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Publisher's Summary

In a panoramic and pioneering reappraisal, Pieter M. Judson shows why the Habsburg Empire mattered so much, for so long, to millions of Central Europeans.

Rejecting fragmented histories of nations in the making, this bold revision surveys the shared institutions that bridged difference and distance to bring stability and meaning to the far-flung empire. By supporting new schools, law courts, and railroads along with scientific and artistic advances, the Habsburg monarchs sought to anchor their authority in the cultures and economies of Central Europe. A rising standard of living throughout the empire deepened the legitimacy of Habsburg rule, as citizens learned to use the empire's administrative machinery to their local advantage. Nationalists developed distinctive ideas about cultural difference in the context of imperial institutions, yet all of them claimed the Habsburg state as their empire.

The empire's creative solutions to governing its many lands and peoples - as well as the intractable problems it could not solve - left an enduring imprint on its successor states in Central Europe. Its lessons remain no less important today.

©2016 The President and Fellows of Harvard College (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[A] subtly argued work of deep scholarship.... A nuanced scholarly reappraisal of a significant European empire." ( Kirkus Reviews)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Ideal for students of empires, nationalism, minorities and ethnic groups

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.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Important insights and new perspectives

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

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  • MJK1
  • Middle West, USA
  • 03-16-18

Very Informative, If a Bit Dry

I did find many positive things with this books. It was extremely thorough in its research and demonstrated new ways of think about and examining the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire from the 18th century through the conclusion of World War I. The writing style is very academic and while it does give very in-depth assessments of numerous Imperial institutions, the overall flow can seem a bit choppy for a more casual reader. You will find a great deal of information, but not much in terms of flourishes that will help the narrative of the empire. I certainly learned a great deal from the book, but it began to drag a bit through the middle.

I will say that I loved the narration. Mr. Page’s delivery is very easy to listen to and it kept me coming back to the book, even when I felt like the material was getting a bit dry.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Tedious

This may be a fine history to read or study but it is not good listening. Too many dates and names.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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This book is like drinking polyethylene glycol...

... it tastes awful but if you a are lucky you find out you don't have cancer.
The true title should be the administration of the Habsburg empire. Saying the topic is dry is an understatement and the author brings no life, nor humanity to the topic.
First the book starts pretty much at Mary Therese, so Spain, the thirty years war, the empire at its furthest reach not dealt with.
I think I reached a peak of irritation when the Habsburg empire suddenly became the dual monarchy Austria and Hungary. No why no how just poof now lets delve in the new bureaucratic parameters. I did learn that Hungary was really too much for the Habsburg empire to assimilate and eventually caused its perdition. Undeniably the topic was thoroughly researched.
I slugged it out to the bitter end only because I wanted hear about the death of the empire, the death of this story and because I paid for this book.
I Mean I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky's book Salt and it was fascinating, enjoyable sometimes even funny yes a book about salt was more captivating than a book about the Habsburgs. It takes some kind of talent.

17 of 25 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Not very intersting

The author is keen on making certain points about the relationship between the Austrian empire and its citizens, but fails to tell the story of what actually happens. It is maybe intersting for historians who already know the necessary background, but not for a general audience.

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Highly Recommend

This was a refreshing perspective on the Austro-Hungarian empire. This country often gets brushed aside as structurally doomed to failure and thus not worth examining. Having descended from people who left this country not long before it was broken up, I too had fallen victim to assuming it was bound to fail. Judson argues rather persuasively that if it wasn't for World War I and the peace of Versaille, Austro-Hungy had a chance to evolve into a stable empire based upon a federalist system. Fit within the broader context of the rise of nationalism and the failure of the post war peace, this book adds an important background on how this region got to that point.
The only weakness of this book is in the weak development of the rise of the Habsburg Empire. There is light discussion on how the lands were collected and grown under the Habsburgs, more the story of the 18th and 19th century administration of the Habsburgs lands. I think a better fleshing out of how the Habsburgs acquired their various holdings would add an important foundation to the later discussions of the various territories and people groups that made up the empire.

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  • Senior
  • 01-05-18

Life Under Habsburg Rule

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. M. J. Bright
  • 06-21-17

Important counter to today's nationalisms

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful