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am 19. November 1998
For anyone to write a book on a topic as sweeping as the history of Europe is bound to be a monumentally daunting task. To write such a history that attempts to be balanced and inclusive is even more difficult. Davies' book is the best European history that I have come across, and I can't see how one could write a better history without covering multiple volumes or including multiple authors.
There are several features of Davies' book that, to me, make it stand out from other histories of Europe. First of all, he begins with, if you will, a "history of European history", describing how the subject has been viewed and written about in the past. He describes how various historical schools of thought have come and gone over the years, thus describing the larger context into which he introduces his history. Davies attempts to write his history without some of the biases that he believes exist in many previous works.
Secondly, Davies tells the story of Europe along several threads, understanding that "European" history is really several parallel and interacting histories of peoples, nations, states, etc. It is only relatively recently that one can really say that there has been a coherent and truly "European" history.
Thirdly, eastern Europe is finally given some due attention. Too many European histories have tended to dwell on northern and/or western parts of the continent. Only someone such as Davies, whose specialty is Polish history, could adequately include the more neglected parts of Europe. I especially liked his telling of the Soviet liberation of Warsaw during the last years of WW2 as contrasted with the Allied liberation of Paris at about the same time. It was definitely an eye-opener.
Finally, I especially liked Davies' use of "capsules" to address topics that might not be adequately covered in a narrative history, but that would be helpful in understanding the history of Europe in its entirety. The main text provides the meat of the story, but it's the capsules that give it the right spice and flavour.
The book is excellent because it covers a big topic without being too generalizing. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a good, substantial history of Europe.
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am 30. April 1997
Norman Davies has produced a first-rate history of Europe, the most outstanding characteristic of which is its very inclusiveness. The focus of most traditional histories of Europe lies mainly on the western nations of Europe - France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain. Davies, the author of several works on the history of Poland, has managed to create an historical overview of Europe that encompasses all the nation of this most heterogenous of regions.
While one may quibble on fine detail (as a Dane, I naturally looked for fault in the material on Denmark - and found a few), the errors remain trifling and the work itself falls into the category of "must-read" history. The sheer volume of data one must wade through to write convincingly on European history ensures that no work of this character will ever meet with the approval of all readers, however, even if one does not agree with Davies on all points, this book is a solid achievement, massive and well-crafted.
I heartily recommend this history of Europe.
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am 14. Mai 2000
Norman Davies is clearly confident that his view of history in general and history of Europe in particular is more interesting and probably more valid than many others who have approached these topics. I surmise that his view of history is that it is an argument to be waged, about the larger patterns and the more subtle threads, rather than a simple telling of the episodes and icons which later political entities have enshrined into myths that serve the ends of governance. On this score, Davies would not be unique. But in telling the history of Europe with this approach, he has undertaken a topic of so enormous a scope such that the scholarship would have to be breathtakingly manifest and the arguement would have to be breathtakingly persistant and persuasive. And he pulls it off. What emerges is a wonderfully constructed version of European history that seems connected across time and space. I found myself both stimalated and inspired.
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am 29. Juli 1999
I acquired this book with no knowledge of European History. I read almost all of it before finally giving up. I would not recommend this book for those with no background in the subject. I believe the author's expertise impedes his ability to communicate the subject to the novice. The level of detail seemed to overwhelm and confuse the big picture. As a novice, I had a hard time sorting out salient facts and assembling them to create a coherent overview of the subject. I have since read some other books that were vastly superior in effectively communicating the basics of the subject.
If you have a degree in History this book may be fulfilling. If you are just trying to get a general handle on the topic try J.M. Roberts "History of Europe" instead. Also check out "A History of the Middle Ages" by Joseph Dahmus
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am 8. Mai 2000
The idea of a one-volume history of Europe is thought of as a unheard of among academic circles. However, it is only unheard of among those who have not seen this book. It is an amazing broad sweep of the themes of western civilization. Granted, it doesn't contain EVERYTHING, but its still an invaluble source for anyone researching European history. The sidebars are helpful as well. It is also printed very nicely, in a very contemporaty typeface that is easy to read. NO EYE STRAIN! Is this an academic reference that does not cause eye strain? YES. College students, by this, you'll need it. Professors, buy this, for 27 dollars you can't go wrong.
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am 7. Juni 2000
Grand synthetic history is usually tough to write, and to read. Davies more or less succeeds in telling the story of "Europe," and it certainly passes muster for the general reader. Nonetheless, the book has some faults, particularly Davies' silly insistence that Poland is the center of Europe, the world, and the universe. But it's an easy read, entertaining, and Davies has an interesting take on things.
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am 18. Januar 2000
What makes "Europe: A History" particularly attractive to me is that it is not a mechanistic carbon-copy of some recent histories of Europe. It incorporates new research and the new and changing circumstances in which Europe finds itself today. All too often, histories of Europe recite what a few powerful governments have been doing. From Davies's book, one learns what the PEOPLES of Europe have been doing, east and west. Davies's book is innovative in content and form, and it is the first history of Europe in memory to truly integrate Europe. Davies innovates and preserves, an achievement that is rare if not unique among historians. A wonderful tome.
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am 3. Januar 2000
This is a tour de force. Davies stands the Anglo-Franco-centric stance of most Western historians on its head. He shows how differently history looks when viewed from a German-Austro-Hungarian-Polish perspective. The big threats to Europe did not come from the West but from the East. Where would Europe and America be without the energy expended to resist the Turks, Mongols, and Muscovites? Agincourt looks rather small beer when compared to Zbaraz, Beresteczko and Vienna. Davies gives a fresh look at the importance of Central Europe to our culture and civilization. Nobody who reads this book will ever view the history of Western Civilization the same way.
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am 4. März 2000
"I am a candle," said Reason. Love replied: "Brother! I am the sun - so your time comes only when I set." Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916)
There are not many examples of such an altruistic approach in European history. It makes us appreciate even more those few that are left. The NATO action aimed at liberating the Albanian minority in Kosovo is one of those generous acts worth remembering. Norman Davies makes us remember some other examples. When the Ottoman Empire troops stood at the gates of Western Europe more than three centuries ago, the Polish king, John Sobieski, led the Polish Commonwealth army and decisively contributed to saving Vienna , (a faraway place given the Warsaw perspective), from almost sure disaster. Not many people know the sad epilogue of that story. In less than a hundred years, the Austrian Emperors grabbed one third of Poland! That was really a special "generosity". We must not forget that some of the Western glory was just grabbed from many, sometimes exotic countries of Asia, Africa and America. The "discovery" of America could also be easily read as conquest. Immeasurable riches gathered that way by Spain are much better known than the fact that Polish prosperity at that time was earned by grain export to Western Europe. At that time, the Polish Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) was called "the Granary of Europe". The timing of publishing this huge work by Davies is particularly symbolic and favourable. At the turn of the third millenium, Europe and also America badly needed such a book! Unlike his many predecessors, Davies paid a lot of attention to the many factors integrating rather than dividing Europe. The book is full of fine verses, original descriptions coming from library sources, and wonderful capsules - tiny streams feeding the River of European history. I absolutely agree with one of the readers in Sweden that Davies' work is one of few, if any, readable histories of Europe. Cultural European heritage is widely attributed to the Western part of Europe. Thanks to this honest West European historian, we now have a much more balanced and fair account. Davies has shocked some old-fashioned readers with his would-be new facts about Eastern Europe. The old logic of reading history was: no rights for the weak and no voice for the weak. I would compare it to the position of women or slaves throughout the ages. The Ancient Romans would probably be astonished that someone would point out their foul practice of enslaving people. Many XIXth century gentlemen would feel offended to hear that women deserve exactly the same rights that the gentlemen enjoy themselves. Oh yes, the kingdoms of Hungary and Poland were in the forefront of Christianity for centuries, defending prosperous Western European nations against the hostile Oriental world. They became much weakened that way. Their bodies, placed geographically at the heart of Europe, have been multiply raped, not only by the East, but also by the West (Austria's invasions on Hungary and Poland, Brandenburg's and Prussian Drang nach Osten against Poland). This has repeatedly occurred in more modern European history. The battle of Poland against Soviet Russia's Bolshevik hordes - culminating with the successful battle near Warsaw called the 'miracle on the Vistula', was really an event confirming that Providence had Western Europe in mind. Only a few know what a stiff price was to be paid in Katyñ and numerous other places just twenty years later. Many of Davies' readers would hardly believe how much ignorance could be displayed in some would-be reputable books on world history (see the monumental "History of the World" compiled by Prof. Esmond Wright, 1984); the battle with the Mongoles of Liegnitz (Legnica, 1241) has been located in Hungary(!); few and hard-to-find sentences, full of basic mistakes, on the history of Poland at her Golden Age have been placed in the chapter devoted to Russia's history!). I think a few readers reacted in a negative way to the abundant information on Polish or Hungarian cultural contributions or religious tolerance in XVIth century Poland. Prejudice and taboos haunt not only European nations even now. These are something Davies ruthlessly traces and embattles. Thank you, Norman, for your human and balanced insight into European history! You presented history as a source of inspiration for all Europeans and surely also Americans. Yes, the weak also have rights and with your helping hand the weak will get stronger. I would like to see an optimistic view of European history given at the end of this book.
"And I was with them drinking wine and mead, And what I saw and heard all men may read" Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), an excerpt from the "Pan Tadeusz" poem.
Really, reading this book I have an impression of being in the heart of Europe for ages. Zbigniew Lechniak, engineer, The Very Heart of Europe
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am 10. August 1999
It must be conceded that the scope of this work is very nearly out of the grasp of even the most skilled scholar. However, to date no one has succeeded so fully in presenting the breadth and depth of Europe as Davies does in this work. He is to be commended for his fearlessness and honesty: he names Stalin the greatest tyrant and murderer of the 20th century and, while taking nothing away from the horrors of the Holocaust, becomes one of the first popular historians to recognize that equal and even greater atrocities have taken place in our century that we have paid too little attention to. He is also to be commended for recognizing the integral role of East-Central Europe in European history, a role too many Western historians have ignored.
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