The nation-state of Austria has only existed since the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg empire in 1918. This work examines the Austrian people's struggle to find their identity against the pull of multi-national Danubian traditions on one hand and racial German ties on the other. It also describes the role the Austrians have to play in the modern world and how they have come to terms with their recent past.
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The Austrians' island mentality and their competitive and ambiguous relationship with Germans interact as motifs throughout this flowing historical narrative. This readable account gives the impression that one is engaging in an extended private conversation with its author. Brook-Shepherd (The Storm Birds: Soviet Postwar Defectors, 1989, etc.) boasts a long and intimate acquaintance with the region and its influential figures that started with his service in the postwar Allied Commission in Vienna and years as a journalist. Always commanding the facts and elegant in his presentation, Brook- Shepherd is informative and at times insightful. His narrative focuses on political, dynastic, and military developments in Austrian history: its origins in the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg dynasty, troubled relations with Hungary, the even more disturbing and still troubling issue of the Anschluss, and the era of neutrality and retirement that has come to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The final sections on Austria's role in Europe as a potential bridge between East and West is timely. Still, the reader is left wishing that the author really had the opportunity to probe further: His walk along the already well-trod paths of political history does not adequately fulfill his aim of enlightening us about Austrian identity. Both in terms of the Austrians' relationship with Germans and with the many nationalities in their empire or national state, Brook-Shepherd should have amplified the other distinguishing aspects of Austrian society: language, dress, food, art, philosophy, and cultural trends. Details of everyday and intellectual life would have better served his goal of examining ``the suppressed development of an Austrian consciousness,'' especially as the country enters into the potentially homogenizing force of the European Union. These reservations notwithstanding, Brook-Shepherd provides a compact and illuminating overview of Austria's odd place in European history. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Booklist:
Austria has always been a borderland, a collision point of cultures and politics. Surveying its story over the centuries, Brook-Shepherd brings the experience of long residence in Austria plus authorship of numerous books on specific episodes of Austrian history to chronicle the dynastic fortunes of the Hapsburgs, who, perched in the middle of the Danube basin, had to fend off invaders coming upriver (the Turks) or downriver (Protestants and later the French). Over time, the Hapsburgs assembled a remarkable multinational empire, with impossibly complicated constitutional arrangements whose evolution Brook-Shepherd nevertheless manages to make clear. But the flames of nationalism, the Serbian candle of which the Austrians recklessly attempted to snuff out in 1914, burned down the whole creaky edifice. The author then devotes great detail to Austria's unhappy experience through 1945 and its rehabilitation since then, with a few hangovers, such as having had a possible war criminal (Kurt Waldheim) as its president. A solidly informative and well-written work. Gilbert Taylor
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Book Description Harpercollins, 1997. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M000638255X