17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancien Regime
This is an excellent summary of 150 years of history from which one may then proceed to suspend more focussed histories. Tim Blanning has elected to go all Fernand Braudel on us and although the book is about the pursuit of glory he insists on taking us through the supports upon which this aristocratic tradition lies or lay before getting to the icing. The base of all...
Published on 26 Oct. 2008 by Charles Vasey
22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Europe 1648-1815
Tim Blanning may not be personally in pursuit of glory, but judging by the back page blurb he has achieved a good deal of it. The man at the Sunday Telegraph read it with his "jaw permanently dropped in admiration" - at the Sunday Times it was "let the nations rejoice . . . a truly glorious book" - "Sparkling" intoned the Guardian. Appetite whetted with all this praise...
Published on 22 July 2010 by S Wood
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancien Regime,
This is an excellent summary of 150 years of history from which one may then proceed to suspend more focussed histories. Tim Blanning has elected to go all Fernand Braudel on us and although the book is about the pursuit of glory he insists on taking us through the supports upon which this aristocratic tradition lies or lay before getting to the icing. The base of all wealth - the peasant is therefore given his proper place in the first section of the book. There then follows a review of power in these societies and of the role of religion. I found the latter particularly effective. Finally, for those of you who enjoy court armour and periwigs we get to an excellent summary of what is in practice the rise and fall of France. Here by using a macro view one can see many trends that are less easy to grasp when dealing with an individual Louis.
One comes away aware of how easily it could have been different. If Vienna had fallen to the Turks, if the French had stayed out of the American War, and if Prussia had lost Silesia. The Ancien Regime can in less skilled hands seem a sterile period before the excesses of nationalism; here we see it differently.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Took my breath away,
Before having read this book, I was largely ignorant about this period (1648 - 1815) in European history. Now, having read Tim Blanning's amazing book, I think that on the one hand I not only know a lot more but, on the other hand, remain conscious that I've barely scratched the surface (the suggested reading-list in itself covers some 11 pages, in small typescript) .
Contrary to what the title might seem to indicate, this book is about ever so much more than royalty and monarchs in the pursuit of glory. There's that too of course, but - as the titles to the four parts indicate - it's about life in all its aspects between 1648 and 1815:
- Part one: Life and death
- Part two: Power
- Part three: Religion and culture
- Part four: War and peace
In all, the book offers 677 pages (not counting the preface, suggested reading-list or index) densely packed with an amazing overview of virtually every major aspect of life in those days. This is no easy reading, but the rewards for making the effort to read this book with the attention and concentration it fully deserves are definitely worthwhile. What is also very refreshing is the fact that at times Blanning is not afraid to a) indicate that for some topics he can only give a short overview and b) freely admit that in some topics he's not a specialist.
Perhaps the best praise I can offer is that this book gave me an appetite to rush out to the bookstore and stock up on more to read about this fascinating period.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars historian's ambivalence...mostly,
The existing reviews give a good sense for what this book covers and I would like to try to add a bit beyond what has been said. I am not a historian, just a general reader. (But the book was pitched to general readers, so I think I can have a say).
First, Mr. Blanning has clearly "been there, done that, and got the t-shirt to prove it" when it comes to his subject matter. He is the master of the choice example, which could only be achieved through extensive travel, terrific language skills, and years of thinking and teaching. He is positively interesting, and pulls the reader in. Would love to have dinner with this guy, my treat.
Second, like many great historians, Blanning is attracted to ambivalence. In the concluding chapter he is quite explicit: there are two narratives that can be maintained about this period, a progressive one and a pessimistic one. Actually, one would be very hard pressed to purely progressive or purely pessimistic - it's up to each person to mix the two according to taste and all sorts of mixes are plausible given the evidence. Maybe a more interesting way to put it is that this period of history is not one of pure progress by any means. Strikes me as realistic.
One of his favorite sources of ambivalence is whether "x" is a revolution or an evolution. As in industrial, commercial, communications, and so on. He seems to fall in the evolutionary camp but I found him hazy in his commitment - he strikes me as more "evolution with punctuated equilibrium." Again, realistic. Bottom-line: his ambivalences make him an interesting thinker.
In truth, I came close to giving him 4 stars, however, for several reasons. First: the material at the end of the book - the concluding chapter--would have been more helpful at the beginning of the book. Not a big deal. Second, he should have defined some limits to his subject matter. This becomes very apparent in Section 4: War and Peace. At several points he acknowledges that he is attempting summaries in a few pages that would normally take several volumes. Not a good idea. Section 4 is for the reader with a hardcore interest in war and a solid knowledge base - not me, and I was always feeling lost.
Finally, I wonder if he did the Church right. He is not a fiery anti-cleric, but he seems to have little ambivalence about religion and churches (as seen most directly in chapter 7), and so tends to lose his effectiveness. Is the story of religion during this period just one of accumulation of wealth, misuse of power, and so on? At one point he writes that perhaps most bishops were well-educated, pious, diligent and effective administrators (p. 370), but the outburst goes nowhere.
If Blanning has an Achille's heel, I think it is that on the issue of religion--which was such a central force in the lives of people in this period--he cannot really sustain any ambivalence. We learn how long it took people to walk places but nothing of their interior lives as Christian people or the centrality of the local parish to community life. I am reminded of the old peasant lady who houses a communist official in the Georgian film "Repentance." As the official eats one her cakes--shaped like a church--and brags about a road that will be built, she snarls "What good is a road if it does not lead to a church?" I suspect most of the people who are Mr. Blanning's subject matter would agree with that sentiment, but in this book we learn mostly about the road.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking. 6 stars.,
"Pursuit of Glory" by Tim Blanning is an exciting grand tour of Europe between 1648 (the Treaty of Münster) and 1815 (the end of Napoleon). It provides a breathtaking overview of the period, describing vividly how Europe transformed itself to a modern society by analyzing the underlying economic, political, military, religious, scientific and cultural developments.
By structuring the chapters by topic rather than chronologically, layer upon layer of wonderful tapestry emerges. The result is a fascinating view of an era that is nowadays largely overlooked. Every page is packed with relevant information, great one-liners, relating quotes and providing good analysis. The pace and style is both appealing and lucid. Topics covered filled many a blind spot in my knowledge. The last chapter, where Blanning addresses the difficulties of interpreting the period is splendid and depending on your perspective, one can draw completely different conclusions about the direction Europe and the world were heading for now.
Rather than repeat what has already been written in some of the excellent reviews below I will simply say that I immensely enjoyed this masterwork from page one and that it ranks high in my top 10 favourite history books.
29 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars verweile doch, du bist so schön,
The period from the peace of Westphalia to the Congress of Vienna has the virtue for the high-end popular historian of being close enough in time and culture to be relevant, while also being distant enough to be contemplated more or less for pleasure. It also has the further advantage, for the commercially ambitious author, that the personal was very much the political - vast impersonal historical forces can't even begin to account for the likes of Catherine the Great, Louis XIV, or Frederick the Great.
The somewhat austere Prof. T.C.W. Blanning has revised himself as just plain Tim (registering this little bit of image modification, I could not help thinking of the Tim the Sorcerer character from Monty Python's Holy Grail - sorry) to write this. And this is a very much a Tim, rather than a Prof. T.C.W. sort of book: it manages to be relaxed, entertaining and learned, and to cover a lot of ground without losing - or at least any more than necessary - focus. And yes, the first chapter, on travel and communications, is as good as everyone says it is.
I do wonder if Tim is aiming just a smidgen higher than he should have. Casual jokes about cultural theory which contrast Hegelian aircraft carriers with positivist fishing fleets are very funny for a small audience (more Clarendon than Allen-Lane sized, I would have thought), but maybe a bit exclusionary - I wonder what people outside that audience think. Similarly, I was outrageously flattered at the large intersection between my library and his (said intersection being documented mostly as casual, and un-bibed, allusions in the text). Again, I'm not sure what the larger audience might make of this.
Anyway, an excellent, entertaining book, and I definitely agree with another reviewer who thought that Tim Blanning must be great at a dinner party (and also, maybe more importantly, as a thesis supervisor). In fact, given that he appears to have written his dissertation on Mainz, if he ever is back in town, and drops me a line, I would be delighted to offer a glass of riesling.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I now know a lot more things, but not necessarily in the logical order,
This was a really well written and entertaining book. However, the author presupposes a lot of prior knowledge which I sadly lacked, making some of the material a bit challenging - probably not the best choice of read for the inexperienced but I have learned a great deal from reading it. There is a good chance that I'll do so again.
I was a bit disappointed by the balance of the content. I felt there is a disproportionate ammount of text devoted to the social history of the period and too little on the meaty political and military events, e.g the wars of the French revolution. I also thought that given that the book does not flow in strict chronological order then it would have really benefited from the inclusion of a simple summary chapter or timeline - something I think newbies to this period of European history would find very useful. That said, I still highly recommend it to anyone.
22 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Europe 1648-1815,
Tim Blanning may not be personally in pursuit of glory, but judging by the back page blurb he has achieved a good deal of it. The man at the Sunday Telegraph read it with his "jaw permanently dropped in admiration" - at the Sunday Times it was "let the nations rejoice . . . a truly glorious book" - "Sparkling" intoned the Guardian. Appetite whetted with all this praise I plunged into the book. Alas, between the hype and reality there is a gulf.
"The Pursuit of Glory" starts off reasonably well. Part one covers what might be labelled the Socio-Economic sphere, though without enough discussion of the economic side of it for my taste. The section that contemplates whether an industrial revolution happened in Britain or not, never seemed to get its teeth into the subject, and I felt that Blannings judgement was pre-ordained; he doesn't seem a great fan of revolutions, whether they're Industrial, English (1640's and 50's) or French (1790's).
The second part "Power" is a tolerable discussion of "Rulers and their Elites" and "Reform and Revolution" especially if you are up to coping with a regular bombardment of names from the various Royals and their noble (or otherwise) flunkies. This brings us to the third part, "Religion and Culture" and I presume this is where the claim that the book is "provocative" is rooted. I certainly felt seriously provoked while reading a thirty-page chapter on hunting including statistics of the kills of various notables of the era. The book ends with a hundred and fifty pages of warfare.
One thing that I found surprising is that Blanning only incidentally mentions Europes over-seas Empires. Why on earth have thirty-pages on hunting (followed by forty-pages on elite architecture) and not deal with the Imperial issue in anything like a systematic manner? Given that this is a crucial factor in the period's history at the European and Global level, this has to be marked down as a serious omission. Another source of irritation was the register Blanning writes in: essentially conservative, complacent and well pleased with itself.
"The Pursuit of Power" is a book that left me under whelmed and without any feeling that I had gained any great knowledge or insight into the age. Not the nicest of feelings after slogging through 677 pages in search of an understanding of European history during an important era. Not one that I'd recommend.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars early modern Europe,
It took me a while to get through this book but i enjoyed it all the way through. i don't there is another book out there that will give you a more complete picture of early modern europe. this book also stands well apart from others by going into far more detail then others might be. it doesn't follow they usual lines of just talking about kings and warfare but gos into every little detail on the lives of people all through 1648 to 1815. the improvement in communications by better roads, the new postal system, religion, the enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the mindset of people and basically a whole look at a changing society that left the medieval world and entered the modern era. an utterly fascinating book filled with so much information that there is never a dull moment. my favorite part by far being the chapter on the enlightenment as it was enthralling to read as old superstitions and ignorance gave way to reason and logic, witches no longer burned but there accusers now finding themselves in the locks, an explosion in the amount of books being published and the amount of common people now reading and great writers, composers and painters now becoming public figures who are adored by there people. this was truly an age of change.
4.0 out of 5 stars European Politics,
An excellent introduction to the period.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars history as it should be,
this is a book with a sweeping subject both geographically and timevise,
but it manages to give the reader a remarkably detailed sense of its subject while being both an easy read and interesting.
for everybody but an expert this will greatly enhance your understanding of how it all fits together.
And how geography, culture, technology and history interacted in this time and place to lay the foundation of the modern world
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The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 by Tim Blanning