Released on 12 September 2013.

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A Personal History of Habsburg Europe

3.8 based on 815 ratings & 133 reviews on

2013 Long-listed

BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize


For centuries much of Europe was in the hands of the very peculiar Habsburg family. An unstable mixture of wizards, obsessives, melancholics, bores, musicians and warriors, they saw off – through luck, guile and sheer mulishness – any number of rivals, until finally packing up in 1918. From their principal lairs along the Danube they ruled most of Central Europe and Germany and interfered everywhere – indeed the history of Europe hardly makes sense without them.

Simon Winder’s extremely funny new book plunges the reader into a maelstrom of alchemy, skeletons, jewels, bear-moats, unfortunate marriages and a guinea-pig village. Danubia is full of music, piracy, religion and fighting. It is the history of a dynasty, but it is at least as much about the people they ruled, who spoke many different languages, lived in a vast range of landscapes, believed in many rival gods and often showed a marked ingratitude towards their oddball ruler in Vienna. Readers who discovered Simon Winder’s genius for telling wonderful stories of middle Europe with Germania will be delighted by the eccentric and fascinating stories of the Habsburgs and their world.

Danubia was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2013.

In the media

Funny and yet also fantastically informative
Winder's "personal history" of the Habsburg Empire takes the form of a journey across middle Europe, where the "plural, anarchic, polyglot" lands of old have given way to the "small and dirty cages of the new nation states." He finds humor and pathos in the history of the Habsburgs, who for five centuries ruled over territories stretching from the North Sea to Peru with a "dizzying blend of ineptitude, viciousness and occasional benignity." For every Emperor Maximilian I, an early adopter of the printing press and a patron of Albrecht Dürer, there is a King Carlos II of Spain, who could barely speak or eat, thanks to his family's incessant inbreeding
New Yorker
'It combines history, travelogue and digressive personal essay. Winder is a puppyishly enthusiastic companion: funny, erudite, frequently irritating, always more in control of his material than he pretends to be, and never for a moment boring . . . Danubia is a moving book, and also a sensuous one . . . Miniaturist in its eye for detail, grand in its scope, it skips beats and keeps our attention all the way'
Financial Times