"The Europeans is a massively impressive work, as enjoyable as it is knowledgeable, full of insights into the mechanisms of history and the people who make it. It is a book about the making of Europe, and this description, wonderful as it is, has now... sadly almost a utopian quality to it. Orlando Figes is an outstanding historian and writer, he brings distant history so close that you could feel its heartbeat. He did it with the Russian Revolution in A People's Tragedy, and he does it again in The Europeans.” Karl Ove Knausgaard
“Magnificent. Beautifully written, immaculately researched and thoroughly absorbing from start to finish. A tour de force that explains how Europe’s cultural life transformed during the course of the 19th centuryand so much more.” Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
“It plunged me into another world. I learned so much and was carried away by the intelligence and fluidity of the stylea combination which is unbeatable.” Antonia Fraser
“Magnificent and utterly gripping: European identity, culture and commerce through the lives of three remarkable individuals, the book for our times.” Phillippe Sands
“Magisterial, beguiling, searching ... a history of a continent in constant change.” William Boyd, The Guardian
"Meticulously detailed, exhaustively researched and written with Figes’s characteristic verve, The Europeans is a sweeping tour de force and a monumental work of historical synthesis. Julia Coman, The Guardian
"An extraordinary account of the development of a continental cultured class." Financial Times
“A massive study.” Harper’s
“A prodigiously researched account of the spread of culture throughout the mid and late 19th century … The text is a who’s who of the time period: Liszt, Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, George Sand, Chopin, Tolstoy, Flaubertthese and countless other icons move smoothly through the narrative, a rich mélange of tasty ingredients … A powerful and essential addition to our understanding of European history and culture.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Excellent, wide-ranging … Figes masterfully summarizes this period … in a persuasive and consistently enlightening fashion.” Publisher’s Weekly
“[Figes’s] deep grasp of the characters and the technology-driven societal upheaval make this cultural history fascinating, even indispensable.” Booklist (starred review)
“Some writers use a telescope to look at the world, others a microscope. Orlando Figes … uses both to his readers’ constant surprise and delight.” The American Scholar
“Timely, brilliant and hugely enjoyable … [a] magnificently humane book, written with supple grace but firmly underpinned by meticulous scholarship.” Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph
“Remarkable … Orlando Figes is a fine historian who combines scholarly detail with readability. His wide-ranging book touches on a multitude of subjects. But at its heart is a love trianglethe very human story of three remarkable individuals whose lives he has resurrected with great sympathy and insight.” Daily Mail
A prodigiously researched account of the spread of culture throughout the mid and late 19th century using three specific biographies to personalize the voluminous historical data.
Figes (History/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991, 2014, etc.) returns with another astonishing work displaying his vast knowledge of art, music, literature, culture, and history. Wisely, he uses three people to embody much of his discussion: Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, French singer Pauline Viardot, and her husband, Louis, a political activist and literary figure. The author follows these three over the decades—Turgenev and Pauline had an intimate relationship that Louis tolerated—and through their stories, we see specific instances of the cultural changes Figes illuminates throughout the book. The growth of railways, the advances in photography and publication, the explosion in literary translations, the vast increase in literacy—these and other factors increased the development of a kind of common European culture that only the growth of nationalism, and the consequent wars, could weaken. "The arts played a central role in this evolving concept of a European cultural identity," writes Figes. "More than religion or political beliefs, they were seen as uniting people across the Continent." This necessitated the "recognition that any national culture is a result of a constant dialogue across state boundaries and of the assimilation of separate artistic traditions into a larger European world." Turgenev and the Viardots traveled continually: She was a popular singer, and, initially, it was her financial success that supported her family. Later, her voice gone, it was Turgenev's writing and generosity. In many ways, the text is a who's who of the time period. Liszt, Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, George Sand, Chopin, Tolstoy, Flaubert—these and countless other icons move smoothly through the narrative, a rich mélange of tasty ingredients. There are some mild surprises, too: Mary Shelley briefly wanders in (we read Victor Frankenstein's description of the Rhine), and Henry James makes some cameos.
A powerful and essential addition to our understanding of European history and culture.
In this lively study, Figes (history, Birkbeck Univ. of London; A People's Tragedy) untangles the fraught relationships among three subjects: operatic diva Pauline Viardot, her husband, Louis, and Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. (Was Pauline's daughter the product of a liaison with Turgenev?) But he does more than that: using their lives to show how, in the middle of the 19th century, an understanding of art as European, not solely national, slowly emerged. In the process, Figes discusses the impact of the railroad and telegraph on communications and movement, how changes in finance led to transformations in repertoire in opera companies, and the fight of writers and composers to secure international copyright protection. Turgenev was the first Russian author widely read in the West, in part because of his energetic involvement in securing translations of his writings before pirated editions appeared. The cast of characters shows how Turgenev knew and associated with figures such as Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Eugène Delacroix, and more. VERDICT Vividly written and meticulously detailed, this book will please lovers of the history of literature and music, at the very least. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/19.]—David Keymer, Cleveland