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Another book on Europe to give a miss
on 23 August 2017
Do you remember those professors at university, who just rambled on, with absolutely no story line, no red tread and no message? Well that is this book in a nutshell. I have absolutely no idea what story the author is trying to tell, whether there has been any analysis to his work or whether there are any revelations for the reader. Look up Brownian Motion on Wikipedia and note the two moving charts, for a very graphic representation of what this book is like.
Admittedly, I only got as far as finishing Chapter 1, before condemning it to the recycling bin (I don't have the heart to give it to a charity shop and subject my fellow human beings to such poor history writing). Here is why:
The writing is temporally inconsistent, which means that the author jumps from 1453 to 1678 on the same page, without any reason or logical context. It makes developments extremely difficult to follow. Furthermore, characters are mostly just mentioned by their name, e.g. Charles V. As the book is temporary all over the place, you have no idea of whether he is talking about Charles (Holy Roman Emperer), Charles of Naples, Charles V of a France or Charles V of Lorraine.
The Holy Roman Empire is obviously a key feature of the early part of the book. The polity is extremely poorly defined, with no explanation of its relationship with the Kingdom of Germany, why and how it expanded and contracted following the Peace of Westphalia.
The advent of Protetstanism is an interesting one. Luther is of course described, but there is no analysis of why countries converted (except England). This is a pretty interesting angle as it is a key factor behind the 30 year war. The 30 year war is another interesting one. It is very de-emphasised. Not only what really caused it (apart from religion) such as alliances, economics, geopolitical ambitions etc. In as much as 8 million Germans lost their lives (almost 50% of the population) I would have thought this conflict would be given a more prominent position, given that the title is called "The Struggle for Supremecy".
Other, potentially important aspects that are never (or not prperly) examined is the role of Sweden in the war. They supplied the majority of military commanders, but were not part of the Empire. What was their interest? Likewise the role of the French in the conflict with the Ottomans is left for the reader to speculate over. Why did they side with the Ottomans against their fellow Catholics, the Habsburgs? A bit more geopolitical analysis would have been extremely helpful.
So in conclusion, I really wouldn't bother wasting money on this book. Interestingly, it is the second book on European History, which I have confined to the recycling bin in a very short period, the other being Richard J Evans's awful book "Europe". Both suffer from "woods - trees syndrome" and both were published by Penguin. It could be that Penguin is just a bad publisher of history books. But something more fundamental may be happening, namely that nobody really seems to know exactly what was going on in Europe from 1200 to 1945 other than its history is extremely complex. If the latter is the case, it doesn't bode well.