Europe: A History
A Panorama of Europe, East and West, From the
Ice Age to the Cold War, From the Urals to Gibraltar
In such a vast forest, it is inevitable that some trees are overlooked. For example, the "zeroth" and Children's Crusades are omitted. The Treaty of Westphalia that ended the 47-year-long Thirty Years War is described as just another treaty, surprising given the pivotal role in creating the modern nation-state the treaty is accorded by more politically-oriented historians. Cultural history is well represented, however, from the discovery of syphilis in 1493 and the invention of economic inflation in the 1550s to the Europeans' soaring masterpieces of art and science. Reading this book is like looking out the side window of a bullet train as the continent speeds past. The crucial and horrific battle of Lepanto of 1571 - which is best remembered by the comment by Sebastiano Veniero, the Venetian naval commander, who is not mentioned in the book, and who said prophetically before the battle, "This would be a good day to die" - whizzes by in a blur, along with much of the landscape. As for the period of expansion of the Ottoman Empire - don't blink, or you may miss it:
In the Mediterranean, renewed Ottoman expansion was signalled by the attack on Rhodes and the capitulation of the Knights Hospitallers (1522). Algiers was captured in 1529, Tripoli in 1551, Cyprus in 1571, Tunis at the second attempt in 1574. Malta survived a grand siege (1565). In the view of the Catholic world, the centrepiece was provided by the naval battle of Lepanto (1571), where Don John of Austria, natural brother of Philip II, succeeded in uniting the combined naval forces of Venice, Genoa, and Spain, and destroying the Ottoman fleet. Here was the last crusade, the last battle of massed galleys, the last significant Ottoman move for many decades.A conspicuous omission it the lack of information about extra-European colonial activities. For example, there is no discussion of British colonies in the East Indes, India, South Africa, or Sudan, or of the French colonialization of North Africa.
Another problem with the book is that the maps are too few in number and inexplicably turned sideways with respect to their labels, placing England, perhaps symbolically, at the top. The histories of various countries are jumbled together erratically. The index is also inadequate - the Archduke Ferdinand (of which there were at least two, having played key roles in starting both the Thirty Years' War and World War I by usurping the Bohemian throne before the one and getting assassinated before the other, a clear case of people not having learned from history) is not even listed in the index.
As the author says, it would easily be possible to fill 70 volumes with the history of Europe; but few people would ever read it. This book fills an important gap for Americans in particular, who are taught about Vasco da Gama and Ponce de Leon over and over, but know little about the history of one of the seven most important continents on the entire planet. In the absence of No.6's "the Professor", this book would be a great starting point.