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Journey to the Abyss Paperback – April 23, 2013

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Journey to the Abyss + Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918-1937) + The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278432
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Meticulously translated and edtied by Laird M. Easton . . . a 900-page marvel. . . . An important, underappreciated, unforgettable book.” —Robert Harris, The Guardian, Writers and Critics on the Best Books of 2013

“A document of novelistic breadth and depth, showing the spiritual development of a lavishly cultured man who grapples with the violent energies of the twentieth century . . . also a staggering feat of reportage. The war fever infected Kessler . . . [he] does not hide the grimness of the scene. For the reader, it is a shock to be deposited in such hellish landscapes several pages after watching the antics of Diaghilev and company; few books capture so acutely the world-historical whiplash of the summer of 1914. . . . The supreme memoir of the grand European fin de siècle.” —Alex Ross, The New Yorker
“Kessler’s diaries are a trove of insightful . . . information about an absolutely amazing number of artists and writers.” —John Rockwell, The Threepenny Review

“What makes [Kessler] such an appealing figure is his struggle with the received ideas of his age. . . . His diaries fascinate on various levels, first of all as an observant, witty, frequently catty chronicle of European culture and high society between the fin-de-siecle, and following that [though not this volume] between 1918 and the Nazi regime.” —Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books

“An unusual guided tour of belle époque and early-20th-century artistic and high life in Berlin, Paris and London . . . with great sensitivity and occasional flashes of humor.” —Louis Begley, The New York Times

“The well-connected diplomat’s gimlet-eyed view of a teetering Belle Epoque Europe.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue

“A Henry James figure come to real life: a fusion of high society and high intellect, his diaries dramatize with the most stellar possible international cast the twilight settling on a peak.” —Frederic Morton, author of A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889

“Harry Kessler was an extraordinary exemplar of the crisis that overwhelmed Europe in the 20th century.  He captured, in his person and in his thoroughly engrossing diaries, all the dichotomies of his era:  the ideals and the devastation, the passion and the despondency, the frisson and the horror. . . . Absolutely riveting.  In its literary brilliance and evocative power, the diary is the equal of those of Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson and André Gide.  Mr. Easton ranks it one of the greatest diaries ever.  Many will agree.” —Modris Eksteins, The Wall Street Journal

“At last a diary as penetrating on Berlin as the Goncourt brothers’ on Paris has been translated into English. . . . Laird Easton is to be congratulated on leading English-speaking readers, via Kessler's masterpiece, into the heart of Germany before its catastrophe.” —The Spectator

“Count Harry Kessler became, through his experiences and through the anguished searching of his spirit, something close to a representative man. He seeks out great artists and gives us memorable portraits of Verlaine in old age, of Degas and Renoir, of Rodin and Maillol, of Rilke and Hofmannsthal, of Cosima Wagner, of Richard Strauss, of Diaghilev and Nijinsky, and of other great dancers and theatrical figures of the age. He tells us of the intrigues of the German Imperial Court. The cast list alone makes this an amazing diary. This is such an important book. It is a great act of historical witness, and a great source of scandalous insight and gossip.” —James Fenton, The Atlantic

“Kessler was a sophisticated aristocrat who knew everyone and understood everything. He rode with Nijinsky in a Paris cab the night that The Rite of Spring changed artistic history. He could size up a German princess with level-eyed candor. He was passionate about the arts and politics—and is one of the best observers of his epoch.”  —Edmund White, author of A Boy’s Own Story and Genet: A Biography
“Take a grand tour through the Belle Époque without leaving your chair. . . . This is a classic book for the ages to keep and reread.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“I have been a huge fan of Harry Kessler since my early youth because of my mother. Even the way I dress is in a way inspired by him. The eight volumes of his diaries are always near my bedside in my houses. Kessler represents for me Germany at its best, a Germany now gone forever.” —Karl Lagerfeld
“Harry Graf Kessler was a central figure in German cultural life in the early twentieth century and during the Weimar Republic. A man of many parts, highly educated, a democrat when this was not at all fashionable—he knew everyone, and everyone knew him. His massive diaries are of absorbing interest, essential reading for all those interested in European cultural history of the period.” —Walter Laqueur, author of Weimar: A Cultural History
“What a life! To read Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918 is to revisit, at least in revery, a lost world of European civilization, to experience for a while all the cultivated douceur de vivre that disappeared forever in the blood-soaked trenches of World War I.” —Michael Dirda, The Barnes & Noble Review

“An enlightening view of European high society, notable for its erudition and density of anecdote, for readers strongly interested in European history and culture.” —Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Laird M. Easton is chair of the Department of History at California State University, Chico. His book The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler was named one of the best biographies of 2002 by The Economist.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on December 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An astonishing number of important people and events intersected with the life of Count Harry Kessler. The diary entries presented in this lengthy book cover the transformational years in modern art and European politics between 1880 to 1918. A ton of vivid thumbnail character sketches are scattered throughout its pages.

Kessler embodied the highest culture of Europe. He was at Nietzsche's home shortly after the philosopher's death; admired Gorky; hobnobbed with the dancer Nijinsky, was friends with Degas and Rodin in Paris; help spark Max Beckmann's artistic career; and, enjoyed the company of George Bernard Shaw in London.

Then the war with England, France and Russia came and, as a German patriot, Kessler first participated directly in Berlin's military effort and was then an international political operative of sorts for the remainder of that brutal conflict. (His comments on how the Bolsheviks were handled near the end of World War I by Germany were of special interest to me.)

Professor Laird M. Easton has performed a great service in the clear editing of this valuable historical material. I now hope the good professor will continue serving both scholarship and a grateful reading public by providing an English translation of Kessler's journal covering the Count's four month tour of America in the 1920s.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By othoniaboys on March 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
At almost 1,000 pages and covering almost forty years, this book is quite overwhelming. Kessler was a magnificent writer and had the uncanny ability to meet everyone worth meeting, and go everywhere worth going, not to mention being in the audience for Cyrano, Peter Pan and Nijinsky. He managed to get to Verlaine and Nietzsche before they died. The mere list of people that he met is astonishing, and the fact that he knew many of them intimately is all the more impressive. He was at the very center of the action. We are given a tour of the world early on -- the Alamo, the Taj Mahal, the pyramids -- and he describes the crowds in New York, in Paris, in Berlin, in London, in Constantinople, the world of the Belle Epoque, of Proust, of Wilhelmine Germany, all the French artists, the Austrian and German and British cultural worlds, it just goes on and on -- until the Archduke is shot and Europe is drenched in blood. His description of battlefields littered with ghastly corpses is Dantesque in its power. There is also homosexuality here, for Kessler was gay, although he only speaks of others and not of himself. I get the impression that Maillol was a repressed bisexual. I was surprised to learn that Verlaine claimed that his liaison with Rimbaud was platonic. Was this in the same category with Whitman's denial to Symonds? There was another volume of the diary that appeared in English forty years ago, but it failed to make a splash. Hopefully this volume will place Kessler where he belongs -- among the greatest German writers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Marcia B. Worden on January 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a diarist, Kessler commands our attention since events he describes give a sense of immediacy. Along with The Proud Tower,Barbara Tuchman, and Proust's novels, Kessler's Journey to the Abyss contributes to our understanding of European civilization before and during the Great War.

Caviat: skip lightly over Kessler's trip round tne world and delve into his descriptions of German society.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WPT on August 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have never heard of Kessler, and that is most of us, you will find this book very hard to believe. The facts are true and continously interesting amazing & enjoyable.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Kessler is a very sympathetic character. He's imperfect, and he's a product of his era, but he is also ahead of his time in many ways and the light that he shines on the art and the politics and friends of his era are extremely illuminating. I loved this book. Primary documents are the best source of history. Why read fictional history when there are memoirs like this. He's a fascinating man who knew every single fashionable, political, or creative individual of Europe. He's unbelievably social and brilliant.
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