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Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City Paperback – March 18, 1998


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Prague in Black and Gold: Scenes from the Life of a European City + Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Traveler's Literary Companions) + The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (March 18, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809016095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809016099
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Readers who have visited Prague, one of the most gorgeous cities in Europe, may wish now, after having combed travel guides before their trip, to follow up with some reading on Prague's history; but unless they are serious about learning the subject, this book is best left alone. On the other hand, readers other than casual ones will find the development of Prague absorbingly chronicled here. This "history of a European city built over many centuries by Czechs, Germans, Jews, and Italians" presents both essential and colorful detail of the evolution of the kingdom of Bohemia, from mythical origins to Austrian domination to the post^-World War I flowering of independence and democracy. Demetz writes of such interesting personalities as King Charles IV, who put Prague on the map; Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, odd and fascinating; Jan Hus, religious reformer; and Thomas Masaryk, internationally esteemed president of the first Czech republic. Of course, history buffs who have never been to Prague will still relish what is offered here. Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A very interesting overview of key periods in the four- millennia-old history of central Europe's great ``gateway'' city (one of the meanings of the Czech Praha), which has also served as a bridge between the Slavic region to the east and the Germanic and Latin areas to the west. A Prague-born and -raised literary and intellectual historian, Demetz traces the enormous changes the city underwent between the Middle Ages and the eve of WW II. (Strangely, he does not extend his story to encompass either the brief ``Prague Spring'' of 1968 or the ``velvet revolution'' of 1989 that, with amazing swiftness, brought about communism's collapse.) Demetz is particularly interesting on the revolt led by followers of the martyred Jan Hus, a precursor to Luther, in the early 15th century, and on how the city affected, and sometimes dazzled, the host of literary and other creative figures who lived there or passed through, from Goethe to Andr‚ Breton. He also captures repeated moments of tension, and rather more uncommon ones of harmony, between the city's two large ethnic communities: Germans and Czechs. Both groups periodically turned violently against the city's third great community, the Jews, who also provided a disproportionate share of cultural and scientific leadership. Demetz's style is both richly anecdotal and well grounded in a wide range of secondary sources, and he does an excellent job of balancing political and cultural history. (As a city ``insider,'' Demetz seems particularly knowledgeable about Prague's neighborhoods and architecture.) However, he does have a propensity to overwhelm the reader with myriad names and, on occasion, to become bogged down in narrative details. In general, however, this is a fine introduction to a city that, like Rome or Jerusalem, has equally compelling legendary and actual histories. (maps) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Alok Chakrabarti on May 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have just returned from my first trip Prague and Ostrava. The history of the region is a bit confusing to us who are not familiar with this part of the world. This is an important part of the world, after all the genesis of the First World War is connected to the Bohemian Prince who was also a successor to the Habsburg throne.
Professor Demetz provides a comprehensive background to the history of the country, the intrigues and policitical fights that went on this part of the world. He provides a lively discussion of a serious subject. Prague went through a great number of battles and the people here were well involved with many events that rocked the European politics and religion.
Demetz is from Prague where he grew up and was a victim of anti-semitic tide that swept across Europe. This makes his story so human. This is not a dispassionate history book. I recommend this book to you, if are interested to know a bit more about the Czech republic and its people.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By eleventhal@robertscomm.com on June 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I started reading in preparation for long anticipated trip to Prague. I gave up about half way through before I was completely cured of my desire to visit the magic city. Demetz's goal is to demystify "Praga Magica" and he succeeds. This isn't to say that the book isn't entertaining, interesting and often fascinating, but you'd better bone up on the Reformation, Counter Reformation and various wars of Austrian Succession, or you'll find some chapters as dense and confusing as the labrynthian streets of the Old Town. And the long Latin and Czech citations don't help. To be on he Charles Bridge as night falls and sdee all the steeples and turrets of Prague in their golden aura is too marvelous a rush. Skip Prague in Black and Gold until you come back. It will deepen your appreciation of the magic you have experienced.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
Despite its heft, discursive style, and lack of illustrations, read this before you visit Prague. You will understand more of the magic of this wonderful city, and how its one thousand years of history made it the special place it is. Your bus tour may take you to the Old Jewish Burial Ground, the Municipal House, the opera house, the castle, the cathedral, the simple church where Jan Huys preached. This book will give meaning to these sights. The only book I can think to compare this to, in its depth, understanding of European history, and understanding of geography, is Rebecca West's Black Lamb, Grey Falcon.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michael Charton on January 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
As with some of the other reviewers, I am glad I read this AFTER I visited Prague. It is best not read cover to cover, but use the index to read about the things you want to learn more about. Otherwise, you will be overwhelmed by personal names and places in a language most of us are unaccustomed to. Don't lie to me & tell me you will remember it all! (smile). (Unless you are an expert in Slavic languages).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Renee C. Ozer on February 2, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Professor Demetz is especially strong in exploring the religious history of the city. I wondered how he could be so erudite in explaining both the Hussite revolt against Catholicism and Rabbi Loew's conflict with the Jewish establishment. He explained in his beautiful, elegiac afterword that his father's family was Christian; his mother's, Jewish. He spent time in a Nazi labor camp for half-Jews. My suggestion would be to read the afterword first. The bibliography is also very helpful, with rather blunt appraisals of cited works.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Peter J. Adams on October 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers have noted, this book is difficult to peg and, sometimes, to follow. As a (sort of) history book written by a literature professor, this is not surprising. The subtitle, "Scenes from the Life", is apt; while there are plenty of anecdotal gems, it doesn't provide a systematic and comprehensive overview of the city's history nor put it into a larger context. The strongest parts are those describing the occasional cooperations, but more frequent tensions, between Prague's Germans, Czechs, and Jews. Often billed as a tourist's introduction to the city, Demetz spends long sections on some pretty arcane literary history without really telling the layperson why he should care. There is an irony here too, since the last section is a 10-page, somewhat self-indulgent, gripe about how the city has been ruined, largely by tourists. If you are planning a trip to Prague and want to know more about the city, I think you can do better.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
All those people who say that you "must" read this before visiting Prague are at least a little dishonest--I'll bet that they only half-read the book or just skimmed through it and now feel empowered to tell us all how important it was to their experience. Well, don't you believe them! People will always claim to have read Proust when they haven't... Nonetheless, if you've got a good head for numbers and a lot of time on your hands, then go ahead and read this. Interesting though it is to learn about all the turmoil this tiny piece of land has been through over centuries, this is a serious history book that will not please the casual browser. That said, it is a worthy effort; way too many tourists are coming to Prague these days, and someone oughta have told them what a bloody hellhole it was long ago.
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