I’ve never been to Vienna, but, more and more, I have become interested in the former co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Once I started thinking about it, I saw Viennese culture all around–from the paintings of Klimt to the writings of Freud to the art deco designs that are still popular today. The golden age of Viennese culture is made all the more fascinating by the knowledge of its imperial downfall after World War I and descent into fascism and terror in the age of Hitler. I’ve recently read several books about Vienna that have made me daydream about the Vienna of the belle epoque–below, find a selection of recommendations available in our store now. Of course, Vienna today is once again a tranquil capital of culture, so along with a selection of history and fiction books about Vienna, I’ll also suggest a few practical guides.
The Monocle Guide to Vienna. This is the book every New Yorker needs when they visit a foreign city–always full of fresh, non-touristy destinations that are perfectly curated for hard to impress urbanites. Want to know the best Hot Pot spot in Vienna? The art bookstore that hosts the best weekly lectures on contemporary art? The best club located in a disused metro tunnel? Look no farther.
Only in Vienna by Duncan J.D. Smith. A great series pioneered by “Urban Explorer” Duncan JD Smith. These books have such good secret corners and hidden treasures that they make great gifts even for residents of the cities they profile. The Vienna version’s highlights include Klimt’s last studio, a traditional urban vineyard, and wonderful explanations of secret messages carved into a cathedral.
Danubia by Simon Winder. Here’s a funny, extremely informative history of the Habsburg line–rulers of Vienna, as well as much of Europe for centuries. This is great for someone who wants to understand Vienna by understanding the big picture of the empire that was based there. It’s also a history book with more fascinating anecdotes than dates of battles or family trees.
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. The Ephrussi family were cultivated pillars of cosmopolitan Viennese society in the 1800s, but by the end of World War II, their legacy had almost disappeared in the Nazi inferno. Edmund de Waal is a descendant who slowly discovers their history in this beatiful, heartbreaking mediation on objects and the memories they hold
My Marriage by Jakob Wasserman. Only recently published in English, this is one of the best books I have ever read about the problems of an unhappy marriage. Published posthumously in 1934, Wassermann’s lightly fictionalized memoir is a rarity–a page-turner driven not by plot but by a riveting description of the interior life of a marriage. A couple who love each other but are mismatched from the beginning struggle first to stay together, then to separate–and the voice of the author is unforgettably modern and painfully honest.