on 13 December 2000
This main strength of this collection is the variety of topics covered, and although some of the essays are more readable and (to me) more interesting than others, the general standard is high. None of the essays left me completely mystified by their content - and because of this they would probably all make good introductions for someone studying the history of class, the history of art, etc. However, I felt that I was getting a lot more out of the essays which covered topics which I had studied previously. The highlights were the introduction, the essay on post-war politics, and the chapter on the rise and fall of modernism. A highly recommended book.
Blanning's text on the history of modern Europe starts in the last eighteenth century, with the beginning of the French Revolution, often acknowledged by scholars today as a watershed event in the formation of modern Europe. The ramifications of this event led not only to political and military change throughout the continent of Europe (and, by extension of influence, the rest of the world), but also had profound impact on art, literature, music, philosophy, church and all else that comprises European society.
Blanning, a professor of history at Cambridge, provided editorial direction for the text, and also contributed one of the chapters of the book. The topics and chapters are overlapping, sometimes focused upon a particular theme (Warfare in Europe since 1918, by Richard Overy, is one such example) or along broad topical lines (Industrialisation of Modern Europe, 1750-1914, by Clive Trebilcock is representative here).
The first chapter is devoted to politics from the French Revolution to the First World War. John Roberts examines in this chapter politics internal to various nations as well as the foreign relations among the European states, culminating first in the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic era, to its final breakdown in the First World War. The changing face of politics across the European continent in terms of increasingly democratic structures and a lessening of royal and aristocratic government is a common theme. These themes are carried forward in essays on the reordering of European society (Pamela Pilbeam), the upheavals during the interwar period (Paul Preston), changes in recent European society (Richard Bessel) and the final, up-to-date analysis by David Reynolds.
Industrialisation and commercialisation are common themes across the history of modern Europe, discussed in different chapters by Clive Trebilcock, T.C.W. Blanning, and Harold James. Their topics are not neatly compartmentalised, and complement each others' texts, as well as the other chapters in the book, quite well. Military themes are also constant across the period, and are addressed in chapters on military modernisation (Hew Strachan), and post-World War I warfare hot and cold (Richard Overy).
Martin Jay contributed a chapter entitled 'From Modernism to Post-Modernism'. This chapter looks at issues in art, literature, media and philosophy as well as the impact of the general changes in intellectual history have had on general European society and sensibilities. This chapter more than any other examines the role of artistic and aesthetic disciplines on general society.
Blanning provides a good list for further reading, divided by the chapter headings, and further subdivided by major topics within the chapters. There is a 12-page chronology, beginning with the Estates-General convention in Versailles during the French Revolutionary period, proceeding through major events up to the 1995 inclusion of Austria, Sweden and Finland into the European Union. There are six maps of Europe in the appendix, which show the progression of national boundaries over time. It is often remarkable to look at the maps of Europe over time to see stability in some areas and massive change in others, particularly in the middle of the continent. The index is useful and comprehensive, keyed to all the different chapters.
There are dozens of colour plates scattered throughout the text, and hundreds of black and white photographs and line-art drawings - hardly any page is without an illustration.
This is a good reference book, well written and interesting in a narrative format, not too many dates and details for the general reader.