This is a marvellous, gripping, narrative history. It's also a pleasure to read from sentence to sentence, for the grace and eloquence of the prose. The focus is on the politics, the shifting alliances, the webs of self-interest and subterfuge. We're provided with pen portraits of the key players and shown how the war was shaped by their motives, fears and ambitions. When finally Wedgewood concludes that the war was "meaningless" she means it resolved little. She certainly doesn't mean it was without cause, for one of the triumphs of this book is the clarity with which she elucidates the many tangled causes.
I do have some very minor gripes. It would be nice to have more details on some of the battles and the plight of the peasants (although Wedgewood clearly empathises with them). Most of all it would be nice to have a map of Germany where half the places of interest aren't lost in the gutter of the pages. However, none of these things stop me regarding this book as excellent. I couldn't put it down.
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.
This is my first book I have read regarding the thirty year war. It was very informative. It can be dry with all the facts. It can read like a school history book. This is good if you are trying to understand the thirty year war in more detail. My only negative comment in this area is the lack of detail about the battles. Very good information on the politics of the situations but little in the way of detail in how battles were fought. If you are looking for a light read this book is not for you but if you are looking to expand your knowledge of the thirty year war beyond the battlefield this book is for you.
I agree with everything the first reviewer says about this book, but, I would also add, for a history book of this size, it's extremely readable, often quite humourous (where appopriate for such a devastating conflict). Strangely, I also bought it years ago and only read it recently.
I read many large works on history and the fascinating detail afforded by modern scholarship, is often spoilt by turgid, meandering, prose.
A little over 50 years since I struggled with the 30 years War in A level history I decided finally to read this from cover to cover. The book explains a complicated struggle more clearly than I remembered, and her style is always easy and peppered with character sketches and flashes of humour - altogether an elegant work that deserves the praise other readers have given it. It is a narrative account - it might be difficult to write a book that covers thirty years of switching allegiances and motivations in any other way - but Wedgwood includes sufficient analysis for the reader to understand why things happened. I'd hoped reading this would give me some insight into current long lasting wars where internal disputes have been complicated and extended by competing ideologies and territorial aggrandisement by external powers. I think it has done this.
There will never be a better one-volume history of the Thirty Years War. Cicely Wedgwood was in the tradition of Gibbon and Macaulay; a writer who combined a perfect grasp of her subject with magnificent, pellucid prose.
This is an exceedingly complicated subject to write on - but Ms Wedgwood has done a brilliant job. I gave up on another histroy by a different author, but this one is a pleasure to read: sure, it is slightly old-fashioned, but in the best sense of the word. A very intricate subject clearly laid out, a lucid and pleasant style, probably a quite personal take on some of the many personages but (in my 1947 Bedford historical series) with lots of unobtrusive footnotes on sources. I briefly read the Folio Society version but much prefer the older Bedford one! An admirable book altogether - I will be searching out other books by this author.
Would *definitely* recommend to anyone! Caroline Wedgwood makes the whole period come to life; anyone reading this would have thought she was actually there. A rare blend of first class scholarship of wide-ranging appeal, which mixes well-researched facts with a strong moral approach to the vicissitudes and horrors of the war. Wedgwood is equally skilled at microscopic analysis of battlefield movements and diplomatic exchanges as she is at zooming right out and providing a God's eye view of the whole 30 year period, its causes in the previous century, and its lasting echos down to the Europe of her own day.
Written in the late 1930s by the then very youthful Veronica Wedgood, this is probably still one of the best books to read about the 30 Years War. In my opinion, she got the balance exactly right, expanding sufficiently into all sorts of 'sidelines' (Bethlen Gabor and his invasions from Transsylvania, the Italian theater, the link with the Dutch 80 Years War) but still keeping the book well focused and compact. I very much liked her 'old-fashioned' (in the positive sense) writing style, including her moralistic (but mostly fair) judgements of the main decision makers. In line with pretty much any other book about this war, there is a bit of an imbalance in coverage between say the first 15 years (90% of the text) and the 'remaining' 15 years, but that is understandable and probably contributes to readability as the events in the final period do not lend themselves as well to a nice storyline. Overall verdict: job very well done, highly recommended.
This is a topic I really wanted to learn more about and I believe this is the 'classic' work (although it is now very old, fist published in 1938). In the end I was a little disappointed with the book.
The subject is ferociously complicated and the book obviously reflects that. There are are whole host of different countries involved (some that don't even exist now); the armies and leaders themselves are often not 'national', but mercenary; the conflicts are religious, political, dynastic and more; and what's more, everybody keeps seem to be changing sides depending on the fortunes of war and the resultant power balance. That being the case, I think the book would have been improved with devices to help the reader such as more and better maps, a timeline, a list of the 'dramatis personae' and pictures of the key characters. (There are no pictures.) Being able to refer to such things would have made following the text easier and thus more enjoyable.
Also, Wedgwood focuses mostly on the high power politics and there is less on the effects on the war on the ordinary people and their lives (and deaths). These things are referred too, but relatively little. It's top down history; perhaps that reflects the era in which it was written. There is also limited detail on the battles (even the famous ones like White Mountain) and again, better mapping would help. Another gripe: quotes that are given in foreign languages and not translated! I like my history, but I don't speak French, German or Latin!
One thing is clear from the book and that is how the nobility and royalty of Europe had only their aggrandisement and dynastic ambitions and certainly not the welfare of 'their' people at heart. Always looking towards prestige and advantage and more often than not wracked by conceit and greed; Wedgwood says at one of the later peace conferences it took six months just to work out the hierarchy of who was to sit where and who would enter the room in which order. A state of affairs in Europe that perhaps only the First World War did away with, and no better advert for democratic rule.
In short, there were enjoyable parts to the book, but it is heavy going. I would suggest if you are new to the topic (like me) you build up some basic background knowledge first before tackling this one. Maybe the Osprey Essential History would be a good starting place, although I haven't read it. Good luck!