Books We Like: Budapest, Vienna & Prague
There are several good guidebooks to choose from for all three cities; here are the two we like best::
Eyewitness Travel Guides:
Vienna, DK Publishing, 2014; Budapest, 2015; Prague, 2015
Very popular guides, heavily illustrated, strong on practical info, and excellent maps.
Also Top 10 Guides to each city.
Bob Dent, Blue Guide Budapest, Norton, 2nd ed., 2001
Nicholas T. Parsons, Blue Guide Austria, Norton, 4th ed., 2000
Jason Tilbury, Blue Guide Prague, Norton, 2nd ed., 2004
Though not with recent editions, easily the most serious, detailed guide to the art, architecture and history in English. Good practical info, no photos.
GENERAL HISTORY & CULTURE
Lonnie Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, Oxford University Press, 2010
A historical survey of Central Europe covering contemporary Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia.
Magris, Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
The author tracks the Danube River, the pulse of Central Europe, the crucible of a culture that draws on influences of East and West, Christianity and Islam.
Patrick Leigh Fermer, A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and The Broken Road, NY Review, 2005, 2015
An extraordinary trilogy by a great travel writer of his trek across the continent as a teenager. The middle volume covers much of Central Europe, including Budapest and Prague.
Istvan Bart, Hungary and the Hungarians, Corvina, 1999
Lively, humorous insight into Hungarian culture.
Magda Denis, Castles Burning, Touchstone 1997
Memoir of life in Budapest seen through the eyes of a 10-year old Jewish girl.
Peter Hanak, The Garden and the Workshop, Princeton, 1998
Essays on the cultural history of Vienna and Budapest.
Paul Lendvai, Blacklisted: a Journalist’s Life in Central Europe, Taurus, 1998
Written by a victim of both fascists and communists, with an overview of Hungarian history.
John Lukacs, Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and its Culture, Grove Press, 1990
A distinguished historian writes of a city at the height of its powers
Susan Suleiman, Budapest Diary
Memoir of a current Harvard professor, born in Budapest, left as child in 1948, now returning.
Istvan Bart, Hungary and the Hungarians, Corvina, 1999
Lively, humorous insight into Hungarian culture.
Stephen Brook, The Double Eagle: Vienna, Budapest and Prague, London, 1988
Edmund de Waal, The Hare with the Amber Eyes, Farrar, Straus, 2010
Moving family memoir of the misfortunes of European Jewish banking during and after the war
Frederic Morton, A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/89, Penguin, 1980 (orig. 1979)
Entertaining read, which includes a bizarre story about Bruckner!
Nicholas Parsons, Vienna: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, 2008
Excellent primer on the history and culture of the city
Carl E. Schorscke, Fin de Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, Vintage, 1980
Acclaimed and original exploration of the period and place.
Allen Janik & Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, Simon & Schuster, 1973
Another notable cultural history around the culture of the dying empire before WWI.
Kirk Varnedoe, Vienna 1900: Art Architecture, Design, MOMA, 1986
From the late, lamented curator of the Museum of Modern Art, covering 1900-1918.
Andrew Wheatcroft, The Hapsburgs, Penguin, 1997 (orig. 1995)
Peter Demetz, Prague in Black and Gold, 1997
Clear and scholarly.
Angelo Maria Ripellino, Magic Prague, 1995 pb.
Overly erudite but contains exciting and fanciful ideas about the city.
Vaclav Havel, Paul Wilson, Summer Meditations, Vintage, 1993
The first leader of the post-Soviet Czech Republic grapples with the challenges of political change.
Jan Kaplan, A Traveller’s Companion to Prague, Interlink, 2005
The turbulent history of “The City of a Hundred Spires” revealed through eyewitness accounts from medieval to modern times, including Petrarch, Hans Christian Anderson, and Graham Greene.
Melissa Muller, Alice’s Piano: The Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, St. Martin’s Press, 2012
Alice Herz-Sommer, a talented pianist born in Prague, was sent to a Nazi concentration camp in 1943 with her husband and six-year-old son. In the midst of horror, music was Alice’s salvation In more than a hundred concerts, Alice gave her fellow prisoners hope in a time of suffering.
Daniel Heartz, Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720-1780 (2003);
Mozart, Haydn, and Early Beethoven: 1781-1802 (2008)
Scholarly but wonderfully accessible, you can dip in and out of each volume.
Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Norton, 1998 (expanded includes CD, orig. 1972)
A classic book by a pianist/professor about the Viennese Classical School.
Maynard Solomon, Mozart, Harper, 1995 & Beethoven, 2001, Schirmer (2nd ed.)
If you like or tolerate a psychobio, two interesting ones.
W.N. Sullivan, Beethoven: His Spiritual Development, Sullivan Press, 2008 (orig. 1927)
Not a bio, not by a music expert, but a timeless book on the creative genius and art.
Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Life of Beethoven, ed. Elliott Forbes, 2 vols. Princeton, rev. 1991 (orig. 1866-1908)
Completed by others from his notes and after many updating, still a standard reference.
Robert Winter & Robert Martin, eds., The Beethoven Quartet Companion, Univ. of California, 1994
Interesting essays which put the quartets in context historically, culturally, and in performance.
James Naughton, Traveller’s Literary Companion to Eastern and Central Europe, Brighton, 1995.
Marion Crawford, The Witch of Prague, London, 1976.
Martha Gellhorn, A Stricken Field
Autobiographical novel of an American journalist working in Prague after the Munich Pact of 1938.
Graham Greene, The Third Man
Novella set in Vienna, and most famously made into a film.
Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis and Other Stories
Also: The Trial, The Castle
Gustav Meyrink, The Golem, 1913-14
Classic work of historical fiction
Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities, Vintage, 1996 (2 vol., trans. Wilkins; orig. 1943)
The great novel of fin-de-siecle Vienna. Also: The Young Torless
Jan Neruda, Prague Tales, London, 1993 (trans M.H. Heim, orig. 1878)
Philip Roth, The Prague Orgy, London, 1985
Arthur Schnitzler, stories and novellas
Jiri Weil, Life with a Star, 1947
Mendelssohn is on the Roof, 1960 (both trans. M. Winn)
Bleak but ironic and savagely humorous evocations of Jewish life in Prague during the war.
Stefan Zweig, stories, and his autobiography, The World of Yesterday, U. of Nebraska Press, 1964
The Golem (Carl Boese & Paul Wegener, 1920)
Classic German silent horror film.
Liebelei (Max Ophuls, 1933, in German)
Mayerling (Anatole Litvak, 1936, in French)
Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux as Archduke Rudolf and Maria Vetsera.
Hangmen Also Die! (Fritz Lang, 1943)
Noir about the assassination of a Nazi leader by Czech resistance fighters.
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948)
Story by Stefan Zweig; a concert pianist and his admirer.
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
Screenplay by Graham Greene, plus Orson Welles and that music!
Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
Based on the play by Peter Schaffer, and filmed mostly in Prague.
Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke hanging out in Vienna.
Gloomy Sunday (Rolf Schübel, 1999, in German and Hungarian)
Budapest in the 1930s.
Sunshine (Istvan Szabo, 1999)
The fate of an Hungarian Jewish family throughout the 20th century; with Ralph Fiennes.
The Lives of Others (von Donnersmark, 2006, in German)
Takes place in East Berlin, but a chilling evocation of the Stasi’s work.
Books We Like: San Francisco
There are many good Italy guidebooks to choose from. here are a few we like:
Eyewitness Guide San Francisco & Northern California
Handsome, convenient and up-to-date, this is the guide to carry. With maps. 2013
Lonely Planet Northern California
A comprehensive, practical guide to Northern California with color photographs and excellent local maps. 2012
National Geographic San Francisco
A compact guidebook to San Francisco, published by National Geographic in its attractive, visual style. 2013
San Francisco, A Cultural History
Covers the gold rush, architecture, earthquakes, eccentric personalities, entertainment, diverse population and landmarks.
By Mick Sinclair. Interlink, 2010
A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
A fascinating account of the great 1906 earthquake. By geologist, master storyteller, traveler and journalist, Simon Winchester.
Harper Perennial, 2006
The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944- 1960
Traces the lives of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs et al from their initial meetings in New York to their rise to literary fame.
By Steve Watson. Pantheon, 1995
Herb Caen’s San Francisco: 1976- 1991
A compendium from San Francisco’s favorite columnist.
Chronicle Books, 1992
Architectural Guidebook to San Francisco and the Bay Area
Discusses transportation, city and suburban landscapes, public parkland, California history, and economic, social, and political influences.
By Susan Cerny. Gibbs Smith, 2007
The Wilderness World of John Muir
Conservationist John Muir’s vision of America comes to life in these fascinating selections from his personal journals.
Mariner Books, 2001
Travelers’ Tales San Francisco
An engaging, insightful and entertaining selection of eyewitness reports, all set in the city of San Francisco.
Travelers’ Tales, 2002
Tales of the City
A novel about the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live.
By Armistead Maupin. Harper Perennial, 2007
The Maltese Falcon
A treasure worth killing for, with Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics.
By Dashiell Hammett. Vintage, 1989
The Joy Luck Club
In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. 40 years later the stories and history continue.
By Amy Tan. Penguin, 2006
Books We Like: St. Petersburg, Russia
There are several good guidebooks to choose from for Russia and St. Petersburg. These we like best:
Eyewitness Travel Guides: St. Petersburg, DK Publishing, 2015
Very popular guides, well laid-out, heavily illustrated, color photos and plans, excellent maps.
Also by the same publisher: Top 10 St. Petersburg; Moscow
Fodor’s Moscow & St. Petersburg, 2013
Good selection of sites, history, hotels & restaurants
Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary, 2012
GENERAL HISTORY & CULTURE
(alpha by author)
James Billingham, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, 1970
Somewhat dated but still considered a masterpiece by the later Librarian of Congress
Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, 2002
Examination of the cultural movements of the country in search of the meaning of “Russianness” in the lives of artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals.
Geoffrey Hosking, Russia: People and Empire, 1552 – 1917, 1998
Recommended scholarly pre-revolution history
Laurence Kelly, A Traveller’s Companion to St. Petersburg, 2003
Chapters on early days, palaces, museums, politics, iconic places.
Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark, The Amber Room, The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure, 2004
A gripping investigation of the disappearance of the intricately carved amber panels sent by Frederick I of Prussia to Peter the Great, during the Nazi siege.
W. Bruce Lincoln, Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia, 2001
Highly accessible account of the city’s history by a prominent Russian scholar
Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great: His Life and World, Knopf, 1980
Pulitzer Prize-winning popular history. By the same author: Catherine the Great
Suzanne Massie, Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia, 1980
Colorful, comprehensive history of pre-Revolutionary Russia
Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin, 2015
Former NYT Moscow bureau chief describes a man of few scruples
David Remnick, Lenin’s Tomb, 1994
An eyewitness account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, by a then Washington Post reporter
Harrison E. Salisbury, 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, 1969
The Nazi siege of Leningrad from 1941-44, one of the most gruesome episodes of WW II, told by a distinguished journalist and historian long with the New York Times
Douglas Smith, The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great’s Russia, 2008
The love affair between Count Sheremetev, the richest artistocrat in Russia, and whose palace we will visit, and his serf, Praskovia Kovalyova, the greatest opera diva of her time.
― Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs, 2016
Called a definitive biography which debunks many of the myths which surround this fascinating character.
Joseph Brodsky, Less than One, Selected Essays, 1987
Insights into the Russian and non-Russian literary traditions by the famed émigré poet.
Guide to a Renamed City is a poignant account of Leningrad/St. Petersburg
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966
Brilliant memoir by the renowned ex-pat and author of Lolita, of growing up in St. Petersburg ― his house is open to the public― and country villa.
MUSIC AND ART
David Brown, Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, 2009
The author’s one volume condensation of the definitive 4-vol. biography
Colin Eisler, Paintings in the Hermitage, 1990
Laurel E. Fay, Shostakovich: A Life, 2005
Meticulously documented bio of an elusive artist, a search for truth among conflicting resources.
George Heard Hamilton, The Art and Architecture of Russia, 1954, rev. 1992
Informed and engaging survey, goes beyond Moscow and PetersburgDimitri Shostakovich
Soloman Volkov, Testimony, 1957
Provocative, controversial “memoir” by the composer allegedly based on notes from interviews taken by Volkov, an émigré musicologist. Its authenticity has long been questioned.Igor
Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Memories and Commentaries, 2003
One-volume edition taken from the notable collection of talks between the two
Richard Taruskin, On Russian Music, 2010Mercurial American musicologist and formidable specialist in the subject. Also: Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through Mavra, 1996 (2 vols); Defining Russia Musically, 2001 Controversial when it first appeared; the battle between European and Asian influences for Russia’s “soul”
(set wholly or partially in St. Petersburg)
Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1866. Also: The Idiot, The Double, Poor Folk
There is a Dostoevsky Museum in his house, and you can trace the 730 steps from Raskolnikov’s apartment to the pawnbroker’s
Aleksander Pushkin, “The Bronze Horseman,” 1833. Brilliant narrative poem nominally about the giant statue of Peter the Great overlooking the Neva. Also: Eugene Onegin The Queen of Spades (both made into operas by Tchaikovsky), The Moor of Peter the Great, other stories Arguably the greatest figure in Russian literature.
Nikolai Gogol, The Overcoat, 1836; The Nose, 1842
Both satirical and witty short stories from Tales of Petersburg. Shostakovich’s opera of the latter was written in 1928.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1867; Anna Karenina, 1877
Central works of world literature.
Andrei Bely, Petersburg, 1913
Modernist masterpiece about a young revolutionary ordered to kill his own father.
J.M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg, 1994
Mystery novel based on a vision of Dostoevsky’s obsession with his stepson’s ghost.
Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes, 1911
Set in a world of Tsarist repression and revolutionary intrigue in St. Petersburg and Geneva
The Russian Ark, (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)
Shot in one continuous, unbroken take through the Hermitage Museum
White Nights, Luchino Visconti, 1957)
Based on a short novel by Dostoevsky, though not actually shot in the city. Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau star.
The Captivating Star of Happiness (1975)
Costume drama about 1825 Decembrist uprising in SPB.
Books We Like: Italy
There are many good Italy guidebooks to choose from. Here are a few we like:
Blue Guides: Paul Blanchard, Northern Italy, Norton, 12th ed., 2005
[Also Concise Italy, Central Italy, others, 2009]
Dry to some, but easily the most serious, detailed guides to the art, architecture and history.
Maps of all the major towns, good practical info, no photos.
Eyewitness Travel Guides: Adele Evans et alia, Italy, DK Publishing, 2012
[also Florence & Tuscany, Milan & The Lakes, others]
Very popular guides, well laid-out, heavily illustrated. They also publish good Top 10 guides.
Fred Plotkin, Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, Kyle Books, rev. ed. 2007
Henry James, Italian Hours, Penguin Classics, 1995 (orig. 1909)
Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Florence, (orig. 1959) & Venice Observed, (orig. 1956), Penguin, 2006
Tim Parks, Italian Neighbors, Grove Weindenfeld, 1992; An Italian Education,
Avon Books, 1995
Julien Budden, The Operas of Verdi, 3 vol., Oxford, rev.ed. 1992 Detailed musical analyses.
Mosco Carner, Puccini: A Critical Biography, Knopf, orig. 1959 Long the standard bio.
Earl of Harewood and Gustav Kobbé, The New Kobbé’s Opera Book,
Putnam, 11th ed. (1997)
Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Verdi: A Biography, Oxford, 1996 (orig. 1993);
Puccini: A Biography, Northeastern, 2002
Well researched, exhaustive, and perhaps definitive bios of the subjects.
Luigi Barzini, The Italians, Atheneum, 1996 (orig.1964)
Harry Hearder & Jonathan Morris, Italy: A Short History, Cambridge, 2nd ed., 2001
Peter & Linda Murray, Art of the Renaissance, Thanes and Hudson, 1985
Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture, Penguin, 2001;
Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, Penguin, 2003
Stendhal (Henri Beyle), The Charterhouse of Parma (1838) trans. Howard, Scott-Moncrief
George Eliot, Romola (1863) A historical novel of Renaissance Florence.
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (1881) The Old World meets the New.
E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905); A Room with a View (1908)
The English learn how to live from life in the south.
Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962)
A haunting story of Fascist Italy and a family of upper class Jews in Ferrara.