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4.2 out of 5 stars26
4.2 out of 5 stars
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To write a history of Europe since 1500 is a daunting task. Brendan Simms has done so in a masterly fashion. Brilliantly researched with excellent maps this will be the standard work for many a year. It is nice also to see a book with an excellent index, quite rare these days. The bibliography is extensive and up-to-date.

Brendan is a Cambridge Professor and the author of the magnificent work on the Bosnian disaster: 'Unfinest Hour'. This book will enhance his reputation even more among History scholars.

He stresses, as he did in his book:'Three Victories and a Defeat', that the history of England is intimately bound up with the history of Europe. The destiny of England, and later Great Britain, was decided by events in Europe, never has this been more true than in 2013.

It is very refreshing to read a work by a historian who emphasises the importance of geopolitics. Other excellent books on the history of Europe such as that by Norman Davies tend to downplay the role that geography played, and still does, in
political and military affairs. For this reason it is shameful that history at school and university can be studied, and usually is, without studying at the same time Geography. An atlas ought to be at every history student's elbow.

Professor Simms demonstrates how the issues that have faced Europeans, particularly security issues, have remained very constant over the centuries.He emphasises the major role that Germany has played in Europe's history, liking it to a 'semi-conductor' in the European balance between, for example, freedom and authority. As he says, his book is essentially about the 'immediacy of the past'.

His final chapter ends not with a prediction about the future, he is far too asute to make that error, but with a number of key questions.

In his book Norman Davies reminds us that in the beginning there was no Europe, by starting his book in 1500 Brendan Simms shows how his subject developed from nothing to a continent of enormous importance.

There is a tendency for historians to write a great lenght about less and less. Whole books are written, for example, about one year, sometimes even less. The Cambridge Mediaeval History covers a very short period but it takes 8 volumes. One of the great merits of this book is the depth of knowledge displayed over several centuries.

This superb book is a very worthy successor to the books on European History by Fisher, Braudel and Eugene Weber. It is also a must for all students of history since it saves them having to plough through numerous volumes.

In addition, Professor Simms has shown how it is also possible to commumicate with the general public. If students and the general public wish to learn what happened how, where and when they should read this book.

The late Professor Alan J P Taylor once said of a particular book: 'it is ninety percent true and one hundred percent useless'. I am sure he would say of this book it is not only beautifully written but 100% true and 1000% useful.
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on 29 April 2013
1. The book's ambition is Alexandrian in scope and to a limited degree Mr Simms does manage to pull it off.

2. The basic hypothesis, that the geographical space that is synonymous with Germany is the pivot of history is well argued for the most part but does begin to look less convincing when Mr Simms gets down to a discussion of current developments- the chapter on democracies and perhaps the chapter on partitions as well. There is no questioning the importance of Germany in 20th century history, and a concern about its role in 21st century, but there have been ideological struggles not all of which can realistically be seen as owed to Germany, and we have yet to grasp the significance of the geography that is Asia-Pacific- for Europe and for the larger world. Because Amazon insists on this crazy ranking by stars, owed perhaps its American origins, I would give the book three stars in this department.

3. As a very readable and comprensible account of the "going-ons" in Europe since 1453 in some six hundred pages, the book would rank high. There are minor errors of fact, and in some instances also rather nuanced interpretations and opinions; tending to enhance the book's "right of the centre" slant I would say. These shortcomings have to be excused if the constraints of time taken to do the work, the length of the period covered, and the number of pages to which the narrative needs to be restricted, are taken into consideration. In this area the book approaches the five star category.

4. In asking questions rather than offering a prognosis as the conclusions, Mr Simms, I would say, has "short-changed" the reader. This is at best three star stuff; a reasonably intelligent reader would already be aware of these "questions".
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on 14 April 2015
Broad-sweeping, ambitious but ultimately satisfying. Professor Simms does a remarkable job in giving a broad survey of more than 500 years of European history while somehow still managing to hew close to his thesis of the central importance of Germany. Recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 September 2013
What does the Euro crisis have in common with the fall of Constantinople of 1453? Brendan Simms manages to weave a thread from one to the other, and it is unrolled from the skein that has been Germany's central place within Europe. For reasons to do with geography, population, and in the early-modern the prestige of the Holy Roman Emperor, the control of German has dominated European state relations, he argues. And because this was the era of European supremacy, it has been the central issue of international diplomacy throughout. Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy provides a whirlwind tour of European and indeed world political history for the last five hundred years. It is almost awe-inspiring in breadth and of such clarity that, while of academic calibre, it should appeal to all readers whatever knowledge gaps they feel they may have in this or that period. Providing equal space to the eighteenth-century rises of Prussia and Russia in the succession struggles, to the German and Italian unifications, and to WWII, it is also filled with spicy detail about its protagonists and the twists and accidents of countless greater and lesser crises.

This is state-centred history, and it focuses on diplomatic positioning and bargaining, wars, and economic rivalry. The book is unashamedly of the 'primacy of foreign policy' school, holding that, until well into the twentieth century, the state's position on the international chessboard was its leaders' prime preoccupation. It would agree with Clausewitz that war is the continuation of policy by other means, and chapter breaks often cut into the middle of major conflicts. At the same time, Simms certainly does not ignore the major economic, ideological, and technological shifts that conditioned policy. This is, therefore, a very modernised version of great power rise-and-fall histories, with society's own travails woven into the warp. A minor objection might be that Simms skirts Germany's astonishing economic performance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a factor that has had much to do with its military and diplomatic importance. Perhaps the argument of German centrality is at times overstated, but this is something the author implicitly acknowledges, and the argument is there, after all, to make a novel and thought-provoking point. More of a nod could also have been given, finally, to the recent decline in Europe's international importance as a result of changing demographics - it represented a quarter of the world's population in 1900, but represents much less now - and of Asian economic resurgence. Yet these are details and, and for all its daunting thickness, this is a hugely rewarding book.
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on 29 June 2015
In depth but enjoyable. Nothing is left out from 500+ years of European History. All you could ask for really
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on 31 January 2016
Historia magistra vitae - if you don't believe this saying is true, read this book as a proof. It wholly explains the current situation in Europe and shows that it is just a consequence, just a history-based outcome. Really great book.
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on 11 May 2015
Incisive, informative and very readable
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on 23 September 2014
If you are ever confronted by a pacifist shouting that "we should all get along before going our merry separate ways", I would suggest shoving this book in their face.

Despite the title of this book as one of European history, it is of course impossible to tell such a tale without mentioning the interwoven stories of American independence, WWI, WW2 and the resultant meddling in the Middle East. Simms tells this swiftly and concisely whilst amazingly keeping an interwoven and fascinating theme of western (and later democratic) self preservation running throughout. To those who critique the one-liners given to monumental battles in history, it is quite obvious that this is not a book of facts but a story in which they play a part. Furthermore such monumental events have plenty written elsewhere.

The progressive errors made in foreign policy allowing to the rise in Hitler and others have changed my perception of American imperialistic actions from those of horror to a realisation of "to keep democracy here in the future, we need war there now"

I hope David Cameron reads this book and realises that Better Together is not just reserved for the Scottish independence but, despite the nuisances of economic and military integration, better for all European nations in future struggles, be it economic or otherwise, against Russia, China and Islamic radicals.
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on 9 June 2015
This book covers the travails of European countries as they were shaped by religion, war, economics and incompetence. Only from a study of this magnitude can Europeans begin to understand the present and shape their future.

Alas, the incompetence, venality, arrogance and complacence of its present leaders are no less than their predecessors. One can hardly be optimistic.
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on 12 August 2014
Sweeping and majestic in its scope and coverage of the historic and strategic thinking behind the making of Europe. It is written with clarity and style which drives the reader swiftly through each chapter to an understanding and amazement , leaving you wanting to find out more in the next.
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