Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another magnificent read from C.V. Wedgwood, 4 Feb 2009
This review is from: William the Silent (Paperback)
All Europeans (and obviously many others) have a degree of curiosity about European history, but, for nearly all of us, it is hard to know where to start. And when you do start, there are so many histories that roll out dead facts that your enthusiasm just evaporates. I started with bulky compendiums by H.A.L. Fisher and J.M. Roberts, which gave me an impression but stimulated little personal engagement. Things got better with Ernest John Knapton (1450 -1815), but it was only when I focussed on specific countries, episodes and individuals that the interest really became, somehow, personal. Imperial Spain (1469 - 1715) and Louis XIV (The Sun King) were very enjoyable.

But only when I came across Wedgwood's Thirty Years War did the thrill of the subject take hold. She has a shamelessness in forming a personal view of her subject, asking what it must really have been like for them, there and then, which captures the reader's imagination completely. Clearly, this involves risks, but I have yet to find any accusations of factual errors or partial misinterpretations.

Apart from improving the quality of the read, her interpretation of facts and choice of emphasis allows you to form a view, which might be right or wrong. But if wisdom is knowledge plus interpretation or judgement, then at least she inspires you to go for it. You might be wrong, but at least you have a view.

I finished her William the Silent with tears in my eyes. I then re-opened Jonathan Israel's massive history of the Dutch Republic (which I admire enormously, but may never finish) and re-read his account of the early 1580s. For him, the Union of Utrecht was a diced carrot lost in a stew of competing facts. For her, the Union of Utrecht explains today's national distinction between Holland and Belgium - a view I shall be boring people with around pub bars and dinner tables for the foreseeable future.

And people will disabuse me. And I will look stupid for a while, until the next time the subject comes up, when I will look less stupid. But at least the world makes a little more sense to me. And if there is one historian I have to thank for this, it is C.V.Wedgwood.
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