I read the other reviews before purchasing this book and noted the positive comments and the reservations. I cannot fault any of the comments readers submitted but would like to add a different emphasis - this was an exhausting read! The standard of research and scholarship is, as recognised by others, outstanding but I was overwhelmed by the, to me, bewildering amount of facts that included a cast of thousands,(seemingly), a geographical sweep that required the permanent presence of an atlas, factional alliances who's influence became submerged in my understanding by their sheer ubiqity and a detailed chronology that required constant checks to previous events to enable me to keep a faint grasp of context. Don't be too put off by my exhaustion - but be prepared!
This exhaustive history of the Thirty Years War has great depth and scope, detailing sometimes bafflingly complicated events and doing it lucidly. Truly, this series of wars were one of the darkest episodes of European history with millions dying as a result.
When I saw this book for sale I was afraid that it would be another REALLY long, dry history book written by somebody who doesn't know how to cut things out. Fortunately I was wrong. This book is pretty much the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. At 851 pages of text it is certainly a long book, but given the complexity of the source material I don't see how it could be otherwise. It has to make up for years with little printed research (At least in English) as well as include all the recent papers printed in other languages. As he points out in the introduction, any comprehensive book on the Thirty Years War requires knowledge of at least 14 different languages. For some reason the English speaking countries don't have much interest in the Thirty Years War. There is a very short list of books that cover it.
A lot has changed since the greatest previous book on the war came out in 1938. There has been a copious amount of new research that just wasn't available then. Also, having been written after World War I the perspective is rather different. In some ways that helped of course, since both wars were so tragically pointless. This book is rather different from that one. While Wedgwood's book relied almost entirely on the chroniclers of the time, this book includes a better look at the war's causes. In fact, the war itself doesn't start until page 269. Wedgwood's book kind of reminded me of Gibbons, at least in the way she arranges her information quite clearly to add force to her thesis. Basically her thesis is that the war was a stupid waste that was caused by stupidity and greed for power. Even though I think her thesis works better that Gibbons', it still left a lot out that wasn't essential to her main point. In her defense, it was a relatively brief book at 536 pages (including bibliography). That's about half the size of this one. This book includes everything. I'm sure that even at this length it left many things but it feels complete.
I really appreciate the layout of this book. The chapters are long but they are divided into subsections every few pages which makes it easier to find a point to put it down. That's something that I wish more books would do. The divisions aren't forced either, so if you're on a boring topic a new one will come along shortly. The battles have pretty clear maps which show the layout of the opposing armies. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case they're right. Even though the battle descriptions are fairly brief, I feel that I understand them better than I did reading Wedgwood's book. There are also full-color pictures of all the major players in the war and several of the more important events. If you have any interest in this war I would strongly recommend this book. It might be a difficult read because of it's length, but it's worth the trouble.
By the time the reader has got to the end of this book there is no excuse for not having a good working knowledge of the Thirty Years War. It follows the movement of all the armies throughout the period as well as sieges, battles , diplomatic moves and the precarious finances off the participants. There are 25 battlefeild maps which I found; unlike some of the other reviewers; very useful but you have to view them within a fremework of a larger atlas or Google Earth. With so much information the book would be an impossibility were it not so well writen and presented, nice easy sub chapters alows the reader to break off and easily regain the thread. I had previosly enjoyed Veronica Weedgwood's book on the subject and the two are complementary as Peter Wilson covers two to three times the material and is a good follow on.
It is maybe difficult to seek out any section that could be eliminated though some of the conclusions might have been condenced to make way for a few lines each on the current day condition of the battlefeilds and also an appendix giving a short biography of the main charachters.
This book is the sh*t! I studied the Thirty Years War in my final year of my history degree at the University of Nottingham, and quite simply I would not have survived without this book. At times, this damned subject was pure hell, the dark realms of which conjure painful memories. However, with this book I could pinpoint specific areas and topics and get tremendous amounts of detail on them. The breadth of material is truly mind-boggling, and so I salute the historian for his magisterial scholarly effort.To that end, no one in their right mind would want to read it cover-to-cover, because it is so thick. Say 'goodbye sanity'. Perfect for students and academics; casual readers STAY AWAY! If I ever meet Peter Wilson, I will buy him a pint... make that several.