Profile Books

  • Imprint: Clerkenwell Press
  • Published: 18/07/2013
  • Price: £14.99
  • Format: Hardback
  • Extent: 288p
  • Edition Illustration Details:
  • ISBN: 9781846689512
  • Subject: Modern History,History
  • Amazon
  • Waterstones


The Year before the Storm

Florian Illies

A moving true account of European society on the brink of war. Radio 4 Book of the Week

A witty yet moving narrative worked up from sketched documentary traces and biographical fragments, 1913 is an intimate cultural portrait of a world that is about to change forever.

The stuffy conventions of the nineteenth century are receding into the past, and 1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin - the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

Told with Illies's characteristic mixture of poignant evocation and laconic irony, 1913 is the story of the year that shaped the last century.

About the Author

Florian Illies was born in 1971. He has worked as literary editor for major German newspapers and magazines, and co-founded art magazine Monopol. His previous four books have sold over one million copies.


'The best possible holiday read', Irish Times

'A hugely enjoyable idiosyncratic month by month narrative, in which the frenzy of artistic activity in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and Trieste is conveyed with vigour and humour', Daily Telegraph

'A vivid, richly textured book that chronicles a world crackling with talent, energy and foreboding', FT

'A brilliant game of original quotations and tracings', Der Spiegel

'Illies shapes his material not as a scholar, but as a wordsmith, as a story-teller with a strong sense for dramatic effect and composition...the most enjoyable book I've read in years', Die Welt

'Illies makes the hundred years between 1913 and his readers disappear. A beautiful book.', Süddeutsche Zeitung

'Illies is as astute a researcher as he is an observer of the zeitgeist ... reads like something out of a magic realist novel.', Philip Oltermann, Guardian

'I couldn't stop reading - Illies' stories are simply magnificent', Ferdinand von Schirach

'Thorough and fascinating', Time Out

'An absolute gem of a book. His snapshot approach to the year, recorded month by month, is the most original historical account I've come across ... Illies's genius turn of phrase, beautifully retained by Shaun Whiteside and Jamie Lee Searle's elegant translation, can be found throughout ... The entries read like history's footnotes, but as anyone who's read Freud knows, the footnotes always tell the best story.', Lucy Scholes, Observer

'A fascinating book of brief reports', Michael Prodger, New Statesman

'A triumph ... history that reads like memoir. It achieves what so few histories manage in giving the reader a genuine feeling for the era ... Illies uses the facts skilfully to weave a captivating narrative.', Simon Round, Jewish Chronicle

'There is a wry humour in many of Illies's entries ... an entertaining and illuminating study of a particular moment in time.', Shirley Whiteside, Independent on Sunday

'A compelling tour through a portentous year ... a sleek translation', James Walsh, Morning Star

'Florian Illies gives a rationality, a sense of purpose to the seemingly random.', Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald

'Brilliantly sardonic ... imagined on similar lines to Tom Stoppard's Travesties', Richard Osborne, The Oldie

'It's an utterly delicious treat or an ideal present for anyone even mildly interested in 20th-century art, music and literature ... Florian Illies presents modernism's birth as a sexy, comic and occasionally heartbreaking soap opera ... irresistible.', Michael Dirda, Washington Post

'a riveting chronicle of a crucial year', Philip French, Observer

'One of the most intriguing, and original, history books of the year ... Illies's approach turns history into a giant jigsaw with the pieces moving blindly and ominously into place.', John Preston, Daily Mail

'Books of the Year: History as a human comedy is seldom as wittily handled as in this clever satire based on fact, folly, a host of famous names and the comment that became a mantra as Europe staggered ever closer to war', Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

'Stuffed with fascinating detail', Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Times

Facebook Twitter More...