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Book Review: Benedict King- Viennese Whirl

Books | By Benedict King

Bernardo Bellotto, il Canaletto, View of Vienna from the Belvedere

Vienna – How the City of Ideas Created the Modern World By Richard Cockett

Yale University Press £25

The story of Vienna’s role as a radical cultural centre from around 1870 to the 1930s is fascinating. The Habsburg Empire was an amalgam of countries, nationalities and religious groups yoked together under the conservative leadership of the Emperor Franz-Joseph I. But Vienna stood apart in important ways. Not all of Vienna was liberal or radical, but liberal/radical Vienna was intellectually and culturally dominant. Throughout this period, the Viennese were committed to Bildung — self- realisation through broad education and culture. Liberal Vienna’s answer to the problems besetting the empire (and mankind generally) was scientific rationalism, based largely on the theories of Ernst Mach. His name is now associated with measuring high-speed fluid movements relative to the speed of sound – Mach 1, Mach 2 etc. But in pre-1914 Vienna he was not just a physicist but a philosopher, who elaborated an approach to life and everything, rooted in the...

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