Top critical review
Not the best introduction to the period
30 January 2011
I felt this book fell short of the mark for a few reasons.
1) It divides the early modern period into just 2 periods (1450-1600 and 1600-1789) By treating the early modern period as a game of two halves it makes it difficult to get a useful sense of chronology as the themes are discussed.
2) It offers a strange over-emphasis on gender issues. Considerable space is given over to gender politics within every theme discussed. This to the point that one might want to subtitle the book "Gender in Early Modern Europe". For all of that, students wishing to focus on gender issues would find the book a very useful companion. Other students, however, might find that the discussions tend to get bogged down by this emphasis on gender, and be left still struggling to understand some of the other important issues they were hoping the book would explain.
3) Wiesner-Hanks quite rightly aims to cover the political siutation all over Europe up to and including the Ottoman empire. However, the approach she uses to achieve this is not the best. Whilst (as noted above) her discussions take place within 2 very broad time frames, she sub-divides chapters into several small geographical regions such as 'France', 'Central Europe', etc. Given that political units in this period were dynastic and shifting, this approach is not the clearest way. Rather than structuring her book by discussing small geographical regions within very broad chronological limits, it might have been more useful to discuss broad geographical regions (perhaps just one: Europe) within several smaller time frames (for example, by dividing the discussion up into centuries)
In summary, this book is strong on discussing gender, but one tends to feel that this is its main focus, and that the remainder of the text merely provides a context for the discussion of gender issues. Other issues are side-lined, and the structure of the book does not give a clear vision of early modern Europe.
A far superior introduction, in my opinion, is 'Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History' by Euan Cameron (which I have also reviewed and awarded 5 stars). This book gives such wonderfully clear explanations of early modern politics, economics, and development of ideas that you will wish you'd read it before anything else.