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Review of Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century (Austrian Studies Newsmagazine)

Press clipping: Research

Publication date30/05/14

"This is a beautiful, erudite, fascinating, confusing book. Densely researched and resolutely nonlinear, it demands the reader’s commitment. The first few chapters provide a layman’s introduction to Prague geography, centuries of Czech history and culture, and European surrealism; the second half of the book is a tour-de-force of modern European intellectual history ... These dazzling latter chapters are a model for cultural historians ...

Sayer clearly agrees with Ripellino that Prague is magic: this book is in large part an ode to that complicated city. But it is not unambiguous. Sayer’s emphasis on Prague’s seeming absurdities, the city’s foggy glamor, can be read either as an effort to place it alongside Paris as a European cultural capital or as a new means of making it Other, fearsome, “this little mother has claws,” as Kafka wrote and Sayer recounts. Perhaps this demanding book, a kind of academic Wunderkammer, should be read not just as prose but poetry, noting that not just Prague but the artistic and intellectual moment Sayer describes is well characterized by his favorite Baudelairean phrase: le transitoire, le fugitive, le contingent."


Original titleResolutely non-linear history
AuthorAndrea Orzoff
MediumAustrian Studies Newsmagazine