Release Day Review: 1913 by Florian Illies

Title: 1913: The Year Before the Storm
Author: Florian Illies
Publisher: Melville House
Released: October 29, 2013
Source: publisher (Edelweiss)

Synopsis (from publisher):

It was the year Henry Ford first put a conveyer belt in his car factory, and the year Louis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet. It was the year Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie contract, and Coco Chanel and Prada opened their first dress shops. It was the year Proust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, and the first Armory Show in New York introduced the world to Picasso and the world of abstract art. It was the year the recreational drug now known as ecstasy was invented. It was 1913, the year before the world plunged into the catastrophic darkness of World War I.

In a witty yet moving narrative that progresses month by month through the year, and is interspersed with numerous photos and documentary artifacts (such as Kafka’s love letters), Florian Illies ignores the conventions of the stodgy tome so common in “one year” histories. Forefronting cultural matters as much as politics, he delivers a charming and riveting tale of a world full of hope and unlimited possibility, peopled with amazing characters and radical politics, bristling with new art and new technology . . . even as ominous storm clouds began to gather.

1913 is a nonfiction history book…and it was spectacular! Classical music concerts inciting pandemonium and near-riots. Mervyn O’Gorman’s incredible autochrome photographs (no photos in the book, just enticing descriptions which made me look them up – take a look and remember, these were taken in 1913!?!). There was even a little bit of mystery, as we wonder from month to month, where is the Mona Lisa?

I loved Florian Illies’s slightly mischievous sense of humor and gift of storytelling, which reminded me of the late Paul Harvey’s style of sharing the news.

“We can’t forget Kafka, or his bride! So how did Felice Bauer react to the most preposterous marriage proposal of all time?”

“So: worries about worries in Augsburg. Was anyone in a good mood in May 1913? Plainly not.”

I also found that some ideas and actions aren’t quite as modern as I might consider them to be: men walking around with their trousers hanging low (painter Oskar Kokoschka), worries that technology will destroy nature, and more seriously, school shootings.

1913 does put a heavy focus on figures and events in European nations, especially France and Germany. But the abundant cast and their fascinating stories kept me clicking over to Google to research more. That made for a slightly slower read, but I was enthralled from beginning to end. This is exactly the kind of non-fiction read that keeps readers engaged and brings history to life! Loved it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.