While I initially bought this book to improve my german, I was quickly enraptured by the rich descriptions and the easy-flowing narrative.
The book is an autobiography, describing in fascinating detail the author's life from 1881 to 1942, crucial years in western history. With heartwarming nostalgia, he describes life as a young man in 19th century Austria-Hungary, allowing a glimpse into the everyday life of the well-to-do in the latter days of the Habsburg Empire. In an increasingly anglophone world, more and more people are introduced to the wonders of Victorian Era England, and the immortal works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. For many of us, the language barrier means that life on continental Europe is woefully unknown, but Stefan Zweig proves to us that the language barrier is worth overcoming. He could scarcely have asked for a better legacy, for throughout the book he describes an attempt to unify Europe through art and literature, a dedicated pacifist, even at the height of World War I.
Still, more important than the chronicles of a lost civilisation, the book describes the political and intellectual development in Europe. The author, in due course, meets with such historical persons as Sigmund Freud, Richard Strauss and Theodor Herzl. He also describes the rise of socialist, communist, facist and national-socialist movements in several European countries. Nowadays, such terms are usually used carelessly, inaccurately, or- god forbid- interchangeably, but as a contemporary, Zweig is able to describe how these movements differed from one another, and how they were integrated into the political scenery of the time.
I heartily recommend this book to everyone with an interest in culture, in history, or simply engrossing books.