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The Golden Maze: A biography of Prague

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Beloved ABC broadcaster and bestselling author of Ghost Empire and Saga Land, Richard Fidler is back with a personally curated history of the magical city that is Prague. In 1989, Richard Fidler was living in London as part of the provocative Australian comedy trio The Doug Anthony All Stars when revolution broke out across Europe. Excited by this galvanising historic, huma Beloved ABC broadcaster and bestselling author of Ghost Empire and Saga Land, Richard Fidler is back with a personally curated history of the magical city that is Prague. In 1989, Richard Fidler was living in London as part of the provocative Australian comedy trio The Doug Anthony All Stars when revolution broke out across Europe. Excited by this galvanising historic, human, moment, he travelled to Prague, where a decrepit police state was being overthrown by crowds of ecstatic citizens. His experience of the Velvet Revolution never let go of him. Thirty years later Fidler returns to Prague to uncover the glorious and grotesque history of Europe's most instagrammed and uncanny city: a jumble of gothic towers, baroque palaces and zig-zag lanes that has survived plagues, pogroms, Nazi terror and Soviet tanks. Founded in the ninth Century, Prague gave the world the golem, the robot, and the world's biggest statue of Stalin, a behemoth that killed almost everyone who touched it. Fidler tells the story of the reclusive emperor who brought the world's most brilliant minds to Prague Castle to uncover the occult secrets of the universe. He explores the Black Palace, the wartime headquarters of the Nazi SS, and he meets victims of the communist secret police. Reaching back into Prague's mythic past, he finds the city's founder, the pagan priestess Libussa who prophesised: I see a city whose glory will touch the stars. Following the story of Prague from its origins in medieval darkness to its uncertain present, Fidler does what he does so well - curates an absolutely engaging and compelling history of a place. You will learn things you never knew, with a tour guide who is erudite, inquisitive, and the best storyteller you could have as your companion. PRAISE FOR GHOST EMPIRE: 'Fidler displays great charm in the telling of his tale, spicing it with delicious gossip.' - New York Times Book Review '... thanks to the stylish cleverness of an exceptionally curious and talented man, we can feast on what strange magic the city brought-and still brings today-to the world beyond. I am speechless with admiration.' - Simon Winchester 'Fidler's story leaves its readers with a sense of faith in the renewing, illuminating, social powers of historical narrative.' - Sydney Morning Herald


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Beloved ABC broadcaster and bestselling author of Ghost Empire and Saga Land, Richard Fidler is back with a personally curated history of the magical city that is Prague. In 1989, Richard Fidler was living in London as part of the provocative Australian comedy trio The Doug Anthony All Stars when revolution broke out across Europe. Excited by this galvanising historic, huma Beloved ABC broadcaster and bestselling author of Ghost Empire and Saga Land, Richard Fidler is back with a personally curated history of the magical city that is Prague. In 1989, Richard Fidler was living in London as part of the provocative Australian comedy trio The Doug Anthony All Stars when revolution broke out across Europe. Excited by this galvanising historic, human, moment, he travelled to Prague, where a decrepit police state was being overthrown by crowds of ecstatic citizens. His experience of the Velvet Revolution never let go of him. Thirty years later Fidler returns to Prague to uncover the glorious and grotesque history of Europe's most instagrammed and uncanny city: a jumble of gothic towers, baroque palaces and zig-zag lanes that has survived plagues, pogroms, Nazi terror and Soviet tanks. Founded in the ninth Century, Prague gave the world the golem, the robot, and the world's biggest statue of Stalin, a behemoth that killed almost everyone who touched it. Fidler tells the story of the reclusive emperor who brought the world's most brilliant minds to Prague Castle to uncover the occult secrets of the universe. He explores the Black Palace, the wartime headquarters of the Nazi SS, and he meets victims of the communist secret police. Reaching back into Prague's mythic past, he finds the city's founder, the pagan priestess Libussa who prophesised: I see a city whose glory will touch the stars. Following the story of Prague from its origins in medieval darkness to its uncertain present, Fidler does what he does so well - curates an absolutely engaging and compelling history of a place. You will learn things you never knew, with a tour guide who is erudite, inquisitive, and the best storyteller you could have as your companion. PRAISE FOR GHOST EMPIRE: 'Fidler displays great charm in the telling of his tale, spicing it with delicious gossip.' - New York Times Book Review '... thanks to the stylish cleverness of an exceptionally curious and talented man, we can feast on what strange magic the city brought-and still brings today-to the world beyond. I am speechless with admiration.' - Simon Winchester 'Fidler's story leaves its readers with a sense of faith in the renewing, illuminating, social powers of historical narrative.' - Sydney Morning Herald

30 review for The Golden Maze: A biography of Prague

  1. 5 out of 5

    Liam || Books 'n Beards

    "The nation of St Wenceslas, Jan Hus and Tomas Masaryk will not be a nation of slaves" A couple of years ago on a whim I picked up GHOST EMPIRE by Richard Fidler - the Eastern Roman Empire is something that I wasn't particularly familiar with and it had fairly good reviews. In the end, it turned out to be less about the Eastern Roman Empire and more about Constantinople/Istanbul itself by way of a general history. I found this really interesting - it's not very common to find a book so focused "The nation of St Wenceslas, Jan Hus and Tomas Masaryk will not be a nation of slaves" A couple of years ago on a whim I picked up GHOST EMPIRE by Richard Fidler - the Eastern Roman Empire is something that I wasn't particularly familiar with and it had fairly good reviews. In the end, it turned out to be less about the Eastern Roman Empire and more about Constantinople/Istanbul itself by way of a general history. I found this really interesting - it's not very common to find a book so focused on the history of a single city rather than a country, a people, a period - so when I saw THE GOLDEN MAZE on the shelf, knowing very little about Prague, I snapped it up. The Czech Republic and former Czechoslovakia is a country that I pretty much always forget exists, to my discredit. Similar to Switzerland or Belgium, it is a small country locked in by larger powers on all sides, and has been for most of its history - from its beginnings through the highs of Bohemia and the lows of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic under the USSR. Much like GHOST EMPIRE, GOLDEN MAZE is incredibly readable - it isn't deep history by any means, but it's still incredibly interesting and informative, providing a good overview of the Golden City and, importantly, inspiring the reader to do further research off their own back. Again, much like Fidler's previous book, the drama and intrigue of high politics keeps you turning the next page. Bohemia was a powerhouse of the early Holy Roman Empire and found itself at the centre of many major conflicts, including the Thirty Years War, and Fidler does a fantastic job of giving a human face to the protagonists in each stanza of the city's history. The one exception to my statement above regarding forgetting that the country exists is the lead up to the Second World War, where Nazi Germany 'peacefully' swallowed up first the Sudetenland and then Czechoslovakia as a whole - fully half of the book is dedicated to this period onwards to the collapse of communism in 1989-1990, and while I was quietly dreading it as being too in-the-weeds and ground I had walked over many times before in history reading, I found it very eye-opening. Czechoslovakia under German rule and later Stalinist USSR rule had a streak of rebellion that I never knew about. The history of the Czech Republic in the end is very closely linked to the history of the Golden City, so at times the GOLDEN MAZE can end up reading like a more straightforward history - which does take away from some of its charm, but I was more than interested enough to let that slide. Finally, my major negative on GHOST EMPIRE was the semi-regular cutaways to Fidler and his son’s trip to Istanbul, and their anecdotes while they travelled through the city he wrote about. These are still present - Fidler has visited Prague several times, including during or just after the Velvet Revolution - but they were far less prominent. When they turn up they do still feel a little bit self-important. Another excellent work of history by Fidler - I am very keen to pick up and try SAGALAND.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    A wonderful read, masterfully presented, easy and informative. Because I was born in Czechoslovakia and lived there till the Russian invasion, I might be somewhat biased; but the craft of Fidler's writing is cosmopolitan, and he speaks to everyone. The reader learns the history not only of a fascinating city of Prague, but also the history of a nation closely knitted together with its neighbours in central Europe. A marathon of history presented truthfully and interesting enough to be undownputa A wonderful read, masterfully presented, easy and informative. Because I was born in Czechoslovakia and lived there till the Russian invasion, I might be somewhat biased; but the craft of Fidler's writing is cosmopolitan, and he speaks to everyone. The reader learns the history not only of a fascinating city of Prague, but also the history of a nation closely knitted together with its neighbours in central Europe. A marathon of history presented truthfully and interesting enough to be undownputable.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hildegunn

    Absolutely loved this. A delightfully well-written recap of the history of Prague and the story of its rise and fall through the ages. A splendid introduction to one of Europe's truly great capital cities. It had me captivated from the very first sentence and kept my attention to the very last page. Highly recommended. Absolutely loved this. A delightfully well-written recap of the history of Prague and the story of its rise and fall through the ages. A splendid introduction to one of Europe's truly great capital cities. It had me captivated from the very first sentence and kept my attention to the very last page. Highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    Richard Fidler was a member of The Doug Anthony All Stars were an Australian musical comedy, alternative rock and vocal trio who initially performed together between 1984 and 1994. (This is a very Australian joke: Dough Anthony was a very straight-laced conservative politician). Fidler was living and performing in England in 1989-90 when the Berlin Wall came down and the Czechs began to free themselves from Soviet control. He was so excited by the news from central Europe that he went there with h Richard Fidler was a member of The Doug Anthony All Stars were an Australian musical comedy, alternative rock and vocal trio who initially performed together between 1984 and 1994. (This is a very Australian joke: Dough Anthony was a very straight-laced conservative politician). Fidler was living and performing in England in 1989-90 when the Berlin Wall came down and the Czechs began to free themselves from Soviet control. He was so excited by the news from central Europe that he went there with his girlfriend to see for himself what was happening. And this is the beginning of his fascination with Prague as a city, which led eventually to him learning enough Czech to communicate with local people; to repeat visits and, ultimately this book. Fidler tells us cheerfully that he’s a storyteller, not a historian. It’s clear, though, that he’s read a lot of history as well as closely observing contemporary political and social movements. He’s also an entertainer. All these elements come together in a large, lively book that often takes the shape of individual anecdotes (stories) rather than one mighty arching structure. This is especially effective in the second half of the book, from the end of World War II onwards, when the memories of his interview subjects come into play, and then his own memories and connections. I was also happy with his treatment of the history of Prague from its beginnings through the medieval and Reformation periods; its position in power plays between the Hapsburgs, the Russians and Prussia and the catastrophes of the twentieth century. As usual, I won’t remember the detail, but take in the threads that connect with the things that interest me in the patterns of European power shifts and cultural influences.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I learnt so much as I trundled with Fidler through centuries of amazing history in the lovely city of Prague — the more I read the more I hankered to go back and visit again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    The Golden Maze is an amazing account of Richard Fidler's journeys to Prague. It's precise and full of history. The Golden Maze is very special to me because I visited Prague known then as Czechoslovakia where my father was born. Richard visits Prague at a much later date known as The Velvet Revolution. When I visited it was still under communist rule. I visited the famous clock known as The Orloj with my father in Prague's Old Town Square and viewed the Astronomical Clock which is a masterpiece of The Golden Maze is an amazing account of Richard Fidler's journeys to Prague. It's precise and full of history. The Golden Maze is very special to me because I visited Prague known then as Czechoslovakia where my father was born. Richard visits Prague at a much later date known as The Velvet Revolution. When I visited it was still under communist rule. I visited the famous clock known as The Orloj with my father in Prague's Old Town Square and viewed the Astronomical Clock which is a masterpiece of art and engineering. The Golden Maze explains the history of Prague Castle which I also visited. In The Golden Maze, the author, Richard Fidler gives you a detailed snapshot of the history of the beautiful city of Prague. Thank you, Richard Fidler for writing a fascinating book which is part of my heritage.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    Wanted ‘more Richard’, less history lessons and more of how Prague’s history is reflected in today’s Prague. First and last chapters had the ‘more Richard, other chapters fell into a more standard history format. Was close to giving up early on when recounting attack after attack in a names and dates format of the worst form of recounting history. Overall felt too long and an attempt to include everything rather than just the relevant.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    A superb history of the Czech nation. Richard Fidler could make anything interesting and the content of this “biography” of the Czech Republic is fascinating. He’s a talented story teller and reading this made me realise how little I knew about this country. Thank you Richard.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Adam Deverell

    I went to Prague and travelled around the Czech Republic in early 2008. It was the first country in continental Europe I'd really explored and it blew me away. The medieval towns, the lane ways, the beer and the stories of alchemy, ghosts and lost kingdoms. It was a magical place, but outside Prague it still felt like it had not quite left the drab, backwards Communist era. It was a good time to travel. I knew little about the country. Three novels by Bohumil Hrabal helped, but it was the dense a I went to Prague and travelled around the Czech Republic in early 2008. It was the first country in continental Europe I'd really explored and it blew me away. The medieval towns, the lane ways, the beer and the stories of alchemy, ghosts and lost kingdoms. It was a magical place, but outside Prague it still felt like it had not quite left the drab, backwards Communist era. It was a good time to travel. I knew little about the country. Three novels by Bohumil Hrabal helped, but it was the dense and poetic Magic Prague by Angelo Maria Ripellino that really brought the mysticism and folklore of the capital to life. An excellent Cadogan walking guide to Prague helped. What I didn't have was an accessible history of the capital and country, written simply and warmly. That's where the The Golden Maze comes in. Richard Fidler is an ABC broadcaster in Australia. He's a good interviewer, gently allowing his interview subjects to reveal their story. He's rarely too outspoken or overbearing. His history of Prague is similar. It's told with a personal touch and without any academic need to over analyze. The sort of thing a good tour guide may tell you as you walk down the Golden Lane or through Prague Castle. I enjoyed his earlier chapters, with the Religious wars, Rudolf II's eccentric rule and the balance of power the capital found itself in during the Reformation. The country was so close to embracing Protestantism until the Battle of White Mountain. It's a huge turning point in the country's history. The stories of Rufolf II allowing his pet lion to prowl the corridors of the castle and the crackpots and charlatans that made the city home make for a good story. Filder writes breezy biographies of Edward Kelley and John Dee, as he does for many significant figures that have travelled through Prague. A significant amount of the book is focused on the tumultuous 20th century. It wasn't a great time to be in Prague. The country suffered hugely in WW2 and Filder tells the story of the assassination of Nazi Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich like an action thriller. I wish I'd known more about the operation when I was in Prague so I could have visited key locations around the city. Prague then suffers through the dreary and oppressive Communist era. The Prague Spring is ruthlessly put down as Fidler writes quite personally of the major figures of the time, including the tragic student Jan Palach who set himself on fire in protest and the attempts by then-First Secretary Alexander Dubček's attempts to introduce Socialism with a Human Face. After the Soviet invasion, Prague seems to have entered a particularly dreary twenty years of wallowing and waiting for the end of Communism. Although this period of Prague's history takes up a significant amount of the book, I often wonder if in the future there will be little room given to the Communist era. It only lasted 41 years. The Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution make for inspiring chapters, but I found the most significant event last century was the expulsion of Czech-born Germans and the obliteration of Prague's Jewish community. Both had been an integral part of Czech history for centuries, driving much of its more important historical events. To had two out of three Czech communities torn so completely from the fabric of Prague life in just six or seven years seems mind blowing. I would have perhaps enjoyed more on the mystical side of Prague - the stories a traveller would like to hear. The devil that appears at the house with the crossed fiddles, the many ghosts of Prague such as a Ottoman who wanders the streets with the head of his mistress in a box or the Master Executioner of Prague's drinking hole, the Green Frog. I missed this mystical side of Prague that the Italian author Ripellino so dearly loves, although Filder does retell the story of Rabbi Loew's famous golem with relish. This is an excellent history to take to Prague or to remind yourself of the turmoil, war and upheavals it has endured. It is one of the most beautiful and eccentric European capitals that has only really started to thrive again for the first time in centuries. Not always obvious when you're stuck in a tourist jam on the Charles Bridge.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    This massive tome (more than 500 pages) looked daunting at first, but to my surprise it was a "page turner". I rocketed through it. It scoots through a very broad chronological sweep of Bohemian history, but is meticulously researched and referenced, to the extent that it could be an academic text. Quite a remarkable achievement by Richard Fidler, to achieve academic rigour and depth, whilst keeping it entertaining. I actually read the second half of the book first (in the expectation that I wou This massive tome (more than 500 pages) looked daunting at first, but to my surprise it was a "page turner". I rocketed through it. It scoots through a very broad chronological sweep of Bohemian history, but is meticulously researched and referenced, to the extent that it could be an academic text. Quite a remarkable achievement by Richard Fidler, to achieve academic rigour and depth, whilst keeping it entertaining. I actually read the second half of the book first (in the expectation that I would find the the post-WW1 and WW2 era more interesting), but the second half was so good that I took the plunge and dived into the first half, which proved to be as interesting and even more revelatory.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Richard Fidler doesn't write the history of particular eras - he writes histories of places. He has a way of giving life and humanity to these histories which can often be missing, with locations becoming characters with their own struggles and triumphs across time. The Golden Maze, his third such novel following Ghost Empire (Istanbul) and Sagaland (Iceland), focuses on making the Czech capital of Prague a living, breathing entity. He takes us from the city's mythological birth, to the darkness Richard Fidler doesn't write the history of particular eras - he writes histories of places. He has a way of giving life and humanity to these histories which can often be missing, with locations becoming characters with their own struggles and triumphs across time. The Golden Maze, his third such novel following Ghost Empire (Istanbul) and Sagaland (Iceland), focuses on making the Czech capital of Prague a living, breathing entity. He takes us from the city's mythological birth, to the darkness of Medieval Europe, through to its countless occupations. He sets up the foundations of city, then populates it with the stories of a colourful array of historical figures, those who by turns are hapless, dedicated, cruel and revolutionary. Bohemian heroes from Jan Hus, Saint/Kings Wenceslas and Kafka are balanced with the stories of outsiders like Einstein and Ginsberg being charmed by its mystery. Fidler aims to show how the Czech people have suffered countless tyrannies due their unique geographical and cultural location among 'greater' powers - the struggles of the Reformation, the at times tyrannical Hapsburg rule in Holy Roman Empire, the sharp cruelty Nazi occupation, and the crushing totalitarian rule of the Soviets - they've seen it all, yet are never at the centre of historical discussion due to being a so-called 'minor' player in world events. This book shows that every little act can be revolutionary, no matter how much history may ignore it. If nothing else, I can say that with The Golden Maze, Fidler has completed his trifecta of deeply engaging and personal historical accounts.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Magpie

    Kylie Bookclub 2021 📚 3⭐️⭐️⭐️ from me as I was looking forward to some engaging story telling and mostly got a very thorough, extremely detailed lesson in history, politics and war. It felt very long. Every now and again some interesting anecdote would pop up to put a human face on the painful history of the Czech Republic’s eventual creation, but they were few and far between for me. I’m really glad it had a good reception as I want Richard to do more of his history visiting saga weaving gigs, Kylie Bookclub 2021 📚 3⭐️⭐️⭐️ from me as I was looking forward to some engaging story telling and mostly got a very thorough, extremely detailed lesson in history, politics and war. It felt very long. Every now and again some interesting anecdote would pop up to put a human face on the painful history of the Czech Republic’s eventual creation, but they were few and far between for me. I’m really glad it had a good reception as I want Richard to do more of his history visiting saga weaving gigs, but I also want to beg his editor to cut the bloat and give me a Story not a list ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 2021

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen Anderson

    I was very excited to launch into this book as I enjoyed Sagaland and Ghost Empire so much. However this lacked the Fidler component of himself and fellow travelers that made the other books so interesting and rich in the retelling of history. Hence my 3 stars ..

  14. 5 out of 5

    Macey

    3.5 stars. This book was really very interesting, right up until about 1914. All the medieval stuff was fascinating, and there's a bit at the start about a cool folk tale about a woman born in some kind of proto-hippie commune who had a vision and states poetically 'I see a great city. It's glory will reach the stars,' and so then they go found a city there. There's saints and reformations and all kinds of religious factionalism, martyrs and various Kings (and a Queen! Bohemia was temporarily a 3.5 stars. This book was really very interesting, right up until about 1914. All the medieval stuff was fascinating, and there's a bit at the start about a cool folk tale about a woman born in some kind of proto-hippie commune who had a vision and states poetically 'I see a great city. It's glory will reach the stars,' and so then they go found a city there. There's saints and reformations and all kinds of religious factionalism, martyrs and various Kings (and a Queen! Bohemia was temporarily a Queendom), and philosophers and giant clocks that also have a face that run backwards, bridges lined with baroque states and coffeehouses and all this cool arty stuff, then the world wars and communism come around and wreck the whole thing. The twentieth century was about half of this book, and arguably the less enjoyable half. Understandably, there is a great deal more information about the twentieth century than there is about court magicians of the sixteenth, but it made me lose interest pretty quickly. I read most of the world wars/communism stuff quickly 'cause I knew there was a revolution coming (it didn't disappoint), but there are considerably more details invested in describing politicians and their actions than there is in say, massively important astronomical discoveries, the story of which seems rushed through a little. On the upside, the Plastic People of the Universe! I had read a little about them somewhere, that they had somehow managed to get a hold of the Velvet Underground and Nico album and formed an art-rock band and grew their hair while living under communism, and all the parts where they are mentioned adds a flair of countercultural edge to the general mood of the book. The waning years of communism were interesting again after all the propaganda-y stuff, and I really have to applaud the various citizens of Prague, whose civil disobedience was brilliant, and very dangerous under the regime. This book was interesting most of the way through, but I guess I'm really not a World War person and if you are you'd probably find it really interesting. All the literary stuff mentioned, Kafka and the absurdists, the Pre-World war one literary bunch of Europe, was really cool. There was some king (whose name I now can't remember which is silly because I just read it a hundred time) who was a bit of a recluse but cultivated this massive cabinet of curiosities-like museum in the castle. As always in history books, I found the bits about everyday life more interesting than the political stuff, and the further back in time, the more interesting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘I see a great city. Its glory will touch the stars.’ Richard Fidler’s first experience of Prague was in 1989, during the Velvet Revolution. Thirty years later, he returned to uncover and write the history of this fascinating city. I have never visited Prague, and while I know aspects of its history, there were gaping holes in my knowledge. I read about Libussa, who prophesied a great city. I read about kings and emperors, triumphs, and tragedies. I explored gothic towers and baroque palaces, reme ‘I see a great city. Its glory will touch the stars.’ Richard Fidler’s first experience of Prague was in 1989, during the Velvet Revolution. Thirty years later, he returned to uncover and write the history of this fascinating city. I have never visited Prague, and while I know aspects of its history, there were gaping holes in my knowledge. I read about Libussa, who prophesied a great city. I read about kings and emperors, triumphs, and tragedies. I explored gothic towers and baroque palaces, remembered the history of the Winter King and Winter Queen of Bohemia. I learned that Prague gave the world both the golem and the robot, as well as the world’s biggest statue of Stalin (now destroyed). The first half (roughly) of the book takes us from pre-history, through medieval times, to 1935. A mixed and rich history, with highlights of culture and science. There were also two denefestrations (in 1419 and 1618), plague as well as periods of both religious tolerance and unrest. I was interested in the history of the Jewish Renaissance in Prague during the sixteenth century. The second half of the book focusses on the turmoil of the twentieth century, from when Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, to the present. From the terror of the Nazis, the control by the Soviet, the Velvet Revolution and an uncertain future. There are almost forty pages of bibliography and endnotes for those readers who, having read this book, want more information. A fascinating biography of a city. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joano

    I’m sad that I don’t have another book like this read while still in lockdown. It was a fascinating history of the city of Prague and the people who make up the city. Up until the 1938, Prague was a multicultural city. Citizens were Jewish, Czech or German but they view themselves as Czechoslovakian. The books begins the author’s first visit, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, (early 1990’s) and his experience of Czechoslovakia coming out of the communism and people’s reaction to events I’m sad that I don’t have another book like this read while still in lockdown. It was a fascinating history of the city of Prague and the people who make up the city. Up until the 1938, Prague was a multicultural city. Citizens were Jewish, Czech or German but they view themselves as Czechoslovakian. The books begins the author’s first visit, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, (early 1990’s) and his experience of Czechoslovakia coming out of the communism and people’s reaction to events as well as their aspirations for the future. The book began with history of the establishment of the city of Prague, the different people who came to live within the city and the Prague being the centre of a country. It is the history of the leaders of the state, including its absorption into the Hasburg dynasty and the independence after WWI forming the country Czechoslovakia. For almost 20 years, the country enjoyed an independence and freedom where all ethnicity were united until Hitler’s invasion in 1938. How the country was absorbed as part of Germany and then it transition to communism after World War II. Similar to Ghost Empire, it discusses the leaders of the city, who built what and where they stand today. The final chapters on the communist regime were less about the city, but more about people and how they dealt with communism. I listened to the audio version, but had a hard copy of the book to refer to in certain sections. I had to take a break by the 70% mark as it was really depressing reading about how people were trying to live in enforced communism as part of the Soviet state though they are their own country in name only. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, especially the politics surrounding the city and the effects on its people throughout time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim Bartel

    In just a little over 500 pages, Richard Fidler takes the reader through the history of Prague, from 500 BCE all the way up to 2019. I read this book slowly, over more than a year, and enjoyed it immensely. During that time I found myself surprised anew at the horrors inflicted on jewish people over centuries, coming to new understandings about the figureheads of world war 2, and marvelling at what the world was like in the soviet bloc during the 20th century. But don't think this book is all dre In just a little over 500 pages, Richard Fidler takes the reader through the history of Prague, from 500 BCE all the way up to 2019. I read this book slowly, over more than a year, and enjoyed it immensely. During that time I found myself surprised anew at the horrors inflicted on jewish people over centuries, coming to new understandings about the figureheads of world war 2, and marvelling at what the world was like in the soviet bloc during the 20th century. But don't think this book is all dreariness or solemnity. There is wonder and joy and hope on almost every page. I'll certainly be seeking out more of Richard Fidler's work.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    A long book, 18 hours on audio, but well worth the time commitment. Such an interesting city - anyone who enjoys history will enjoy this book. A little tough going in the middle third as it is heavy with detail around WWII however the stories of individuals and the easy delivery from Richard Fidler are in its favour. Worthwhile revisiting how foul some humans can be to each other when governed by fear, and how brave others can be.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Mowbray

    Prague. One of my all time favourite cities to visit. This book is an engaging history of on of the Jewels of Europe from the beginnings of the state of Bohemia through constant invasions from Germanic states, the Hapsburg's of Austria and its fall to both the fascist and Communist regimes. Using both knowledge from his own visits and stories from many others, Richard paints a vivid picture of the fighting spirit of the Czech's who continued to fight for their own independence. Brilliant read. Prague. One of my all time favourite cities to visit. This book is an engaging history of on of the Jewels of Europe from the beginnings of the state of Bohemia through constant invasions from Germanic states, the Hapsburg's of Austria and its fall to both the fascist and Communist regimes. Using both knowledge from his own visits and stories from many others, Richard paints a vivid picture of the fighting spirit of the Czech's who continued to fight for their own independence. Brilliant read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Another extremely detailed and interesting biography of a city and it's impact on the world through time. This time the city is Prague. I never knew how much I would want to know about Prague but I was entranced. Utterly fascinating and brilliantly narrated by author Richard Fidler. Great in the printed version, which I partly read last year and also in this audiobook format. One I could listen to again in the future. Another extremely detailed and interesting biography of a city and it's impact on the world through time. This time the city is Prague. I never knew how much I would want to know about Prague but I was entranced. Utterly fascinating and brilliantly narrated by author Richard Fidler. Great in the printed version, which I partly read last year and also in this audiobook format. One I could listen to again in the future.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Deb Chapman

    I listened to Richard Fidler read his own book on the history of Prague and it was surprisingly captivating. I probably learnt more than I needed to know (it is long and detailed which also made it a good pick as an audio book for me) about Prague and Czechoslovakia but was compassionately told with care. An outsiders view to be sure but an insight into the depth of a place when I really knew nothing beforehand. A surprising 4 stars from me

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    I found the history of Prague very interesting and the history had fascinating stories about people and events woven through so the narrative was engaging and educational. The book actually provides an overview of European history as the events of various countries are closely linked as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russians and Nazis played key roles in the history of Prague.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    This book is a great and easy to read history of Prague and Czechoslovakia. It was a very enjoyable read, very enlightening and educational. I have not visited Prague, but once our pandemic eases, this is a city I hope to get to see. I really enjoyed this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    Overall, The Golden Maze is an interesting account of Czech history. Fidler's prose is highly readable. Occasional it gets bogged down with the repetition of fact after fact, but it generally recovers each time with further interesting information following such recitations. The main downside I would say is that it's a little unbalanced, racing through earlier history to dwell for longer on 20th century events. I would have liked to have seen the attention more evenly spread. But for all that, i Overall, The Golden Maze is an interesting account of Czech history. Fidler's prose is highly readable. Occasional it gets bogged down with the repetition of fact after fact, but it generally recovers each time with further interesting information following such recitations. The main downside I would say is that it's a little unbalanced, racing through earlier history to dwell for longer on 20th century events. I would have liked to have seen the attention more evenly spread. But for all that, it is an enjoyable read whether you already know something of Czech history or if you are approaching the book as a complete novice on the subject. As such, I am giving it 4 stars.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Charmaine

    This book is a well written, comprehensive and complicated history of Prague. Written with the authors clear love of Prague, it had me from beginning to end and has me looking forward to exploring this magical city.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Celia Bradford

    Fascinating. Lots of incredible detail. The conversational style makes the read enjoyable and digestible

  27. 5 out of 5

    Heather Boundy

    Wow! What a read! Richard Fidler has certainly done his research and penned an amazing 'biography' of the city of Prague, from its roots in the time of Celtic tribes, when the Romans knew these people as the Boii and named their territory Boiohaemum (Bohemia) through the centuries to the tumultuous twentieth century when the cruelties and vagaries of the years rained down on this fairytale city. For anyone who has visited Prague this is a richly rewarding tale; for those who have not you will ce Wow! What a read! Richard Fidler has certainly done his research and penned an amazing 'biography' of the city of Prague, from its roots in the time of Celtic tribes, when the Romans knew these people as the Boii and named their territory Boiohaemum (Bohemia) through the centuries to the tumultuous twentieth century when the cruelties and vagaries of the years rained down on this fairytale city. For anyone who has visited Prague this is a richly rewarding tale; for those who have not you will certainly want to mend your ways. Whilst being rich in historical fact, the characters shine through as real people, not just shadows from the past. Fidler has a real knack of selecting not just the main players, but characters from the past to shine a new light on events and make us want to find out more. A fine effort!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lee Kofman

    I loved this book. There were times when I wanted a little more of his poetic voice; the writing was a bit uneven throughout – some sections more filtered through his viewpoint (those were my favorite) and others more informative. But all in all this was a fascinating, well researched, and accessible study of a fascinating part of history. Fidler’s personal affection towards this city came through beautifully, and some of his observations, such as about Prague being a liminal space, a threshold I loved this book. There were times when I wanted a little more of his poetic voice; the writing was a bit uneven throughout – some sections more filtered through his viewpoint (those were my favorite) and others more informative. But all in all this was a fascinating, well researched, and accessible study of a fascinating part of history. Fidler’s personal affection towards this city came through beautifully, and some of his observations, such as about Prague being a liminal space, a threshold of sorts, are just stunning. I was particularly captivated by the introductory pages of the book and the mythical origins of the city, and by the later part that deals with Nazism, communism and then transition to capitalism.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Wars and alchemy and people dying because they didn't do a wee at a feast... I'd forgotten about all the excellent gruesome detail of Medieval times until I plunged into Richard Fidler's 'biography of Prague', The Golden Maze . There were other reasons I picked up this tome - Back in the eighties, I loved the Doug Anthony Allstars (although was in constant fear I'd be roped into audience participation). My brief visit to Prague whetted the appetite, and I certainly wished for more time t Wars and alchemy and people dying because they didn't do a wee at a feast... I'd forgotten about all the excellent gruesome detail of Medieval times until I plunged into Richard Fidler's 'biography of Prague', The Golden Maze . There were other reasons I picked up this tome - Back in the eighties, I loved the Doug Anthony Allstars (although was in constant fear I'd be roped into audience participation). My brief visit to Prague whetted the appetite, and I certainly wished for more time there. Prague was founded in the ninth century, and there followed baroque palaces and narrow laneways; plagues and pogroms; Nazi terror and the world's biggest statue of Stalin. Fidler captures the readers attention by telling stories within the story - the folk tale of Master Hanus the clockmaker, who made the most beautiful clock in the world for Prague, and then had his eyes burnt out after the unveiling so that he could never make another clock to rival it; a five-day-long public autopsy done by Dr Jan Jesenius, who had the crowd riveted by his slow, methodical dissection of a man; Mozart's love affair with the city; and the story of author Jaroslav Hašek - Someone noticed that Hašek's fake Russian-sounding name, when spelt backwards, became 'kiss my arse' in Czech. In his defence, he insisted he'd been trying to help the war effort by testing police vigilance, but they jailed him anyway for five days. What I most enjoyed was Fidler's very personal point-of-view. He states at the outset that his love affair with Prague began in 1989, when he was 25 years-old, and happened to be visiting Prague as the fall of Soviet power traveled in wave across eastern Europe - Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Fidler was struck by the role that students, musicians, actors, artists and writers played in Czechoslovakia's protests - the city came alive with words (notable after decades of repression and censorship) and the change of power was so 'peaceful' that it was dubbed the Velvet Revolution. The end of the Cold War arrived in 1989 not with a bang, nor a whimper, but with a party. It was the most recent history, that of the secret police (known as the StB), that most interested me. Fidler speaks with one woman about her experience living in a policed society, who summarised it by saying that the StB destroyed trust between people, and '...you need trust to make an opposition.' Although I am a few years younger than Fidler, he makes mention of the world view that he held in the late-eighties, and on reading it, I was sucked back in time, to the nagging anxiety I felt as a teen over the possibility of nuclear war and someone hitting 'the button'. Just as worringly, the leaders of both the United States and the USSR appeared to be suffering from cognitive decline... To me, it seemed the world was run by unyielding old men who could afford to be careless about a future they would not live to see. I paused and wondered if today's teens feel the same, but about climate change instead of nuclear war? The Golden Maze is certainly not a traditional history text, but there's much to admire in Fidler's narrative. Although some of the early sections are weighted down by dates and a roll-call of kings and their multiple wives, and the later sections delve very deeply into the politics, there's enough of Fidler's observations and interpretation of events to keep this 'biography' moving. 3/5 Been to the city? Read the book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Krejzar

    You would suppose that an Aussie/Czech like myself, who is quite familiar with the creation legends of Bohemia and with Czech history in general would not expect to learn much in Fidler’s biography. I was sorely mistaken. Fidler covers every conceivable subject from the creation of Bohemia to the present, in an imaginative storytelling style. The underpinnings and causes leading to the 30 year war which tore Central Europe apart is particularly revealing. Especially for readers not familiar with You would suppose that an Aussie/Czech like myself, who is quite familiar with the creation legends of Bohemia and with Czech history in general would not expect to learn much in Fidler’s biography. I was sorely mistaken. Fidler covers every conceivable subject from the creation of Bohemia to the present, in an imaginative storytelling style. The underpinnings and causes leading to the 30 year war which tore Central Europe apart is particularly revealing. Especially for readers not familiar with the history of Central Europe; in that the religious wars, first fomented because of the rise of Hussitism - which as a religious uprising throughout the 15th century - was in many ways the precursor to Lutherism.

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