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.