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
'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'
Sarah Bakewell Financial Times
'A fresh look at a region and a dynasty of which most of us in the English-speaking world are quite ignorant' Guardian
‘Memorably funny . . . wonderfully readable and entertaining’ Sunday Times
‘Danubia is 500 years of Habsburg imperial history told in the style of a bumbling English detective, the kind of sleuth who appears to skirt around a knotty case and then disarmingly poses a penetrating question . . . As with his previous work Germania, Winder describes this account as a “personal history”, allowing him space for whimsy, for a great deal of Haydn, for careful analysis of paintings and the freedom to favour certain emperors because they were interesting people rather than political heavyweights. It all makes for an excellent, rich and amusing read’ The Times, Book of the Week