Vienna, Eva Menasse, 2007
In her poignant first novel, Menasse, a journalist who was born in Vienna in 1970, tells the tale—at once witty and heartbreaking—of a bourgeois Austrian family on the eve of World War II.
Round Dance (Reigen), Arthur Schnitzler, 1897
The erotically charged novel, a series of vignettes featuring husbands, wives and lovers of various backgrounds, was deemed too obscene to be performed when first published. Schnitzler’s book inspired The Blue Room, a play by David Hare.
The Road into the Open (Der Weg Ins Freie), Arthur Schnitzler, 1908
One of only two novels published by Schnitzler, The Road into the Open exposes fin de siècle Vienna as a city full of contradictions, decadence and rising anti-Semitism.
Radetzky March, Joseph Roth, 1932
A colorful family saga set during the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The Piano Player, Elfriede Jelinek, 1983
The Austrian novelist and playwright, who won the Nobel Prize in 2004, is one of the country’s most famous literary voices to emerge after World War II. Her works are challenging and often disturbing, like The Piano Player (though a lot is lost in translating her creative language as well). In 2001, the novel was made into a film starring Isabelle Huppert.
The Third Man, Graham Greene, 1950
Originally written as a screenplay preparation for the movie of the same name, Greene’s novella—which was never intended for publication— serves as “director’s cut” to his film about black market corruption in post-war Vienna. American pulp writer Rollo Martins (Holly in the movie) travels to Austria to see his friend Harry Lime, who has offered him a job. Upon arrival, Martins discovers his friend has accidentally been killed. The Third Man explores the complicated political structure of the Austrian capital and captures the complex personalities of the characters in the film as well as the cynicism of post-war Europe.
Setting Free the Bears, John Irving, 1968
Irving’s first novel involves two Viennese university students and their plan to liberate the animals from the Vienna Zoo, as had been done once before after the end of WWII. While their intentions are good, the consequences are both comic and gruesome.
Mozart & the Wolf Gang, Anthony Burgess, 1991
This experimental novel is a tribute to the life and work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Set mostly in heaven, it includes an imagined conversation among deceased composers as well as an attempt to turn Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 into fiction.
A Nervous Splendor, Frederic Morton, 1980
This brilliant book focuses on a single year in Vienna’s history, 1888, and covers the creative beginnings of Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Mahler and Bruckner; the mystery surrounding Crown Prince Rudolf’s apparent murder-suicide with his teenage mistress; and daily life and politics in imperial Vienna.
Thunder at Twilight, Frederic Morton, 2001
The author of A Nervous Splendor delves into the historical events surrounding the assassination of Austria’s last Crown Prince, Franz Ferdinand, which launched the Austro-Hungarian empire into World War I.
Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, Carl E. Schorske, 1980
This illuminating work explores the city’s politics, art, architecture and design at the turn of the 20th century, including vivid portraits of Freud, Kokoschka, Schönberg and Klimt, among others.
Alma Mahler: The Art of Being Loved, Françoise Giroud, 1992
This elegant biography is no longer in print but is worth seeking out. It’s one of few books that explores prewar life in Vienna from the point of view of a complex and frequently controversial woman: Gustav Mahler’s wife, Alma, whose many lovers included Oskar Kokoschka, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel.
Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal, 2010
The Ephrussis, a wealthy Jewish European family, lost nearly everything to the Nazis in 1938 with the exception of a collection of Japanese miniature sculptures. British ceramicist Edmund de Waal eventually inherited the collection and Hare with Amber Eyes is his moving memoir that investigates the collection and how it links him to his family.
The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig, 1942
This memoir by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig recalls the artistic and political scene in Vienna at the end of the 19th century through the first World War to the rise of Hitler. Written while Zweig was in exile in Brazil—and sent to the publisher the day before he committed suicide—The World of Yesterday traces his travels through Vienna, Berlin, London and Paris, recalling the golden age and decline of the world in which he grew up.
The Lady in Gold, Anne-Marie O’Connor, 2012
This enthralling book traces the history of Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, from the subject’s childhood in Austria to Klimt’s artistic style and the painting’s various owners (it was seized by the Nazis in World War II and auctioned off for a record-setting $135 million in 2006).
The Third Man, Carol Reed, 1949
The classic film noir about a smuggler played by Orson Welles is set against a backdrop of gritty cityscapes in 1947 Vienna. The Prater Ferris wheel is prominently featured.
The Sound of Music, Robert Wise, 1965
Set in Austria in the lead-up to World War II, this iconic musical follows the spirited Maria, who leaves a convent to look after the children of Captain Van Trapp. Chock-full of beloved musical numbers, this family-friendly film is a classic.
Amadeus, Milos Forman, 1984
Milos Forman’s flashy portrait of the genius composer won eight Academy Awards in 1985, including Best Picture. The film was shot mostly in Prague, but it paints a colorful portrait of imperial Vienna.
James Bond: The Living Daylights, John Glen, 1987
Timothy Dalton’s 007 is all over the Austrian capital in this chapter of the Bond franchise.
Immortal Beloved, Bernard Rose, 1995
Gary Oldman plays Ludwig van Beethoven in a loose interpretation of the composer’s love life.
Before Sunrise, David Linklater, 1995
This charming film is about two twenty-somethings, one American and one French (played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply), who spend a day and night in Vienna. Locations you will recognize: Prater, Kleines Café and Tram No. 1.
La Pianiste, Michael Haneke, 2001
French actress Isabelle Huppert won several acting awards for her portrayal of the piano teacher in an adaptation of Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek’s disturbing novel.
The Rape of Europe, Richard Berge & Bonni Cohen, 2006
A fascinating documentary by Richard Berge and Bonni Cohen about the Nazis’ plundering of great works of art during World War II. Actress Joan Allen narrates.