Great press: more reviews of Prague, Capital of the 20th Century

Now that Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century has been out for three months, the reviews are starting to appear.  I’m really gratified by the range of coverage as well as the welcome the book has received.  I did not expect to be listed in the Financial Times “Books of the Year (so far)” (thank you Tony Barber), or for Nicolas Rothwell, one of Australia’s most distinguished writers, to honor me with a 2000-word review in the Australian.  Thanks to all the reviewers, as well as to my publicists at Princeton, Jessica Pellien and Katie Lewis, for doing such a great job of getting the book noticed.

Here are some extracts from reviews.  Click on the links for full text.

“[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

“Can a city define a century?  Sayer seems to think so and he foregoes a conventional retelling to concentrate on themes, mixing literary and political, the harshly realistic and the absurd.  This is the city of Kafka, Havel and communism with a human face.” —Michael Conaghan, “7 books you should own,” Belfast Telegraph

“Sayer has written a cultural history chockablock with artists, modernist architecture, manifestos, dark comedies, and broken alliances. . . . the scholarship is impressive, the illustrations fascinating … [The book] 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

“[C]ompelling tales of a city’s artistic, intellectual and political cultures … [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

“[T]he reader of this hypnotic, mazy “surrealist history” turns from its cascade of interlinking chapters quite caught up in words and their shadows, almost swept away … Prague is the stage set for a relentless examination of the hopes of modernism and their eclipse: the capital where irony and absurdity come to shape time’s patterns … 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

“[A] surrealist document in its own right, revealing its truths in a big, messy knot of jarring juxtapositions, playful obscenities, and found objects of profound beauty … [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

“This is a brilliantly written and fascinating book that combines elements of the literary guide, biography, history and essay. Authoritative and subversive, Sayer’s narrative is intellectually dense and brilliantly accessible.”–Dublin Review of Books (Information and extracts)

[T]his is a broad cultural history . . . with Sayer ranging easily across the arts. . . . [C]ontinually illuminating.”–Andrew Mead, Architectural Review (feature review)

“In this erudite, witty and well-illustrated book, Sayer restores Czech avant-garde art between the two world wars to its rightful position at the heart of European culture. A worthy successor to Sayer’s much-praised The Coasts of Bohemia.”–Financial Times, “Books of the Year So Far,” Summer Books Guide

“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

“A thoroughly engrossing book.”–Jim Burns, Northern Review of Books

There was also substantial coverage of Prague, drawing on Princeton’s publicity material and earlier reviews, in Art Daily.   I was interviewed on the book for BBC Radio 3’s “flagship arts and ideas program” Night Waves (full podcast available here) and more recently for Radio Prague (text and podcast available here).  And I was invited to write an Op-Ed for the New York Times, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” discussing the current Czech political crisis against the background explored in Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century.

One response to “Great press: more reviews of Prague, Capital of the 20th Century

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