on 10 June 2011
You might be unsure about buying a "textbook" if you are no student. but don't hesitate getting a copy of this one! It is excellent and very readable (at least if you make appropriate breaks between chapters that sum up specific themes or aspects in 12-15 intense pages).
Here are, in my opinion, this book's main assets:
-- To the difference of many other history books, this one does not consider Europe from one specific country, to which other countries would be compared.
In many cases, the mentioned regions or countries are chosen because they most appropriately exemplify the chapter's theme.
--The book, which is globally chronological, covers a very wide range of subjects:
*Part I gives a welcome global picture of Europe... and the rest of the world at the beginning of the studied period of time (1500)
*Part II deals with "society and economy" (including gender and family --- at the very beginning, which is very unusual--, rural and urban society, marginals and deviants, early modern economy).
*Part III is about religion (situation at the end of the Middle Ages, followed by the Reformation--Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic--, and a chapter on the Jews and Muslims.
*Culture is the general theme of Part IV (concept of "Renaissance", discovery of new territories/colonies, art and society, importance of the printed press, scientific revolution, witchcraft and magic, popular culture(s), Enlightement)
*Part V deals with politics. Quite unusually - and refreshingly, I think-- that section is placed at the end. In addition "politics" are considered in an open and deeply structural way. You won't face endless lists of conflicts and treatises or details of dynastic successions. "Politics" here includes the political and judicial relationships between the monarch (prince, pope, king/queen, ...) and his/her direct circle (court), and between that central power and local government. Chronological lists and dynasties can be found at the very end of the book, together with welcome maps.
*Part VI gives a picture of Europe and the rest of the world round 1800.
--Historiography is occasionally discussed.
E.g.: the usual connection that is established between "Italy" and "Renaissance" seems to originate in a work by a Basel-based professor in 1871. But do historians still agree that (Italian) Renaissance was a new era? (p. 151).
-- Specific terms and concepts such as transubstantiation vs consubstantiation, morisco, millenarian, bridewells, city-states, signori or cartesianism, are explained (a little in the text, and mainly in a specific glossary at the end).
-- Much attention is given to nuances, to (implicit or explicit) exceptions, that can be regional or social, and to the limits of what is known. It appears very clearly in the chapter on prosecutions for witchcraft (p.203), for instance. Numbers (of cases) are questioned; the European geography of prosecution is analysed and explanations are given, referring to/opposing several historians. Finally, reasons are suggested for the decline in prosecutions. Both primary sources (judicial archives) and essays are mentioned.
-- Each chapter is written by an expert on the subject and ended with a reading list (sources, literature, web resources). There is a convenient index at the very end of the book.
Beat Kümin's editorial job is excellent, seamless. No overlapping, no gaps, adequate invitations to go to another chapter where a subject is developed in more depths. A few illustrations and "boxes" with examples or excerpts of original texts liven up the lay-out.