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The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914
Richard J. Evans
Progress: 219/928 pages
Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888
John C. G. Röhl
Progress: 229/1016 pages

Should I go all in on La Grange's Mahler?

Gustav Mahler, Vol. 2: Vienna: The Years of Challenge, 1897-1904 - Henry-Louis de La Grange

One of my guilty pleasures are big, fat, multi-volume biographies. Reading them gives me a sense (when they are done well) of immersion in both the life and times of their subject, in a way that helps me to understand their achievements in the context of their era and their legacy for us today. My shelf is replete with them, some of which I have started and a few of which I have even completed. The fact that I have so many awaiting my attention does little to discourage me from getting more.


While most of these biographies are of political leaders, lately I have been drawn to ones of composers. I can trace the beginnings of this shift to 2011, when while with a friend at a university bookstore I happened upon Alan Walker's three-volume study of Franz Liszt, which was being offered as part of a community education class on the bicentenary of his birth. Seeing that fat stack of 1700+ pages on him was enough to get me hooked, and eventually I acquired the volumes. Next up was David Cairns's two volumes on Hector Berlioz, which, after a will-I-or-won't-I dance of a few years, I added them to my shelf last year, where they now wait to be read.


And now I find myself contemplating acquiring Henry-Louis de La Grange's biography of Gustav Mahler. On one level, they seem a daunting purchase: four thick volumes about his life (which was not an especially long one), which would crowd to overcapacity a shelf already groaning with unread books. It doesn't help that it's a translated work (from the original French), which I generally steer clear of out of concerns about readability, something that is reinforced here by the reviewers' criticisms of the poorly-rendered first volume. Still, the series itself is very highly regarded and it would be interesting to learn about Mahler and his music -- plus it's four volumes!

So, should I or shouldn't I?