Setting out to recover the roots of modernity in the boulevards, interiors, and arcades of the "city of light," Walter Benjamin dubbed Paris "the capital of the nineteenth century." In this eagerly anticipated sequel to his acclaimed Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, Derek Sayer argues that Prague could well be seen as the capital of the much darker twentieth century. Ranging across twentieth-century Prague's astonishingly vibrant and always surprising human landscape, this richly illustrated cultural history describes how the city has experienced (and suffered) more ways of being modern than perhaps any other metropolis.
Located at the crossroads of struggles between democratic, communist, and fascist visions of the modern world, twentieth-century Prague witnessed revolutions and invasions, national liberation and ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust, show trials, and snuffed-out dreams of "socialism with a human face." Yet between the wars, when Prague was the capital of Europe's most easterly parliamentary democracy, it was also a hotbed of artistic and architectural modernism, and a center of surrealism second only to Paris.
Focusing on these years, Sayer explores Prague's spectacular modern buildings, monuments, paintings, books, films, operas, exhibitions, and much more. A place where the utopian fantasies of the century repeatedly unraveled, Prague was tailor-made for surrealist André Breton's "black humor," and Sayer discusses the way the city produced unrivaled connoisseurs of grim comedy, from Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek to Milan Kundera and Václav Havel. A masterful and unforgettable account of a city where an idling flaneur could just as easily be a secret policeman, this book vividly shows why Prague can teach us so much about the twentieth century and what made us who we are.
Derek Sayer is Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University and a former Canada Research Chair at the University of Alberta. His previous books include The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History (Princeton) and Capitalism and Modernity. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
"[A] pleasure to read, luscious in a sultry kind of way."--Marci Shore, Times Literary Supplement
"[A] captivating portrait of 20th-century Prague. . . . The breadth of Sayer's knowledge is encyclopedic, and those willing to stay the course will be rewarded."--Publishers Weekly
"[T]his is a broad cultural history . . . with Sayer ranging easily across the arts. . . . [C]ontinually illuminating."--Andrew Mead, Architectural Review
"[Readers] will likely find themselves delighted by Sayer's erudition as he reintroduces dozens of figures, many long forgotten or scarcely known to non-Czechs, into our understanding of twentieth-century cultural history."--Brendan Driscoll, Booklist
"A real page-turner that leads the reader through all possible facets of Modernism in Prague, starting with Breton's and Eluard visit to the city in 1935 and ending with the crashing of all modern and Surrealist legacy by the Communist regime in the 1940s and 50s. At the same time, Sayer's book pays also great attention to previous periods while putting also a strong emphasis on the many efforts, from the Prague Spring till today's resistance to Prague's Macdonalization, to recover the revolutionary power and intuitions of the past, in the field of art but as well as in that of daily life. . . . [A] fabulously good read. . . . Derek Sayer stands already out as one of the most convincing representatives of how to rethink our cultural past today."--Jan Baetens, Leonardo
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Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Derek Sayer:
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