea, Samantha, André, Pierce, Aidan, Martine en Lukas
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Vol verwachting staan ze tussen de bomen langs de provinciale weg. Vooral mannen en jongens, de zomerse hitte trotserend.
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Niets is minder ethisch dan de zogeheten seksuele 'moraal'; die berust geheel op sociale wenselijkheid [...] misschien wel het belangrijste psychologische gegeven van onze tijd is de spanning tussen ethiek en sociale regels, die langzaam toeneemt en steeds onontkoombaarder wordt. Op dit procrustusbed wordt de moderne ziel zodanig uitgerekt, zo diepgaand verscheurd en beproefd, dat het moeilijk is in de ideeëngeschiedenis een vergelijkbaar voorbeeld te vinden... Tweede probleem: dat van de moderniteit, hoe de ziel te verzoenen met het enorme aantal nieuwe zaken. Het specifieke karakter van vandaag ligt in het feit dat geen andere tijd ooit het hoofd heeft moeten bieden aan zo veel nieuwe elementen. - Dagboeknotitie van graaf Harry Kessler, 7 april 1903
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465011160, Hardcover)

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.

In this short span of time, a new world order was emerging in ultimately tragic contradiction to the old. These were the years in which the political and personal repercussions of the Industrial Revolution were felt worldwide: Cities grew like never before as people fled the countryside and their traditional identities; science created new possibilities as well as nightmares; education changed the outlook of millions of people; mass-produced items transformed daily life; industrial laborers demanded a share of political power; and women sought to change their place in society—as well as the very fabric of sexual relations.

From the tremendous hope for a new century embodied in the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris to the shattering assassination of a Habsburg archduke in Sarajevo in 1914, historian Philipp Blom chronicles this extraordinary epoch year by year. Prime Ministers and peasants, anarchists and actresses, scientists and psychopaths intermingle on the stage of a new century in this portrait of an opulent, unstable age on the brink of disaster.

Beautifully written and replete with deftly told anecdotes, The Vertigo Years brings the wonders, horrors, and fears of the early twentieth century vividly to life.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:07 -0400)

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Examines how changes from the Industrial Revolution prior to World War I brought about radical transformation in society, changes in education, and massive migration in population that led to one of the bloodiest events in history.

(summary from another edition)

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