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Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II [Hardcover]

Keith Lowe
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 April 2012

From Keith Lowe, author of the criticall acclaimed Inferno comes an 'extraordinary, disturbing and powerful' (Daily Mail) new history, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II.

The Second World War left Europe in chaos. Landscapes had been ravaged, entire cities razed and more than 35 million people killed. Across most of the continent, the institutions that we now take for granted - such as the police, the media, transport,local and national government - were either entirely absent or hopelessly compromised. Crime rates soared, economies collapsed, and the European population hovered on the brink of starvation.

In this groundbreaking study of the years that followed the war, Keith Lowe describes a continent still racked by violence, where large sections of the population had yet to accept that the war was over. He outlines the warped morality and the insatiable urge for vengeance that were the legacy of the conflict.

Based on original documents, interviews and scholarly literature in eight different languages, Savage Continent is a window on the brief, chaotic period between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War.

'Deeply harrowing, distinctly troubling. Moving, measured and provocative. A compelling and plausible picture of a continent physically and morally brutalized by slaughter' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'Excellent', Independent

'Unbearable but essential. A serious account of things we never knew and our fathers would rather forget. Lowe's transparent prose makes it difficult to look away from a whole catalogue of won't sleep afterwards. Such good history it keeps all the questions boiling in your mind', Scotsman

Keith Lowe is widely recognized as an authority on the Second World War, and has often spoken on TV and radio, both in Britain and the United States. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943 (Penguin). He lives in north London with his wife and two children.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067091746X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670917464
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Keith Lowe was born in 1970 and studied English Literature at Manchester University. After twelve years as a history publisher, he embarked on a full-time career as a writer and historian, and is now recognised on both sides of the Atlantic as an authority on the Second World War and its aftermath. His first novel, Tunnel Vision, was shortlisted for the 2001 Author's Club First Novel Award. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg 1943, and Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. His books have been translated into ten languages.

Product Description


Graphic and chilling. This excellent book paints a little-known and frightening picture of a continent in the embrace of lawlessness and chaos (Ian Kershaw)

Moving, measured and provocative (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

Savage Continent is a powerful and disturbing book, painstakingly researched and written with both authority and an impressive historical sweep (James Holland)

Grimly absorbing, conveys the pity of war and its sorry aftermath with integrity and proper sympathy (Ian Thomson Sunday Telegraph)

Extraordinary, disturbing and powerful ... it is to Lowe's great credit that he resists the temptation to sit in moral judgment ... it is time we acknowledged the hidden realities of perhaps the darkest chapter in all human history (Daily Mail)

Extraordinary...exceptional...reveals a continent where moral values were often missing and basically lawlessness prevailed for several years (Trevor James The Historian)

Impressive and heart-rendering study...Lowe marshals all the elements of the story with cool even-handedness, especially where statistics are concerned, and explains how subsequent generations have manipulated the historical record to suit their own purposes, either to diminish their guilt or demonise others. (Christopher Silvester Daily Express)

An excellent account...Lowe's vivid descriptions of Europeans scrambling for scraps of food, rampant theft and 'destruction of morals' are a timely reminder that a certain humility is in order when we look at less fortunate continents today. (Brendan Simms The Independent)

A major new historical talent has arrived... a brilliantly organised and scrupulously objective survey of a continent on the floor (BBC History Magazine)

Brilliant (Sun)

Savage Continent is a blood-soaked thing, charting the continued fanaticism and brutality that emerged from the ashes of war and wracked this sad continent long after Nazism was defeated (Telegraph, Christmas Round-up)

An unforgettably gritty and blood-soaked book. Makes for deeply harrowing reading (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times, Books of the Year 2012)

The chaotic interlude between the second world war and Europe's 'cold peace' in the 1950s receives brilliant treatment in Lowe's scrupulously objective book (Financial Times, "Books of the Year")

About the Author

After spending more than a decade as a history publisher, Keith Lowe is now a full-time writer. He is widely recognised as an authority on the Second World War, and has often spoken on TV and radio, both in Britain and the United States. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg 1943. He lives in north London with his wife and two children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book of the year so far. 12 May 2012
By Bobby Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a quality work of art from the pen of Keith Lowe. Taking a little documented period of history, the fragmented and vengeful end of the war and the spill over into the years 1945-1950 - and beyond in some cases - the dispute between Lithuania and Russia for example, he manages to show that genocide, anti-Semitism and hatred in general did not end when the war ceased. Looking back nowadays it is almost beyond belief that such hate continued, given the events of 1939-45. But they did. I cannot speak too highly of this book as it looks in detail at issues normally skirted around by the academic world - such as the vengence of slave workers and concentration camp inmates and of population expulsions - be they ethnic Germans, Poles or Ukrainians. I learnt so much from this book; the political fall-out from WW2, the Greek civil war but also how the human spirit can rise above the most hurtful and damaging of situations. Ultimately, amid the tales of destruction and sorrow, this is the message that emerges. Superb.
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91 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked period of history revealed 12 April 2012
By Gil_Gibbs_Hotch VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A truly jaw-dropping read. As Keith Lowe explains right from the very start the Second World War was so much more than the allies versus the axis and the fight of good against evil. If you wish to get a better understanding of what this struggle perpetuated beyond the usual military texts, then you must read this book. The majority of people would associate the term ethnic cleansing with the Holocaust;full stop. However, events throughout the European continent AFTER May 1945 will leave readers absolutely stunned. In Czechoslavkia, Italy, Poland, Western Ukkraine and Yugoslavia ethnic and religious cleansing was conducted on a truly horrifying scale. Centuries of hatred and mistrust within individual countries and communities within those countries rose to the surface. The undercurrent was undoubtedly right versus left, capitalist versus communist, but the specifics are much more shocking.

The machinations of political parties to achieve their objectives and the ineptitude of the 'Superpowers' to deal with these events lead directly to the Cold War and during the period 1945 to 1950, thousands upon thousands of innocent civilian deaths. Revenge for atrocities carried out during the war lit the flame, but much more sinister plans were at work.

I will not quote specific examples from the text as I would hope that by reading this outstanding account of a period of history that formed the basis of European life for the next 50 years, the reader will be as appalled and enlightened as much as I was.

For anyone interested in this period of history this is an essential read. I cannot recommend this strongly enough.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential to an understanding of Europe today 6 May 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An important book, that should be on the history syllabus of high schools across Europe. This is a balanced account of a history that has never been written about in such depth, across such a wide spectrum of action, and on a Europe-wide basis. Having said that, as the author makes clear, many of the statistics and accounts of this after-war period are still hotly disputed - for all the reasons he lays out. There are always more than two sides to every tale, and the author tries to put forward as many as possible. His list of sources alone (originals in 38 different languages) is extensive; and his notes show the extent to which he drew on them.

The horrors of physical and moral destruction are set aside a litany of vengeance, ethnic cleansing, political violence and civil war, that lasted until the 1950's and still has repercussions today. It is a compelling, at times gripping account - very readable.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lens on today's world? 31 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book provides a deep and broad explanation and description of the chaos and inhumanity that followed WWII. Its power lies in its non-judgemental tone and its contextualizing of the bitter and bloody enthnic/polictical cleansing that swept Europe in the late 1940s. Whist in geopolitical terms WWII may have been initially a three way battle between competing global ideologies - this book clearly illustrates how this broader conflict exosed and disturbed dormant underlying ethnic fault lines across the continent.

The sections on Poland are particularly disturbing as they show how a multi-ethnic country can descend into barbarism. Beyond the crualty of the Nazis and the Soviets, it is sobering to learn how quickly communities swung from being victims to perpetrators of attrocities. It is also truly shocking to learn of how Jewish concentration camp survivors faced persecution and murder at the hands of their former neighbours when they returned home from Nazi hell.

In addition to providing an education on this important but ignored period, this book also provokes thoughts about current geopolitics, such as how the "war against terrorism" and Arab Spring are opening ethic pandora's boxes.

Thoroughly recommended!
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69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging and Erudite. 2 April 2012
Savage Continent is an engaging and erudite history of post-war Europe. Keith Lowe's original study starts off where other books leave off. Screams often muffle out any sighs of relief for the war being over - as revenge attacks and unofficial civil wars break out across the continent. This is a bleak but necessary book for anyone who wants to understand both WWII and its aftermath - and also in some aspects Europe today.
Savage Continent is is full of grim statistics and argument, but far more impactful are the testimonies of the soldiers, children and women who lived through the period. The material on the fate of post-war Jewish and Polish people is particularly strong.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read.
A great book. Fascinating, humbling, frightening. As I said to my brother after " we really don't know how lucky we are " . Buy it.
Published 1 day ago by mr g b hamblin
5.0 out of 5 stars great book
very important book. shows so many aspects of European history we don't even talk about widely, either because it's too painful or simply far too complicated for our... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Iza Turska
3.0 out of 5 stars Brutal
Rapes, Murders, Killings, Revenge, starvation, displacement and more. A very brutal account of the first few years after the war. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Ian R. West
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and well written.
I have often wondered about the aftermath of WW11 and what the impact of this terrible event must have been on the people who were most caught up in it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by C. Hussey-Yeo
5.0 out of 5 stars Spine chilling read, but a gem of a book. 6 Stars.
"Savage Continent" by Keith Lowe is the harrowing story of Europe between 1944 and 1950, a relatively unknown, chaotic and yet highly politicised period in Europe's recent past. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Basileus
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
Hope this doesn't sound too strange but for years I've been looking out for a book dealing with the aftermath of May 1945 in Europe. Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal
The sheer scope of this book is impressive. It's a period of history that Westerners don't tend to focus on and, as a result, I had very little awareness of events that occurred in... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Deprecated Pleb
3.0 out of 5 stars Very comprehensive detailed account
Fascinating book sometimes a bit too "academic" and repetitive but overall an eye opener as to the events of this terrible time.
Published 3 months ago by Mr RS Littlechild
5.0 out of 5 stars Savage continent
What an excellent and fulfilling read making the understanding of modern Europe and its political upheavals clearer, should be put on the agenda of all schools and universities and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars harrowing insight into chaos
The best look at what war can do to a whole continent and it's people.A must read for anyone who thinks that when a war is over all is well. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Frank Brogan
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