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120 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not as Dry As I'd Feared it Would Be
When I saw this book for sale I was afraid that it would be another REALLY long, dry history book written by somebody who doesn't know how to cut things out. Fortunately I was wrong. This book is pretty much the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. At 851 pages of text it is certainly a long book, but given the complexity of the source material I don't see how it...
Published on 26 Sep 2009 by Arch Stanton

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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old School History Book
This is history of the old school yet it does have a 21st century perspective.

Names, dates, and statistics are the fabric of this book and it is relentless. The sprawling nature of this conflict across Europe and the years made it very difficult to pick up on any narrative which would have made the reading enjoyable. The challenge of writing a comprehensive...
Published on 20 Oct 2009 by J. Sawyer


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120 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not as Dry As I'd Feared it Would Be, 26 Sep 2009
By 
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
When I saw this book for sale I was afraid that it would be another REALLY long, dry history book written by somebody who doesn't know how to cut things out. Fortunately I was wrong. This book is pretty much the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. At 851 pages of text it is certainly a long book, but given the complexity of the source material I don't see how it could be otherwise. It has to make up for years with little printed research (At least in English) as well as include all the recent papers printed in other languages. As he points out in the introduction, any comprehensive book on the Thirty Years War requires knowledge of at least 14 different languages. For some reason the English speaking countries don't have much interest in the Thirty Years War. There is a very short list of books that cover it.

A lot has changed since the greatest previous book on the war came out in 1938. There has been a copious amount of new research that just wasn't available then. Also, having been written after World War I the perspective is rather different. In some ways that helped of course, since both wars were so tragically pointless. This book is rather different from that one. While Wedgwood's book relied almost entirely on the chroniclers of the time, this book includes a better look at the war's causes. In fact, the war itself doesn't start until page 269. Wedgwood's book kind of reminded me of Gibbons, at least in the way she arranges her information quite clearly to add force to her thesis. Basically her thesis is that the war was a stupid waste that was caused by stupidity and greed for power. Even though I think her thesis works better that Gibbons', it still left a lot out that wasn't essential to her main point. In her defense, it was a relatively brief book at 536 pages (including bibliography). That's about half the size of this one. This book includes everything. I'm sure that even at this length it left many things but it feels complete.

I really appreciate the layout of this book. The chapters are long but they are divided into subsections every few pages which makes it easier to find a point to put it down. That's something that I wish more books would do. The divisions aren't forced either, so if you're on a boring topic a new one will come along shortly. The battles have pretty clear maps which show the layout of the opposing armies. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case they're right. Even though the battle descriptions are fairly brief, I feel that I understand them better than I did reading Wedgwood's book. There are also full-color pictures of all the major players in the war and several of the more important events. If you have any interest in this war I would strongly recommend this book. It might be a difficult read because of it's length, but it's worth the trouble.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars mammoth work of scholarship on one of Europe's great catastrophes, 11 Aug 2011
By 
rob crawford "Rob Crawford" (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (Paperback)
This book has occupied my free time for 6 weeks, solid. It is extremely dense, beautifully written, and succeeds in tying together the various strands of a war tragedy more complex than any save perhaps the fall of Rome or the world wars of the 20C. The 30 years war is one of those watersheds, when an old order gives way to new directions that take centuries to work themselves out. Wilson's brilliant synthesis is exactly what I had hoped to find.

The roots of the conflict, in my reading, sprung from 2 essential sources: 1) the decline of the feudal order in Central Europe that had operated under the umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire and 2) the simmering religious wars of protestant and catholic. These unfolded symbiotically, but it was really the conflict of the princes and kings - attempting to consolidate their own forms of power in the emerging nation state - that employed the confessional question to their own ends, however sincere they were in their beliefs.

The Habsburgs (in both Spain and central Europe) were essentially feudal lords. One of their most important powers was the ability to confer nobility and authority on allies that would then be sworn to serve them in certain capacities, such as warfare against external enemies such as the Turks or rival Christian kingdoms. They answered to a plethora of institutions that carried their own rights and privileges, the complexity of which is nothing short of extraordinary (i.e. regions, nations, free cities, duchies, each with their own historical perquisites in the hierarchy). Often, the emperors served as arbiters to resolve conflicts between their princes and lords, but they also oversaw the installation of certain administrators and other officials to support the superstructure and finances of the Empire. Unsurprisingly, many princes wanted to establish their independence, particular when it came to their confessional preferences. The Emperor could not order them to do things, but had to both entice and threaten them.

With these tensions brewing, circumstances aligned themselves in the early 17C to favor prolonged war. First, after a long period of existential threat, the Ottoman Empire withdrew to fight in the east, depriving Christendom of a unifying external pressure. Second, there was a weak HR Emperor, Rudolf II, who withdrew from his responsibilities as maintainer of peace while beginning to impose a policy of replacing local protestant administrators with loyal catholic outsiders, threatening the beliefs (and careers) of innumerable princes and nobles in their fifes. His successor was also weak and pursued a rigid policy of installing catholic notables. Third, the Habsburgs were entering a period of extreme financial indebtedness, depriving them of the resources needed to defend their territories and promote economic stability. Fourth, there was the rise of new powers, from the proto-absolutism in France to the military dynamism of Sweden's King, Adolphus, centrifugal forces that added to the chaos. Fifth, with a change in inheritance law, there were many disenfranchised princes trying to make their way as adventurers and courtiers. With the advancement of individuals such as Wallenstein, who achieved noble standing through opportunistic military exploits that no one completely controlled and whose motives were largely unfathomable, they added a dangerous mix of ambition and volatility.

Once the war had broken out in a spontaneous "defenestration" in Bohemia - some protestant locals threw 2 catholic appointees out a 2nd-story window - the HRE first convulsed into civil war and then was attacked by outsiders while weakened. As the theatres of war moved about inside the HRE, which was complexity itself, it took on a life of its own with occupiers wanting territories for their own ends (or seeking to extricate themselves while saving face) and princes hoping to achieve independence of control over their territory or liberty to pursue their faith. It just went on and on. The resulting devastation makes WWII look almost like a minor skirmish. Some regions - from violence, plague, and emigration - lost between 10% and 60% of their populations. Millions of lives and livelihoods were destroyed, up to 25% loss of lives overall.

The resolution of the conflict is perhaps the most fascinating. It signals the end of the feudal era and the beginnings of both absolutism and the nation state. Replacing the personal concerns and egos of princes, entire nation states entered negotiations roughly as equals with legitimate concerns and interests rather than as members of a feudal hierarchy of set-to obligations. In addition, religious toleration was finally established, after laborious negotiations of rights of minorities to gain legal sanction for their style of worship. In many ways, it was the start of the modern age.

I do have my criticisms of the book. It is very hard to keep the various Rudolphs, Ferdinands, Philips, and Maximilians straight, and there is not much about their personalities or stories about them, except in a few rare cases. The details of each military conflict were also of little interest to me and bogged me down, though that is personal.

All in all, this is a great read on a fundamental period. There is also a fascinating analysis of the historiography of the conflict, how it was seen through the ages and what is wrong with the assumptions behind each approach. In other words, nationalists, Nazis, protestants, etc., saw different meanings according to their agendas. Great food for the brain.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Whew!, 13 Aug 2010
By 
Ifor H. Smout (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (Paperback)
I read the other reviews before purchasing this book and noted the positive comments and the reservations. I cannot fault any of the comments readers submitted but would like to add a different emphasis - this was an exhausting read! The standard of research and scholarship is, as recognised by others, outstanding but I was overwhelmed by the, to me, bewildering amount of facts that included a cast of thousands,(seemingly), a geographical sweep that required the permanent presence of an atlas, factional alliances who's influence became submerged in my understanding by their sheer ubiqity and a detailed chronology that required constant checks to previous events to enable me to keep a faint grasp of context.
Don't be too put off by my exhaustion - but be prepared!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maps and things, 3 July 2010
By 
Mr. William A. A. Kinloch "Efrog" (Wrexham, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (Paperback)
This is a detailed and fascinating book and it seems churlish to quibble but:

1. I agree about the maps - there should have been more and detailed maps but this isn't a fault confined to this historical work

2. I would have welcomed an appendix with a list and short account of the people involved. It's easy to get lost with the mass of Electors, Archdukes et al (many of them sharing similar names) and a reference appendix would certainly have helped me. We were given a family tree of the Hapsburgs (the main players)and no more.

I realise that implementing these suggestions would add to cost but, at least in my view, they would have added even greater value to what looks as if it's going to become a standard work for both the general reader (like me)and the serious student of the period.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Europe's Tragedy A History of the Thirty Years War, 25 Jan 2010
By 
Cameron Aitken (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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By the time the reader has got to the end of this book there is no excuse for not having a good working knowledge of the Thirty Years War. It follows the movement of all the armies throughout the period as well as sieges, battles , diplomatic moves and the precarious finances off the participants. There are 25 battlefeild maps which I found; unlike some of the other reviewers; very useful but you have to view them within a fremework of a larger atlas or Google Earth. With so much information the book would be an impossibility were it not so well writen and presented, nice easy sub chapters alows the reader to break off and easily regain the thread. I had previosly enjoyed Veronica Weedgwood's book on the subject and the two are complementary as Peter Wilson covers two to three times the material and is a good follow on.

It is maybe difficult to seek out any section that could be eliminated though some of the conclusions might have been condenced to make way for a few lines each on the current day condition of the battlefeilds and also an appendix giving a short biography of the main charachters.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the scholar or knowledgable lay-man., 20 Aug 2009
Well written and very detailed. An excellent book for scholars and the knowledgable lay-man but too packed with detail for the casual reader.
I started reading this book to get some background on this pivital European War.
Unfortunately, the book beat me with the sheer amount of facts and the hundreds, possibly even thousands of characters and places mentioned. I would have liked more maps particularly of the various campaigns. There are battlefield maps but these are very basic and give no reference to their location. There is a basic map of Northern Europe on the front and rear end pages but more detailed maps within the text would have been helpful.
I have given the book 5 stars as it is not its fault that it was too much for me and I am sure it is likely to become one of, if not the definitive books on the subject.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the faint-hearted..., 25 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (Paperback)
I like a serious read and did learn a lot from this book but it took me 3 months to finish - if I stopped for more than a couple of days, I had to go back to the start of the chapter as it's so dense. To be fair, the subject matter is complex and the events cover a long period and a huge geographical area. Just don't expect to zip through it! On the other hand, it's a book I'll probably read again(once I've got over the first time...).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Detailed History of a Complex War, 27 April 2012
By 
Woolgatherer (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (Paperback)
The Thirty Years War had such a wide geographical and temporal spread, involved so many actors, had multifarious causes and incorporated both local and parallel conflicts that covering it in a single volume was always going to be a challenge. Although, inevitably, Wilson's book will be compared to C V Wedgewood's 1938 history of the War, it is more dispassionate, reflects the scholarship of the intervening decades and delves into much more detail.

There can, perhaps, be a temptation to look at events such as the Thirty Years War in broad terms, such as from a religious or economic perspective; or to attempt to reinterpret the past through modern ideologies. Wilson has tried to avoid those traps by concentrating on the incidents of the War, and on the motivations, or apparent motivations, of the participants, which include dynastic ambition, greed and desperation, as well as religious fervour.

There is a view that historians can either analyse the general, or record the particular. Some would argue that only the details matter; Emerson, for example, said, "There is properly no history; only biography." Whatever the merits of that debate, Wilson is certainly a historian who concentrates on events. His book is very detailed, and although it doesn't cover every theatre of operations, it does pick out episodes that exemplify the War as a whole.

Of course, there is analysis too, and Wilson does bring out evidence that challenges commonly held misconceptions about the War and its consequences. For example, he shows how states made efforts, with some success, to curb violence, and contain the war, so that its latter stages were not, as some think, a period of generalised, unlimited destruction. He also spreads his coverage beyond politics and military campaigns, and explains, for instance, the difficulties in financing the War, and how those difficulties affected the decisions of the participants.

That said, I think that the book would have benefited from a still wider sweep on occasion. It would have been interesting, for example, to look at why some countries or groups embraced one religion or another; and the extent to which religion drove change, or reflected underlying social and economic trends. Populations weren't helpless tools of a ruling elite, as mutinies and peasant revolts showed. Decisions weren't made in a vacuum, and some idea of the influences on rulers and ruled would have helped put their actions in context.

Nonetheless, this is a very good book. It's readable, gives an excellent introduction to the War, what led up to it, the motivations of the nations involved and the peace process. Maybe I'm being carping; it would be well nigh impossible to cover all of that plus additional analysis in a single volume history - and if you want detail, this is the book to read.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Old School History Book, 20 Oct 2009
By 
J. Sawyer (uk) - See all my reviews
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This is history of the old school yet it does have a 21st century perspective.

Names, dates, and statistics are the fabric of this book and it is relentless. The sprawling nature of this conflict across Europe and the years made it very difficult to pick up on any narrative which would have made the reading enjoyable. The challenge of writing a comprehensive one volume history of the Thirty Years War is at the cost of a plethora of one dimensional characters.

Still, I began this book with little knowledge of the subject and I've emerged the other side with a very clear understanding of this piece of central European history. I just wish that knowledge hadn't been so hard won.

As another reviewer has mentioned there are not enough maps. The maps at the beginning and the end of the book are the same map of the Empire 1618. Yet much of the book details events outside of the empire and many places referred in the Empire are not on the map. If there is a second edition then this really needs to be addressed.

I can't help but admire the authors research and he has brought us a modern perspective. Nevertheless, this is not a book for the casual reader. Scholars will welcome it but in the long term they might be the only ones who read it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mighty read, 3 Sep 2010
By 
J. Duducu (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (Paperback)
I bought this book because I knew virtually nothing about the 30 years war. What Peter Wilson has done is in many ways create the definitive English language history of the events.

I have read other dense reads (Karen Armstrong for one) and what Peter Wilson does is create a very dense narrative packed full of facts but ensures the writing style is easy. Still the sheer quantity of info over 850 odd pages is overwhelming and you'd be hard pressed to remember all the facts in one chapter let alone the whole book but its all there for the reader to digest at their leisure.

Apart from density the 3 minor issues I have are-

There needs to be far more maps, the story covers huge areas of Europe so there needs to be far more visual aids to help the reader.

Secondly while background and context is needed, is more than 250 pages (in very small font) really necessary building up to 1618? It's all well written and all fascinating, but the fact that Persia captured Armenia and Baghdad from the Ottomans may explain why the Turks wanted peace in the West but it surely could have been cut. Just because you've done the research doesn't mean you have to include it all in the story you are telling.

Finally the battles are given far less time than the diplomacy or economics of what is going on. "Epic" sieges can be summarised in 2 paragraphs but almost every declaration or writ or diet gets 8 pages. The fighting isn't ignored but its very much secondary to everything else going on which is a little odd as this book is about the 30 year's war.

In fact the book would have got the full 5 stars if there had been a little less detail overall.

That said, Peter Wilson does a very good job of knocking down preconceived ideas, pointing out earlier history's anachronisms and is always a fascinating guide through a tumultuous period in European history. You'll need to take a deep breath before you dive in but it's all here.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War
Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War by Peter H. Wilson (Paperback - 1 July 2010)
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