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This book is an academic book, written in academic language. Terms in vogue with professional historians such as 'agency' appear frequently. It may be somewhat dense for some who are seeking a general overview of the Habsburg Empire, but it is an excellent and thought provoking book for those who are studying or researching in this or related fields. I highly recommend it, especially for those interested in imperialism and nationalism in other parts of the world.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to The Habsburg Empire the most enjoyable?
It constantly presents details that add up to a new understanding of the Habsburg Empire. And of history and historiography.
What does Michael Page bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
Well read. Though he does not speak German like a native (no reason he should), he pronounces names and other words in a comprehensible and non-distorting way, something I highly appreciate.
Any additional comments?
I was most struck by the negative side of nationalism and 'self-determination'. In the case of the Austro-Hungarian empire, many individuals were better off under the rule of a universal distant bureaucracy than of smaller, ethnically biased governments. Self-determination meant that those who formed minorities became subjected to more constraints than under the Hapsburg and their more tolerant policies; whereas individuals could choose what language school they attended, suddenly the choice was made for them by the government which had a nationalistic agenda.
We are used to thinking of the Austro-Hungarian empire as backwards, repressive, and mired in bureaucratic apathy (think Metternich, Kafka, Musil...), but the picture that emerges from the pages of this book is quite different, far more nuanced and often going against common conception.
I found the plethora of details fascinating; the French adage "the good lord is in the detail" has never been more true than here.
To me, the book is a godsend, as it opened up new perspectives on any number of topics. And it makes me wonder what similar books on other times and places might do to change the ideas I have of these! A wonderful book that must not be missed, for anyone interested in European history and/or in history in general.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
This new history of the Habsburg Empire focuses on how the empire was perceived by the various national, political and class demographics, how people turned to the institutions of the empire for protection from their superiors and other demographics, and how politicians pursued their goals. The book contrasts the compromises between national demographics in Austria with the Hungarianisation of Hungary.
Pieter Judson does not cover the international events which affected the Habsburg Empire in detail, but he does provide overviews of internal policies which affected the subjects and demographics of the empire. He also provides an overview of the legacy of the empire on successor states, and how their policies towards national demographics contrasted with those of the empire. The book does not provide definitive accounts of Austria’s wars. However, there is an interesting segment on the impact of the First World War on the Habsburg Empire’s home front.
One thing people may find annoying, is the constant use of several names for one place. It would have been less annoying if the author listed the various names for each place when the place was first mentioned, then stuck with the name used by the highest authorities. Some places have three names.
Long chapters could have been divided more evenly. The first part of a chapter is considerably longer than the second. This is slightly annoying if you listen to a long chapter in 30-minute instalments. Michael Page delivers a strong, confident, clear narration.
Judson's book is a fascinating attempt to dispel a persistent narrative, bolstered by nationalist and Cold War historians, of the Empire as a silly anachronism that somehow suppressed the 'natural' development of the ethnic groups within it. Obviously, there are some resonance in Europe today and Judson is clearly making a case for supra-national organisations in general as enablers of a benign and controlled expression of ethnic identity in contrast to its rather nastier post-Empire iterations (he tips his hand a bit in the closing chapter)
Like all serious history books, it becomes a bit bogged down in its audio version when getting in to some of the details, but attention is amply rewarded.
The reading is crisp and engaging throughout, although the decision to rather pedantically ensure every town and city was listed under its names in different languages was occasionally a bit wearisome.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful