Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe is a logical sequel to Simon Winder’s quirky and delightful Germania, an exploration of German history that paid much more attention to the small states within the old Holy Roman Empire than to the large ones such as Prussia, Saxony and Bavaria. It too was a personal history, an exercise in happy self-indulgence, Winder giving free rein to his enthusiasms and prejudices. Written in an agreeably informal and spontaneous style, it was sometimes marred by the author’s habit of finding places, buildings, museums and works of art ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ – though it should be added that these adjectives were usually employed as terms of praise.
The new book is in the same vein and is as informative and enjoyable. Winder has, however, set himself a more difficult task. Germania, for all its digressions, had a unity that Danubia does not. The Holy Roman Empire might have been a patchwork of states, but Winder’s concerns were