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Austria: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn more about Austria past and present, check out some of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books: Nonfiction

  • The Age of Insight (Eric R. Kandel, 2012). Kandel beautifully tells how the Vienna School of Medicine inspired pioneers in science, medicine, and art.
  • The Austrians: A Thousand-Year Odyssey (Gordon Brook-Shepherd, 2003). This overview of Austrian history focuses on Austria's political history in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Beethoven: The Music and the Life (Lewis Lockwood, 2005). This biography weaves together the musician's life in Vienna and his contributions to Viennese culture.
  • Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (Carl E. Schorske, 1981). This is a comprehensive analysis of the birth of modern art and thought through the work of Klimt, Freud, and other Viennese luminaries.
  • The Habsburgs: The History of a Dynasty (Benjamin Curtis, 2013). This in-depth but never dry volume brings the Habsburgs to life.
  • The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss (Edmund de Waal, 2010). De Waal insightfully recounts the rise and fall of his storied family, whose Vienna home, the Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse, was confiscated by the Nazis in the Anschluss.
  • Hitler's Vienna: A Dictator's Apprenticeship (Brigitte Hamann, 1999). This book paints a disturbing portrait of the young Hitler's formative years in Vienna.
  • A Nervous Splendor and Thunder at Twilight (Frederic Morton, 1979 and 1983). In these companion volumes, Morton tells the story of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's last years.
  • The Spell of the Vienna Woods: Inspiration and Influence from Beethoven to Kafka (Paul Hofmann, 1994). Personal anecdotes, tourist information, and stories about artists who found inspiration in Vienna are blended in this history.
  • The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (Maria von Trapp, 2001). Maria tells the extraordinary story behind the famous singing family.
  • Wittgenstein's Vienna (Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, 1973). Janik follows the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein as he crafts his ideas in his native city of Vienna.
  • World of Yesterday (Stefan Zweig, 1942). Zweig recalls living through Vienna's golden days, World War I, and the Hitler years.

Books: Fiction

  • Airs Above the Ground (Mary Stewart, 1965). A woman goes to Vienna in search of her missing husband in this classic featuring Lipizzaner stallions and the Austrian Alps.
  • Brother of Sleep (Robert Schneider, 1992). In an Austrian mountain village in the early 19th century, a musical prodigy goes unappreciated by the locals.
  • A Death in Vienna (Daniel Silva, 2004). A bombing in Vienna leads to a shocking series of discoveries dating back to World War II in this fast-paced thriller.
  • Embers (Sándor Márai, 1942). Two military friends become reacquainted in cobblestoned, gaslit Vienna just before the empire's glory begins to fade.
  • The Empty Mirror (J. Sydney Jones, 2009). This mystery connects historic Vienna and famous Austrian figures.
  • The Exiles Return (Elizabeth de Waal, 2013). Three exiles return to Vienna in the years after World War II, variously seeking change, fortune, and a return to a lost way of life.
  • Henry James' Midnight Song (Carol de Chellis Hill, 1993). A cast of famous historical characters are caught up in a series of mysterious deaths in fin-de-siècle Vienna.
  • The Painted Kiss (Elizabeth Hickey, 2005). In the lush elegance of turn-of-the-century Vienna, a relationship develops between painter Gustav Klimt and his pupil Emilie Flöge, who posed for Klimt's masterpiece The Kiss.
  • The Piano Teacher (Elfriede Jelinek, 1983). Austrian feminist Jelinek, who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature, tells of a troubled piano teacher who upends the lives of her students. The book was made into a 2001 film.
  • The Radetzky March (Joseph Roth, 1932). This classic novel follows four generations of an aristocratic family during the decline and fall of the Habsburgs.
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Nicholas Meyer, 1974). Sherlock Holmes travels to Vienna to meet with Sigmund Freud and gets involved in a case.
  • When Nietzsche Wept (Irvin D. Yalom, 1992). Set in the 19th century, this novel tells a fascinating story of the birth of psychoanalysis.

Films

  • A Dangerous Method (2011). Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortenson play opposite each other in this film about the tumultuous relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.
  • Amadeus (1984). Mozart's life is told from the perspective of his fellow composer Antonio Salieri, who recounts Mozart's unmatched gift and unorthodox character.
  • Before Sunrise (1995). Ethan Hawke sightsees, talks, romances, and talks some more with Julie Delpy as they spend one night in Vienna.
  • The Illusionist (2006). A magician in circa-1900 Vienna uses his abilities to gain the love of a woman engaged to the crown prince.
  • Immortal Beloved (1994). Beethoven's assistant tries to unravel the mystery suggested by the composer's real-life letters to an "immortal beloved" in this biopic starring Garry Oldman.
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). A concert pianist receives a letter from a mysterious woman as he prepares to flee Vienna to avoid a duel.
  • Mahler (1974). Flashbacks and dreams tell the story of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.
  • Mayerling (1968). Omar Sharif portrays the Habsburg heir Archduke Rudolf, whose suicide played a pivotal role in Austrian history.
  • Miracle of the White Stallions (1963). The Lipizzaner stallions are the stars in this true story of their liberation by General Patton after World War II.
  • Museum Hours (2012). A museum steward and a Canadian tourist bond over famous works of art and wander through the streets of Vienna.
  • The Sound of Music (1965). The beloved musical, about a nun-turned-governess in Salzburg on the eve of World War II, that helped turn Julie Andrews into a star.
  • The Third Man (1949). Filled with noir foreboding, this celebrated film, starring Orson Welles, was shot in bombed-out Vienna after World War II.
  • Sissi (1955). The first in a trilogy, this movie shares the story of beloved princess Elizabeth "Sissi" of Austria.