by Laird M. Easton

Alfred A. Knopf, $45.00, 924 pages

Laird Easton’s translation of the diaries of Count Harry Kessler, as presented in Journey to the Abyss, present a fascinating glimpse into the creme de la creme of the highest echelons of European society in the early part of the 20th century. Anyone with an interest in the arts of the early 20th century will thrill when Kessler, independently wealthy after the death of his father, presents an inside look at many of the famous artists of the day, as well as an intriguing look back at the Impressionists and Postimpressionists whose appeal today is often buried under their commercial success.

The last section of the book, which deals with Kessler’s experiences in the First World War, moves away somewhat from the more artsy life which had preceded it, but remains a brilliant account not only of the fighting which Kessler witnessed, but also the diplomacy and politics in which he directly participated as an international operative.

The book, while brilliantly edited by Laird Easton is substantial at 960 pages, and readers who are not familiar with the period may want a companion historical text, or at least close internet access, and the sheer number of important historical figures that Kessler knew is, at times, overwhelming, even to the well-versed historical reader.

Katie Richards