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The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0465011162 ISBN-10: 0465011160 Edition: 1ST

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1ST edition (October 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465011160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465011162
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Virginia Woolf famously declared that human character changed in the year 1910; this dizzying survey of European history and culture before WWI elaborates. Historian Blom (Enlightening the World) examines every innovation of the turbulent period that, in his estimate, gave birth to modernity and its discontents. Automobiles, airplanes and electricity gave humans unprecedented speed and power; the explosive growth of industry, cities and consumerism shattered and rebuilt communities; women, moving into schools and workplaces, demanded new rights; mass politics and mass media challenged traditional authority; psychoanalysis and the theory of relativity challenged ideas about humans and about time and space. The panorama is almost too much to take in, especially since Blom rightly complicates the picture by exploring the diverse ways in which different countries experienced these upheavals. His stab at a unifying theme—a perceived crisis of masculinity that panicked everyone from Proust to proto-Nazi racists as sex roles changed and a machine-driven, bureaucratic economy made muscle-power and martial virtues obsolete—is fruitful, but it only partially illuminates the times. This is a stylish, erudite guide to an age of exhilaration and anxiety that in many ways invented our own. Photos. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* With the benefit of a century of hindsight, the decade before the outbreak of the Great War presents an eerie aura of inevitability, as if we are watching a coming deadly auto crash unfold in slow motion. Those who lived through those years lacked our advantage and had to live their lives while coping with the confusion and violence of a tumultuous era, as the massive cultural, political, and economic changes of the previous century began to bear fruit. As Blom illustrates, all of the factors that would lead to the horror of the war were evident by 1900, but few contemporaries truly understood them or anticipated the ruinous consequences. The industrialization of Europe had spurred rapid urban growth, social conflict, and dangerous competition for imperial conquests, especially in Africa. New technologies facilitated the growth of fearsome weapons and a pervading sense of paranoia in various nations’ military establishments. Long-repressed ethnic groups in central and southern Europe were infected with a particularly toxic form of nationalism. Blomis a superb writer who wisely unfolds his story year by year, so readers can gauge the growing intensity of these factors. We, of course, know how the story ends, but Blom succeeds in infusing this outstanding chronicle with drama, compassion, and poignancy. --Jay Freeman

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Customer Reviews

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I have added this book to my Top 20 books of all time.
James T. Ranney
He covers social, artistic, and cultural history as well as, if not better, the standard political/military narratives.
John D. Cofield
This is one of the best books I've read in recent years and I am sure I will come back to it for reference many times.
Queen Margo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on October 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
My dictionary defines "vertigo" as a state of dizzy disorientation. Think the film "Vertigo" directed by Alfred Hitchcok in 1958. In the excellent history book under review in this article we see Professor Philippe Blom of Vienna dissect European society during the last 15 years of the long "nineteenth century" world prior to the holocaust of World War I.
Blom devotes one chapter to each of the years. In this intellectually acute book he explores such subjects as:
1. The suffragete movement in several European countries focusing on the cause in Great Britain.
2. We see how the building of the huge Dreadnought ships led to an arms race which would plunge the world into war in the summer of 1915. Germany wished to become a mighty foe of England.
3. Eugenics and racial anti-semitism is discussed in depth. The trial of General Alfred Dreyfus made palpable the hatred of Jews in European life.
4. Russia was trapped under the feudal stupidity of Nicholas II but revolution in 1905 was a strong bellwether of the later Bolshevik revolution which succeeded in 1918. Russia was a land of peasants, poor education and unbelievable backwardness.
5. The concept of the Dynamo and the Virgin first enunciated by American scholar Henry Adams at the Paris World's Fair of 1900 emphasized the importance of dynamic machines changing daily life. The development of the telephone, motor cars, telegraph and the airplane changed daily life. Women were becoming more assertive due to the ability to obtain contraception devices and the anonymity of life in conurbation cultures.
Speed and virility were becoming important in the male chauvinistic culture of Europe.
6. Blom traces the rise of mass entertainment through the phonograph and motion picture screen.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on October 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Amazon Verified Purchase
`The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914` is Philipp Blom's third non-fiction book. I bought it on the strength of his former two, both of which are fantastic, and I'm happy I did - his ability to write engagingly on just about any time period is demonstrated here in what is probably his strongest book yet. Bloom's central thesis is that, traditionally told, the years leading up to WWI were overshadowed by the war - it was an idyllic "long summertime" of peace, an extension of the assuredly naive 19th century. However Blom reveals just about everything we think of as "modern" was happening before the war, it was a time not of coasting, but of "machines and women, speed and sex," a disintegration of the old world without a clear vision of a new. Like a teenager getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time, it was exciting and dangerous, a cocktail of fundamental social changes converging all at once. Technology of the car, movie, photo and electric light; class relations; women's roles, Freud; Eugenics; colonialism; modern art; cult of "manliness", etc.. all combined to create a fractured new world, where individuals don multiple identities no longer tied to tradition, and an endemic vertiginous exhaustion flourished. Bloom crisscrosses the continent from Russia to England, from the Balkans to Sweden, each page a small feast of ideas, people and events. As a native of Vienna, Bloom commands a deep understanding of central European history in a way I have never seen before, revealing insights and people entirely new to me - it's a true pan-European perspective told with compelling prose.

Like the subject it describes, the book is fractured, moving between ideas, people, events, places and times - but Blom is nothing but orderly in his exposition of how things were related.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Imagine, suggests historian Philipp Blom, that an army of bookworms munched their way through every piece of information that we have available to us about the world after the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914. Only then, he insists, can we begin to understand the impact of the first 14 years of the twentieth century, a time of chaos when old, established truths vanished for good and were replaced only with speed, change and uncertainty.
Blom takes a novel approach to constructing his argument -- that the world being created was one where vertigo and fear dominated from the worlds of economics and politics to the arts and gender relations -- by devoting each chapter to a year and a theme. Thus, the chapter headlined 1901, the year of Queen Victoria's death, serves as Blom's vehicle for recounting the collapse of the old land-based aristocracies against Europe and the rise of new kinds of leaders. Chapters are devoted to scientific discoveries, which in turn give Blom a way to explore how fields as different as psychiatry (Sigmund Freud) and physics (Marie Curie) demolished the concept of time, space and identity. Women asserted their rights and along with visionaries and dreamers, occupied a new place of prominence in the public debate. Some tried to cling to old ways -- Blom explores the naval arms race of 1906 as a way to discuss how society's anxieties produced a new emphasis on military identity.
While the author almost never refers to the great event that looms on the horizon -- World War I and the killing fields of France and Flanders -- our own awareness of where this is leading adds a chill to to the year-by-year recitation.
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