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51 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
A useful, if thesis-ridden, history of modern Europe.23 juin 2013
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Brendan Simms' book is an interpretation of modern European history and its chronological starting point is the fall of Byzantium. His thesis is that the Germans are the fulcrum of world history and that the last five-hundred years of Europe's history revolve around either attempts to create a universal monarchy based in Central Europe or strenuous efforts to prevent such a thing from being coming into being. The book is thus "old-fashioned" history, concerned with dynastic rivalry (the Hapsburgs vs. everyone else, especially) and, later, Great Power shenanigans both in Europe and overseas. There is relatively little cultural or economic history, such as has dominated European historiography for generations, and he does not waste time dealing with "the status of women" or "respect for minorities." This is realpolitik.
Impressive as it is, the book is not a uniform success. Simms has his hobby-horse and rides it relentlessly. Whatever happens, anywhere, happens because of a contest for the European "Heartland." In this regard, the book, well-researched as it is, constitutes a series of footnotes to Halford Mackinder and his historical mega-theories. ("Whoever controls the world-island," etc.) This sort of grand theorizing is pretty moldy today but early in the last century it was regarded as quite profound. (Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler were two other historians of the "Rise and Fall" school, just as Marx was before them and Paul Kennedy and Jared Diamond are today's keepers of the flame.) It all makes for lofty pronouncements and the occasional sententious PBS mini-series and the sort of people who fall for this sort of thing are usually the same ones who insist that the Roman Empire "fell" because the ancient Romans began using lead water-pipes. In other words -- mostly moonshine.
The first third of the book will confuse most people and the final third will bore them. This is not necessarily the author's fault. It is very difficult for even trained, professional historians to clearly understand the Empire. It is nearly hopeless for the "Guns, Germs and Steel" or Will Durant crowd to attempt. They will try to conceive late medieval politics through the nation-state model and so end up utterly baffled. Simms' basic thesis -- that the Empire was the cockpit of European politics -- is potentially sound enough. But, the Empire was such a godawful political and religious ball of yarn and punched so far below its weight that it was repeatedly reduced to somebody else's battlefield.
Simms is strong in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the reader will feel more at home here too. Nation-states have emerged as the actors in world-politics and Bismarck always makes for good copy. The most important event in European history between Waterloo and August 1914 was the creation of the German Empire and Simms gives this series of events full credit.
Simms also does an unusually good job of relating non-European developments to his concentration on mittleuropa. Great power rivalry in North America is nicely tied in with Pitt's overall strategy for containing France in the Empire and the Low Countries. But, none of this is news to historians -- although Simms does yeoman's work in providing a good summary.
The last part of the book is just a recapitulation of headlines during the postwar period. Germany, naturally enough, is the cockpit of the East-West rivalry according to Sims and for the era 1939-1955 he is a darn good guide. Where he falls down is with the post-USSR world in which each paragraph might as well begin, "And then, the next day, this is what happened." Anyone who was alive and conversant with public affairs will find little new in the last fifty or so pages of the book.
But, it is great to read 'history" again -- an account of the doings of the Great Powers and the importance of politics in human affairs. True, we do not learn much about the patriarchy of, say, rural Bulgaria in the nineteenth-century and how it oppressed milk-maids, and we don't hear much about capitalist exploitation of iron and steel workers in the Saar. This book is unabashed in its insistence that politics matters and that great power politics matters most of all. After all the retrospective sociology, masquerading as history, that has inundated us for generations, Simms' book is a fount of useful information and narrative.
Simms has given us a solid and utterly useful tome. If he becomes a bit of a Johnny-One-Note, most of us can probably live with it. He has something important to say and even if we dissent from some of it we all will come away from this book better informed and with some questions to ponder.
34 internautes sur 36 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Continental Drift14 mai 2013
Robert Taylor Brewer
- Publié sur Amazon.com
A compendium of European ideals, aspirations, as well as failures, author Brendan Simms goes to extraordinary lengths to create the thesis that once again, the future of Europe flows through Germany. German military strategy, he argues, is today characterized by abstention, not ambition, as in the past. In economic matters too, retrenchment is a workable force in Germany: how long German taxpayers will be willing to fund the financial deficits of its neighbors is one of the more tantalizing questions he raises concerning the future of Europe. He points out that in many quarters, the European Union has become derisively known as a "transfer union", one in which the debts of profligate high spending neighbors get transferred to the Bundesbank. This has happened so often, he argues, it is no longer inconceivable that Germany could, as nations vie to enter the European Union, throw up its hands and exit the Union, re-installing the deutschmark as its national currency. This would leave Germany isolated and alienated, and we know what happened the last time Germany was left to its own devices.
European conflict with Islam in the form of the onset of the Crusades, and responding to changes unleashed by the Arab Spring marks both the beginning and the ending of this book and leads the author to suggest that despite the fast paced technology enabled world we live in, Europe's need for security has never changed. The book has a fast paced, fact filled approach to history that is less concerned with over arching themes and more taken with "action packed" sequences that allow busy readers to breeze through its 534 pages. Appropriate for scholars as well as the general reader.
21 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
A Great Achievement26 mai 2013
Eric C. Petersen
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Perhaps most of us think of European (and other) history as a series of events - specific wars, turning points in religion culture, the births of new forms of government, or changes in technology and economic systems. Simms covers all of these factors but his focus is on wars and politics and he brings a unique perception as to how these two are intertwined. There have been periods when conflicts followed each other quickly (18th century) or periods of relative calm - 19th century post Napoleon; however, even when things were "quite" rulers and politicians of all stripes in seemingly all countries were eagerly beavering away for the 500-year period covered in the book about how to improve their geopolitical position against enemies real or perceived, and more than often, "defensive" measures ended up creating just the opposite. Simms does an excellent job of presenting this at-times complex skein of events (where many a time former enemies end up in alliances)in a clear fashion and the book moves right along. I was hesitant to read the last section of post-WWII Europe - that includes the USA and China among others - as I thought "I knew all that stuff." Turns out I didn't, and like earlier periods covered, Simms brings a new perspective to history that should make the reader reconsider how he or she sees the past.
31 internautes sur 36 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Well done12 mai 2013
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I was very pleasantly surprised here. One might think that a history of 500 years of a continents history written by a professor might be like a textbook.
This couldn't be further from the truth. While this book is centered around the political history of Europe it manages to reflect the culture and essence of Europe as well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the effects of religion on all of this but again you're covering 500 years in 700 pages.
The book shows how Europe became and arguably maintains its status as a world superpower when looking at it as a whole rather than separate countries. This shows that while each of these countries are unique there are more similarities than differences and their fates are really intertwined.
This is just an excellent example of how good writing and good editing can allow someone to get a book to cover a long historical period while keeping it engaging and interesting.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
An Academic Kind of History Book17 juillet 2013
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I would not recommend this book for the casual reader. This book requires an effort of concentration that a casual reader is not going to want to invest. The content is extensive and dense. An academic might enjoy the book. A teacher/professor of history might want to add this book to their reading list. I wouldn't choose it for my main textbook. The topic is expansive as well as relatively detailed. I like the approach and happen to agree that Germany is at the heart of all European history certainly going back to the 1100s. the argument becomes even more compelling as we move into the 1500s. Said another way all European history goes through what we today call modern day Germany. The weakest part of the book is the authors' thoughts about the future of modern day Europe. Time will tell.