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] 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
"Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century is an erudite, comprehensive, well-illustrated and witty account of Czech art, design, architecture, literature and music in an era--stretching roughly from Czechoslovakia's creation in 1918 to the end of the second world war--when few in Paris, Berlin, London or even New York would have thought of the Czechs as not being part of western civilisation. . . . [I]n this book [Sayer] has succeeded in bringing back to life a golden avant-garde era that not long ago was in danger of being written out of history altogether."--Tony Barber, Financial Times
"Sayer has written a cultural history chockablock with artists, modernist architecture, manifestos, dark comedies, and broken alliances. . . . It will be valued by those interested in European cultural history during the twentieth century and how modern art was colored by the horrors of the political landscape."--Karen Ackland, ForeWord Reviews
"[T]he book . . . offers an insight into often quite extraordinary life stories connected with Prague as well as their international context."--Marta Filipova, Times Higher Education
"Sayer is a master of his sources: he looks back on a past still within reach, receding from us; he tracks down its threads, from liaison to liaison, from city to city. Can a research professor ever have written a book quite so triumphantly eccentric and persuaded a major academic press to publish it so splendidly?"--Nicolas Rothwell, Australian
"Through both the breadth and depth of his knowledge, Sayer will reward the patient reader; in the surrealist fashion, he focuses on the seemingly mundane details to provide a true biography of Prague."--Kelsey Berry Philpot, Library Journal
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Derek Sayer:
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