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This review is from: The Thirty Years War (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
For some mysterious reason of the dozens of historical dates I was forced to memorize in secondary school '1648 Peace of Westphalia' always stuck in my mind. Well, it's been almost 30 years since I finished secondary school now, high time to - finally! - read up on the Thirty Years' War. I felt too daunted by the sheer size of Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War so opted to start with C.V. Wedgwood's book.
From the very start I was completely gripped by the clarity with which she sets out to tell the story of this long and impossibly tangled conflict. Step by step, Wedgwood guides you from one phase of the conflict to the other and never did I feel lost amidst the dozens of principal actors and ever-shifting alliances and leagues, which is no mean feat (admittedly, this is based on the assumption that I am of average intelligence and get lost as soon as an average person; you'll just have to take my word for it I guess).
Contrary to what Anthony Grafton says in his foreword and other reviewers have commented on as well I personally felt this is not just a 'how history' but contains quite a lot of 'why history' as well. In fact, the 'why bits' are probably the main reason why I never felt lost. Throughout Wedgwood always clearly explains the motives of the actors: why the German protestant princes become wary of their 'Protestant champion' Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, or why at another point in time they (Protestant though they are) accept the help of Catholic France.
For a work written in 1938 I found this to be a remarkably fresh account of a pivotal conflict in European history, very hard to put down, and apart from hours of glorious entertainment at the very least it's given me the confidence to start Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War.