The Habsburg Empire: A New History (review by Mr. Cracraft)

The Habsburg Empire: A New HistoryThe Habsburg Empire: A New History by Pieter M. Judson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whew! Ever read a book you know you should finish, but it is so stuffed with information that each page has to be examined with brain fully engaged? That was “The Habsburg Empire, A New History” by Pieter M Judson. 452 pages that take the reader through the machinations of nationalism, state-building, revolution and war that beset the Habsburg Empire from about 1840 on.

Various efforts to liberalize “crownlands” to give greater scope to local politicians and leaders were piecemeal successful, but often slipped back into the old ways when leadership, locally and in Vienna, changed. The book details many of the efforts by Serbians, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles, Jews, Orthodox and Catholics to carve out truer freedoms than they had under the Empire.

Ultimately, of course, it all flew against the wall like a huge lasagna following WWI, when the Emperor quietly stopped ruling. At that point, each “nation-state,” such as they were, did everything they could to create tiny empires by annexing the bits and bobs around their core state to enhance their own country, even–and this is important–if those being annexed did not speak the core language and were not culturally aligned with the occupying state.

So, millions of Germans, culturally and language-wise, were stuck in what became Czechoslovakia, many were stuck into the new Polish borders and it was these populations that gave Hitler his excuse to try to build out the German empire he hoped for. The author makes the point that the final borders were settled by military force in each locale, not by the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control, just as they were following WWII, due to the threat of war between the Western Allies and Russia. Crazy times.

The whole timeline and political development from the mid-1800’s until 1920 or so are super critical to understanding how the Second World War started and played out as everyone re-jockeyed for position between 1939-1946 — the Poles taking a hunk of Czechoslovakia prior to being invaded themselves by both Russians and Germans in 1939–the Russians took a big bite out of Poland to the east as the Nazis invaded from the west.

After WWII, of course, the map of Europe changed again, but that is another library of books! All in all, this was a really, really well-written book that explained a lot of junk that happened prior to World War One and that led to both it and WWII, much as the lead-up to the Franco-Prussian War helped germinate (pun intended) WWI and WWII. -Mr. Cracraft

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