The basic idea of this book is to use the history of Vienna to explore the wider history of Europe, and then to come up with a suggestion for how Europe could solve its current problems.
The text falls into three parts. The first, and largest, is a history of Vienna, loosely based around the experiences of a series of individuals. This section gets stronger the nearer to the present day we reach, and the section on hyper-inflation after the First World War and the rise of anti-Semitism is by far the strongest part of the book.
The penultimate chapter is a biography of the philosopher Voltaire, explaining why his belief in justice could be a foundation for a fairer society. Finally there is an attempt to find a solution for Europe's problems, in this case a far more united EU, with shared political institutions and a central fiscal policy.
There are too many little historical errors. To pick out a few: Karl Marx is described as being disappointed by the workers going to war enthusiastically in 1914, when he had been dead for thirty years by then; The battles of Wagram and Aspern-Essling are mixed up; Sarajevo is described as being in modern Yugoslavia (not the case since 1992); Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert are described as 'native sons' of Vienna. Of the four only Schubert was actually born in Vienna - Beethoven came from Bonn, Haydn from the Austro-Hungarian border and Mozart rather famously from Salzburg; Hitler is described as founding the Nazi party, when he was actually the 56th member (no.555, starting from 500).
Some will find the American 'exceptionalism' in the final chapter rather hard to take given recent events (and election results). While many migrants might well become accepted in American society, the long standing Africa-American community continues to suffer from a level of discrimination that you won't find in Britain (admittedly having a heavily armed police force probably doesn’t help here, as the need for the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates).
Despite these flaws the book is generally well meaning. The idea of using one part of Europe to examine the history of the continent is potentially useful, although Vienna wasn't exactly a typical European city (but then what would be?). Voltaire is an interesting figure, and his general attitude to justice one to be admired. The warning against the increasingly nationalistic mood in Europe is well timed, although sadly recent events suggest that things are only getting worse.
1 - Vindobona
2 - The Greatest Test
3 - The Age of Benevolent Absolutism
4 - The Situation is Hopeless but Not Serious
5 - Starving with Full Barns
6 - The Hardest School
7 - From Humanitarianism Through Nationalism to Bestiality
8 - Finis Austriae
9 - He Prepared Us to Be Free
10 - A United States of Europe: Is It Possible?
Author: Larry J. Hilton