Sadly, the Thirty Years' War is almost unknown in the English-speaking world, and most of the literature is in German, Czech, Danish, or Swedish. This is a pity, as the war involved, and had a lasting effect on, much of Europe, and has parallels in several modern-day conflicts.
This very well-researched book provides a perfect introduction to one of the most important areas of European history, vital to understanding the effects of the Reformation, and roots of the age of nation-states in Europe. This war, which devastated much of Northern Germany and the Czech Republic and killed between a quarter and a half of the population in some states, left Germany a backwater, whose rush to 'catch up' its position two and a half centuries later had such dire consequences. This was the first pan-European conflict, and a finer example of superpower meddling could not be found - local religious conflicts being transformed into all-out war by great powers, such as France and Sweden, invites comparison with Cold War conflicts or the current war in the Congo. The war which was fought to, and failed, settle once and for all, which religion a state's subjects should follow, succeeded in fracturing the once mighty Holy Roman Empire into over a thousand petty states and principalities.
With clear chapter headings, well-chosen illustrations and well-defined maps, Richard Bonney makes this book equally accessible to both historian and casual reader. Equal attention is devoted to the different stages of the war, and to the myriad forces involved, on both the Imperial and the Protestant sides. A well-argued chapter on the Mercenaries underlines the ambiguity of the conflict, with many of the fighters turning coat at will - parallels with the use of mercenaries in the 15th and 16th centuries, especially in the wars in Italy, and the prince-threatening power of the Conottieri - such as Wallenstein - are hard to ignore. The chapter on witness accounts gives a stark reminder of the gruesome effect the war had on the peasantry, who faced starvation, brutality and rape at the hands of the armies, and would sometimes murder isolated groups of soldiers, supporting neither side in particular. Attention is paid to the diplomatic side - the machinations of both Catholic France and protestant Denmark and Sweden against each other, as much as against the Empire - the Imperial commanders Tilly and Wallenstein, driven as much by political ambition and greed, as much as Catholic piety. The small details are priceless - that the 2 victims of the Defenestration of Prague, which provoked the war, survived their ejection from the Castle window was not due to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, but the presence of a dung heap to cushion their fall.
Outstanding book, one of the best in the series. I recommend this, not only to military history buffs, but to anyone taking a degree in German or Scandinavian studies. After reading this, try excerpts from Schiller's history.