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Rites of Spring : The Great War and the…

Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989)

by Modris Eksteins

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7011820,090 (4.21)26

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English (17)  Dutch (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Really liked this; Eskteins does a great job of weaving his argument throughout, and his narrative voice and his argumentative voice flow really smoothly together. Obviously good for undergrads--super accessible, while still nuanced enough to be useful. It's also a really interesting read, coming from someone who isn't super interested in World War I. ( )
  aijmiller | Sep 14, 2018 |
Just a specific: anyone who thinks Eksteins went off-course by linking Nazism with kitsch needs to watch video of recent Scientology 'events'. ( )
  tungsten_peerts | Feb 23, 2016 |
A grand intellectual history. Much discussion of the "avant garde", aestheticism, the daring changes in performance art around the turn of the 20th century. Exhibit # 1 of course is Stravinsky's La Sacre du printemps, premiered in Paris, 1913. Eksteins examines Germany's Dionysian, near-fated march toward war, as well as its rapid emergence as an economic peer of France and UK. The author extensively looks at the trench-level soldier of the Great War, physically and psychically, making liberal use of their own words. In fact the entire book is impressively presented and footnoted. My macro-level squabble would be with the vast generalizations as to nationalist mindset, but this is cultural and societal scholarship, so I'll give him a pass. I happily immersed my knucklehead into this for a week.

"...the man who has tripped
Between death's legs and then
Recovers himself and breathes again,
Can only laugh or only weep:
He has not the heart to mourn.
~~ Charles Vidrac, french soldier ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Mar 7, 2015 |
This is a fascinating, though episodic book that touches, in turn, on:

* The debut of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ballet as staged in Paris;
* World War I, specifically trench warfare as viewed by its participants through their letters and writing, with a long section on the spontaneous fraternization between enemy soldiers during Christmas 1914;
* The frenzy caused by the arrival of Charles Lindbergh in Paris (and later other European capitals) after his solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927;
* The publication of and reaction to Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front; and
* The Rise and Fall of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Of these, World War I takes up the bulk of the book and is the most fascinating. The Rite of Spring section is used to set the scene and describe the culture that existed before the war, but this connection is not particularly convincing, though the story of the debut is interesting in itself. But when Eksteins starts writing about the Great War, the book becomes a true page turner. Never before had I been so immersed in the day-to-day life of soldiers in the trenches or read such a good description of the almost miraculous in retrospect Christmas truce. The only shortcoming, as the author admits, is that most of the writing about the war comes from intellectuals and writers rather than working class soldiers with less of a literary bent. Still the story rings true, and Eksteins is especially convincing when he writes of the sense of duty that drove soldiers on both sides to follow orders and march straight into the certain death of withering machine gun fire. He does make a clear distinction between the morality of the two sides, however. In comparison to the more grounded French and English, he portrays the Germans as enthralled in a fantasy of their own making that allowed them to justify their use of "total" war and the first use of gas as a weapon. This section is not for someone who wants to undertstand all the whys, wherefores, logistical details, and eventual resolution of the war--it is for someone who wants to get into the minds of the men who actually had to fight it.

After the war, the book skips to 1927 and the overwhelming (and life-threatening) adulation Charles Lindbergh received upon his arrival in Paris. The author asserts, convincingly, that the extreme reaction was a direct result of the war that ended less than nine years earlier.

The publication of Remarque's anti-war novel is another chapter in the world's evolving reaction to the war, with many accepting it as a true story, although Remarque's time in the trenches was fairly brief and many of the scenes in his book could have been (or maybe were) lifted from other authors. In time, a reaction set in, especially among those who would eventually form the nucleus of the Nazi Party that began to take control of Germany in 1933.

The last section of the book, about the Nazis, is the least successful. Ecksteins' psychological take on Hitler, Goebbels, and the other Nazi leaders has some credibility, but it is much too short a part of the book to make a sustained, convincing argument and comes off very much as an afterthought.

This is one book where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The Rites of Spring is well-written and almost consistently fascinating, but the connections the author makes between the events it describes are not always completely convincing and sometimes come across more as personal opinions than well-reasoned historical conclusions. Which is not, at all, to dismiss this book. What is does well, it does very well indeed, and I haven't read another book about the period that presents as engrossing a portrait of World War I than this one does.

As an aside, in his notes the author refers to permissions to use illustrations--but the Kindle version didn't include any! They are hardly necessary when the book itself is so well-written, but I still feel a bit shortchanged. I'll have to look for this book at my local library to see what I missed. ( )
  datrappert | Nov 14, 2014 |
Interesting yet unsatisfying on several levels. I read along enjoying the review of the era, but acquiring few new insights, except perhaps in Ekstein’s depiction of the general mood at the opening of WWI as largely euphoric/ heroic / romantic, unlike the mood fraught with a sense of futility, waste and negation of the war that came afterward and which infused the post-war literature about WWI. My own exposure to the period comes largely from that literature and some contemporary fiction, such as the novels of Pat Barker. I was disappointed with the book at least partially because it strikes me as one more version of “his story”(and yes, I am aware that the etymology of the English word history has nothing to do with maleness). Ekstein makes scant mention of women throughout, never really including them in his discussion and theorizing about either European Avant-garde or popular culture before and after the war. As his touchstones, he chooses all males: Diaghilev and Nijinsky, director and primary male dancer of the Ballets russes; American pilot Charles Lindbergh, idolized for his solo flight across the Atlantic, and German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, whose All Quiet on the Western Front was (and still is) an all-time bestseller. And of course, closing out the modern era, Adolph Hitler (that is, if postmodernism commences post-WWII). Ekstein does briefly mention Josephine Baker (whose succès fou in Paris in the 1920s certainly rivaled that of Nijinksy earlier) and Isadora Duncan, but that’s about it. Women, even if not combatants, certainly both acted in and were acted upon by the war. The scientist Marie Curie with her x-ray unit that she drove from one field hospital to another and which eventually led to her death from cancer caused by radiation exposure comes to mind. As for the Moderns themselves, what about Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein? I also find the circularity of Ekstein’s argument regarding the subjective or Self centered aestheticism of modernism tedious, even tendentious. Subjectivity is not always solipsism. An aesthetic of non-sense or even art for art’s sake does not necessarily preclude social or political engagement on the part of an artist. Solipsism, disengagement, or flirtation with (or even adherence to) fascism are not to my mind, the only possible effects of a breakdown of tradition and a celebration of innovation. Ekstein’s evidence sometimes seems to follow rather than precede his conclusions. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0395937582, Paperback)

A rare and remarkable cultural history of World War I that unearths the roots of modernism


Dazzling in its originality, Rites of Spring probes the origins, impact, and aftermath of World War I, from the premiere of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913 to the death of Hitler in 1945. Recognizing that “The Great War was the psychological turning point . . . for modernism as a whole,” author Modris Eksteins examines the lives of ordinary people, works of modern literature, and pivotal historical events to redefine the way we look at our past and toward our future.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:37 -0400)

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Dazzling in its originality, witty and perceptive in unearthing patterns of behavior that history has erased, Rites of Spring probes the origins, the impact, and the aftermath of World War I--from the premiere of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913 to the death of Hitler in 1945. "The Great War," as Modris Eksteins writes, "was the psychological turning point...for modernism as a whole. The urge to create and the urge to destroy had changed places." In this book, Eksteins goes on to chart the seismic shifts in human consciousness brought about by this great cataclysm through the lives and words of ordinary people, works of literature, and such events as Lindbergh's transatlantic flight and the publication of the first modern bestseller, All Quiet on the Western Front.… (more)

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