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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 11 July 2008
Geert Mak's book is a masterpiece. It's not a complete and exhaustive account of the 20th Century in Europe, instead it reads in the form of a travelogue as Mak visits some of the significant places upon which events took place, for example Sarajevo and Berlin. It's not a dry and dusty recounting of facts, instead it's a warm and readable insight into some of the people and events which were so pivotal for the history of Europe. Somehow he is able to find vignettes of events which illustrate the whole, interviewing people who, although unnoticed players in history, have their own insight into the events and their own experiences of how things affected them.

What's outstanding about this book is the quality of the writing (and the translation too). Mak is able to distil complex events into fascinating pieces of writing and he regularly personalises situations that otherwise could seem too vague. I was particularly moved by the chapters on the First World War where he quoted various young men who were part of the fighting on both sides and showed that, for the individuals involved in the war, events were seen very differently from those in overall charge.

In this book Mak often quotes short phrases in German which aren't translated and could cause some trouble for those who don't speak German; however most other languages have some kind of translation where they occur.

This is a very big book and it's not something that you want to read through continuously. However I found myself dipping into it on a regular basis, 3-4 chapters at a time, and I always enjoyed it. There's a lot of history in Mak's book of which I was previously unaware, such as Lenin's return by train to Russia, and I was continually amazed that one man could have put the work together and could weave the threads of events into coherent wholes. There are few illustrations in this book (mainly maps showing his travels in each section of the book) but his wordsmith craft paints vivid enough pictures to make this book well worth the reading and a genuine triumph.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book © Helen Hancox 2008
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This is a combination of travelogue and history book - a Dutch journalist spending a year travelling through Europe, writing about the people he meets, the places he visits and the historical background. It's wonderfully written, very personable and engaging, and very interesting. It's about how the people of Europe see themselves in relation to the world around them, about how they react to other Europeans, about whether they even consider themselves European at all. I really enjoyed this book and I'd recommend it to anyone.
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on 18 December 2008
I bought In Europe because I had read a review that praised it greatly, and I enjoyed reading it more than I could have hoped. For me, Geert Mak offered a view of Europe through the twentieth century from the perspective of someone from a small, mainland European country. He doesn't write European history from the viewpoint of one of the major players, so it is never about Britain's (or France's, or Germany's) role in the First of Second World Wars. He goes about Europe and through the twentieth century, calling on his many friends and contacts in key places for key events, meeting people here and there by chance. And he gives the reader a patchwork of novel insights and deeply personal understandings. My copy has now been read by at least two other people, and is well thumbed by me; and I have recommended it to many others, and bought copies for friends as presents.
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on 6 June 2008
This is a very well written and structured canter through European C20th history. I found it almost unputdownable. It taught me masses that I didn't know, and connected events long ago with today. Highly enjoyable, and very much recommended!
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on 27 February 2012
This is a big, ambitious, broad ranging and thoroughly well researched book which takes the reader in easy steps through a phenomenal century by presenting an astonishing amount of information, interviews, and well-balanced accounts, all cleverly coinciding with the author's travels around Europe. He talks to dozens upon dozens (probably hundreds) of interesting people from ordinary folks to prime ministers, he contrasts places and events with how they were back whenever and how they are now, and seems to walk with one foot in the past, and one foot in the here-and-now. That's not easy, and he does it consistently very well. Pretty much everything to do with European politics, shifting economic structures, changing societies and the endless conflicts are covered, from the build up to the first World War right up to the Balkan conflicts at the end of the century, and the ensuing rise in Islamic extremism.

This book had me engrossed from the start, even though the enormity was daunting simply because it is so vast, but I found that it was no chore at all thanks to the style of writing (bravo to the translator!) being so friendly and ultimately such a great travelogue. I found that one chapter led to another... and another... and another... and then all 66 chapters had gone. What a journey!

A minor issue to raise, though. I wish there could be an updated epilogue, because the release date of this great book was very unfortunate indeed - it goes up to 2007, just before the crash of 2008, so the author leaves us with a somewhat optimistic and rose-tinted vision of European integration. Ireland is at full employment and constructing great buildings at full speed, Italy is an ever-growing economic miracle, Spain is on the up and up, the new member states are trying to fit in... and so on. The big credit crunching collapse was just a few months away, economic miracles were exposed as being nothing but the same old smoke and mirrors, and we were all up to our necks in debt... and maybe "boom and bust" hadn't really been abolished after all. 2008 would have given the author even more to get his teeth into. Sadly, the book came along at just the wrong time to conclude with a fitting dose of modern day European reality. But don't be put off by that, it only accounts for about one percent of the overall work!

On a practical note, I would recommend that if you are going to get this (and please do!) then you ought to opt for the hardback version rather than the paperback because anything that takes a lot of reading takes a lot of handling! I wish I had ordered the hardback, but there you go.
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on 22 June 2007
More than anything else this book was a good read- a page turner. It kept my interest because it had a good mix of historical fact, personal witness to events, stories about people the author met in his travels and present day descriptions of the sites of historic events.

There are any number of more detailed historic analyses available. However, the reader is sure to learn some things from the book as well as be gripped by the author's observations.
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on 21 December 2008
This really is an outstanding book. If you're interested in 20th century European, this is a must read. Mak covers the big events but also less well known ones from the last century interweaving interviews with people from politicians in the EU to descendants of German Kaisers to personal accounts from "ordinary" people illustrating the far-reaching effects of the events of the last 100 years. This is unputdownable.
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on 1 June 2009
This is a long book, and after a few months I am still only three quarters of the way through, but the best thing about this book is that you can enjoy it in bitesized segments, and then put it down if you want and come back to it again if you are looking for something interesting to read, without really losing the thread of what its about.
Fascinating background to twentieth century Europe's history, both its best known and lesser known aspects. Mak appears to be an extremely well informed travel writer and historian, offering a look at history that is compassionate, wise, and constantly amazed at the way we humans can be so savage, brave and kind all at the same time.
A great review of European history that is accessible I think to most people and not just those of us with a love of history, perhaps best tackled as a bedside book, something to read for an hour, reflect on and go to sleep, otherwise the sheer wordage of it might defeat even the most ardent reader.
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on 6 September 2007
This is a highly informative and engaging set of shortish essays about different European historical events from across the continent. What is surprising with the book being so wide ranging is that the level of detail and interest is so consistently high.

Sometimes the events are written about as a result of detailed reserach of histroical records, sometimes through personal interview, but each essay is overlaid with the direct personal experiences of the author who has been to each place he writes about. You have the feeling of actually being there and having Geert Mak as your personal tour guide.

Another great bonus is that the book is so beautifully written - and in the English language version this has to be down to the translation by Sam Garrett which should be acknowledged as frist class.
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on 3 August 2009
Well written, poignant, informative. A broad history of Europe in the 20th century underscored beautifully by personal accounts from those at the sharp end of history. An insightful work which raises as many questions as it answers concerning where Europeans have come from and where they are going.
Anyone with an interest in understanding Europe should read this book.
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