THE AUSTRIANS by Gordon Brook-Shepherd


A Thousand-Year Odyssey
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 The Austrians' island mentality and their competitive and ambiguous relationship with Germans interact as motifs throughout this flowing historical narrative. This readable account gives the impression that one is engaging in an extended private conversation with its author. Brook-Shepherd (The Storm Birds: Soviet Postwar Defectors, 1989, etc.) boasts a long and intimate acquaintance with the region and its influential figures that started with his service in the postwar Allied Commission in Vienna and years as a journalist. Always commanding the facts and elegant in his presentation, Brook- Shepherd is informative and at times insightful. His narrative focuses on political, dynastic, and military developments in Austrian history: its origins in the Holy Roman Empire, the Hapsburg dynasty, troubled relations with Hungary, the even more disturbing and still troubling issue of the Anschluss, and the era of neutrality and retirement that has come to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The final sections on Austria's role in Europe as a potential bridge between East and West is timely. Still, the reader is left wishing that the author really had the opportunity to probe further: His walk along the already well-trod paths of political history does not adequately fulfill his aim of enlightening us about Austrian identity. Both in terms of the Austrians' relationship with Germans and with the many nationalities in their empire or national state, Brook-Shepherd should have amplified the other distinguishing aspects of Austrian society: language, dress, food, art, philosophy, and cultural trends. Details of everyday and intellectual life would have better served his goal of examining ``the suppressed development of an Austrian consciousness,'' especially as the country enters into the potentially homogenizing force of the European Union. These reservations notwithstanding, Brook-Shepherd provides a compact and illuminating overview of Austria's odd place in European history.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-7867-0400-4
Page count: 512pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997


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