Maria Theresa is still held in veneration by Austrians – despite the many unfortunate aspects of her reign. Militantly anti-Semitic and a catholic hardliner, the influential 18th century Habsburg empress leaves a complex legacy.

Unlike other authors, Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger ignores the numerous unconfirmed rumours concerning Maria Theresa’s personality and her decision-making. The Münster-based historian underlines the many uncertainties and thankfully focuses on the facts.

“Maria Theresia. Die Kaiserin in ihrer Zeit” is a precise examination of the iconic leader’s policies but also family ties. Stollberg-Rilinger emphasises the enormous influence advisors such as Johann Christoph Bartenstein and especially Wenzel Anton Kaunitz.

Her book also tells from deep-rooted social problems, strict hierarchies and endless discussions about changes in administrative procedures. The chapter on Maria Theresa’s ill-fated structural reforms is the only tiresome part of this astonishing 850-page biography.

The fascinating era of Maria Theresa’s reign comes to life on the pages about education and health. The impact of Dutch-born physician Gerard van Swieten cannot be appreciated enough. Another crucial aspect of the life of the empress, who died aged 63 in 1780, is the tense leadership alliance with Joseph II, her eldest son.

Having managed to make such an amount of intricate information intelligible to all is Stollberg-Rilinger’s biggest achievement. Her impartiality and minute exploration make “Maria Theresia. Die Kaiserin in ihrer Zeit” the most extraordinary book on a house of Habsburg member in a long time.

Maria Theresia. Die Kaiserin in ihrer Zeit
By Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger
Published by C.H. Beck (www.beck.de)


The oeuvre of Andy Warhol has been celebrated for its disarming sense of humour and colourful variety. A new exhibition confirms such preconceptions but focuses on little-known aspects.

Pinkish Marilyns or soup can kaleidoscopes are nowhere to be found in the Museum for Modern Art’s “A Glittering Alternative”. On two floors, the Viennese gallery presents cheeky drawings of ladies in a shopping frenzy and graceful ink and gold leaf on paper artworks, a selection of snapshots and a video installation.

Warhol’s works might lack depth and complexity, but the Big Apple whizzkid’s talent as an entertainer are already evident in his earliest works of art.

>> http://www.mumok.at

Lesson learnt

Given the landslide of books about Bruno Kreisky, is there any justification for another one? Ulrich Brunner looks back on the SPÖ icon’s era – and he does have a point.

Having worked as a newspaper and broadcasting journalist his whole life, most people associate the author with just one single incident. Brunner got a dressing-down from the legendary social democratic chancellor after a cabinet meeting in 1981 for just doing his job. Kreisky reprimanded Brunner as the then-television news reporter dared to question a highly disputable statement made by Kreisky.

However, the former SPÖ member is not seething with anger. “Lernen S’ Geschichte, Herr Reporter!” is a fair evaluation of the late chancellor’s difficult personality and remarkable political achievements. He examines why Kreisky struggled to come to terms with being Jewish. The ex-Arbeiter-Zeitung journalist explains why Kreisky’s imprisonments and exile had a significant impact on his decision-making during his 13 years in office. “Lernen S’ Geschichte, Herr Reporter!” also depicts when the gloves came off as Kreisky clashed with Hannes Androsch and Simon Wiesenthal.

“Lernen S’ Geschichte, Herr Reporter!” is a balanced and informative portrait of Austrian politics in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, Brunner felt the urge to spread some nonsense in his foreword (“The majority of SPÖ members want closed borders.”).

Lernen S’ Geschichte, Herr Reporter! Bruno Kreisky. Episoden einer Ära
By Ulrich Brunner
Published by Ecowin (www.ecowin.at)

All Along the Watchtower

There have been many favourable headlines about Navid Kermani over the years. Non-fiction or novels – Kermani has earned his reputation as one of the most gifted German writers of the 21st century.

Having written about refugees desperately trying to reach Europe in 2015 (“Einbruch der Wirklichkeit. Auf dem Flüchtlingstreck durch Europa”), Kermani has now travelled into the opposite direction.

Assigned by weekly magazine Der Spiegel, the Cologne-based journalist and novelist (“Ungläubiges Staunen. Über das Christentum”, “Sozusagen Paris”) went to Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. His destination: Isfahan in Iran, the hometown of his parents.

“Entlang der Gräben” offers many opportunities to think afresh about different political constellations and ethnic conflicts. With the change of atmosphere in mind after the widespread euphoria as Austria and Germany opened their borders for civil war refugees, the Kleist Award laureate debates topics like hardship and cultural tension as he encounters habitants of the embattled Donbass region and Grozny.

Entlang den Gräben. Eine Reise durch das östliche Europa bis nach Isfahan
By Navid Kermani
Published by C.H. Beck (www.chbeck.de)

State of the Union

Groundbreaking changes are in motion in these challenging times. While the global Covid-19 pandemic appears to get worse, United States residents elect a new leader in a few weeks’ time. A new book promises a broad panorama view on the strongly different opinions and ways of life of Americans.

“USA. Stimmen aus einem gespaltenen Land” by Austrian journalists Hannelore Veit and David Kriegleder puts the spotlight on 18 individuals and their families. The correspondents of broadcasting corporation ORF portray a staunch supporter of liberal gun laws, an Occupy Wall Street tour guide and the head of a committee organising fundraising dinners at Donald Trump’s estate in Florida.

While some interviewees are disgusted by Trump’s erratic decisions and the way he thrives on controversy, others praise him as a brutally honest and hardworking deal maker.

The owner of an organic farm describes how she was forced to reinvent herself during the lockdown. The chapter on a Sober House manager offers just a glimpse on the severe prescription drug crisis in the country. The story of the reporters’ cameraman could help raising awareness for the difficult circumstances of black people, regardless of their education and personal background.

With literally every German and Austrian foreign correspondent releasing a book, it has to be seen whether this one will stand the test of time. Klaus Scherer (“Wahnsinn Amerika. Innenansichten einer Weltmacht”), Ingo Zamperoni (“Fremdes Land Amerika. Warum wir unser Verhältnis zu den USA neu bewerten müssen”) and Jan Philipp Burghardt (“Ausgeträumt, Amerika? Unterwegs in einem gespaltenem Land”) – just to name a few – have all done a fine job. The publication of Veit and Kriegleder has somehow benefited from the complex crisis of 2020.

USA. Stimmen aus einem gespaltenen Land
By Hannelore Veit & David Kriegleder
Published by Residenz Verlag (www.residenzverlag.at)


Majestic beauty and outstanding entrepreneurship come together in the creation of sports shoes. “Sneaker Freaker. The Ultimate Sneaker Book” is more than just another glossy photo book with sloppy articles on designers and athletes.

At nearly 700 pages, Sneaker Freaker magazine chief editor Simon Wood and his staff document groundbreaking engineering developments as well as design cornerstones that have tempted fans and collectors to camp outside stores for days to get hold of a pair of limited-edition sneakers.

While some CEOs amassed a fortune over the decades, others saw every seed they planted gone dormant in the clay. “Sneaker Freaker” does not ignore economic developments in the sports shoes industry but also tells from astonishing collaborations and obsessed collectors. This book serves up a magnificent array of nerdy facts on special edition boots and innovative advertising.

It’s true: There’s no business like shoe business.

Sneaker Freaker. The Ultimate Sneaker Book
By Simon Wood
Published by Taschen (www.taschen.com)