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The Thirty Years War

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  905 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
Europe in 1618 was riven between Protestants and Catholics, Bourbon and Hapsburg--as well as empires, kingdoms, and countless principalities. After angry Protestants tossed three representatives of the Holy Roman Empire out the window of the royal castle in Prague, world war spread from Bohemia with relentless abandon, drawing powers from Spain to Sweden into a nightmarish ...more
Paperback, 536 pages
Published June 30th 2005 by NYRB Classics (first published 1938)
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Before I started this, the sum total of my knowledge on the Thirty Years War did not extend much further than being able to guess its duration. In my defence, it turns out that the causes and motivations of this conflict were rather baffling even at the time – indeed even to those involved. One of the most startling facts in here is the revelation that, when all sides met in 1645 to discuss terms for peace, it took them nearly twelve months of debate just to agree on what exactly the previous qu ...more
Apr 17, 2014 William1 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: uk, nonfiction, history, war, 17-ce
The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 had ensured the coexistence of the landed German princes, many of whom were Lutheran, under the Catholic Hapsburg King Charles V. The Thirty Years War was largely the war of the Counter-Reformation. It was started in 1618 by Ferdinand II, whose rise to the monarchy was marked by great dubiety on the part of his German Electors, among others. He wanted lands lost during the Reformation returned to the Church (Edict of Restitution), as well as the reconversion of "str ...more
May 17, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb
1. What is the Thirty Years War?

This is admittedly a half-baked and unfair question—but it's a necessary one too, if only to get one's foot in the door. It's a bit like asking, What is World War I? In response, we can certainly list the belligerent nations, we can outline the (ostensible) military and political goals, we describe the significant events and battles, and we can offer up some (partially speculative, partially causal) analysis of how the war affected and determined that which follow
Oct 12, 2014 DoctorM rated it really liked it
A classic work, and one I'm thrilled is finally back in print. I first read Wedgwood's "Thirty Years War" when I was high school--- probably because I'd just seen a long-forgotten film called "The Last Valley" with Michael Caine as a mercenary captain in the later years of the war. Wedgwood's account of the war was my introduction to Central Europe in the early modern era, and an introduction to figures like Gustavus Adolphus and Richelieu and the doomed Wallenstein. It's a very British book--- ...more
Clif Hostetler
Jul 12, 2013 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read this book in preparation for a trip to Europe to trace the wandering route of by wife's ancestors. Both her and my ancestors benefited from the Thirty Years War. That's because the devastation caused by the war depopulation much of central Europe making farm land available to people from neighboring regions. Therefore in the mid 1600s following the end of the Thirty Years War, both our ancestors migrated out of the Swiss Canton of Bern into the neighboring Alsace region. Their Anabaptist ...more
Sep 06, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Here is a region that is nominally a country, but actually a collection of small states loosely bound and with no central government per se, although it is part of a larger political alliance.. It is split by religious divisiveness, but with intermixed populations ruled by princes who could dictate their subjects’ allowed religion (cuius regio, eius religio). Suddenly the religious question heats up, there are succession issues, princes start to barter for power and land, outside powers tiptoe i ...more
Oct 08, 2015 James rated it really liked it
After finishing this book I almost had to go back to the very start and remind myself of how the awful conflict started in the first place. In no way is this a reflection on the abilities of C.V. Wedgwood, who throughout the entire gory mess gives a compelling clear summary of it all. Even better she is a historian who has a clear point of view and moves beyond a dry recital of the facts. The theme in the thirty years war is being ruled by aristocratic morons who in are inured from the consequen ...more
Myke Cole
Aug 24, 2015 Myke Cole rated it it was amazing
This book deeply affected me. So much so, it's actually hard to provide an objective review of its literary/historical merits.

I wrote a blog post about it.

Your mileage will probably vary from mine, but do yourself a favor and read it (the book, not my blog post, though you can read that too) anyway.
Elijah Kinch Spector
When I finished re-reading The Three Musketeers, I decided that it was time to maybe read a bit of the actual history of the period, rather than Dumas' (wonderful) version. I was introduced to Wedgwood by the great Ta-Nehisi Coates.

C. V. Wedgwood moves Heaven and Earth to make the utterly confusing Thirty Years War comprehensible. She succeeds, although it's still pretty confusing. She also writes beautifully and outlines the personages involved with empathy, humor, and gleeful meanness. I doubt
Lynn Silsby
Sep 09, 2015 Lynn Silsby rated it really liked it
Very readable and non-dry. Amazing how much I either forgot or didn't learn in the first place from stuff that was ostensibly covered in AP European History or other classes. So, I'm appreciative for this piece of ever-so-gradually-chipping-away-at my ignorance. It was fun to look up the portraits of the major characters on Google Images as they were introduced and discussed.

As much as Wedgwood recognizes the sufferings of the ordinary little people and just how destructive these years of war w
Jun 02, 2011 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
Shelves: samizdat
This book was loved, without a doubt, despite the lack of causality, it was a narrative feast of how.
Jun 06, 2015 Rindis rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is the second book I've read recently about the Thirty Years War, both of which have the same informative, if unimaginative, title of The Thirty Years War. Cicely Veronica Wedgwood's history is considered a classic English-language history of the war, and with good reason. Also, my copy was published as part of the New York Review Book Classics line, and is a very solidly put together paperback.

I must note that for a history of a war, it is by no means a military history. Only the very most
Jun 24, 2010 Anthony rated it liked it
Because the Thirty Years Wars has intrigued me ever since I learned about in high school, I eventually got around to reading CV Wedgewood’s history, which many seem to consider the definitive treatment of the subject in English (despite being several decades old). It does not disappoint.

The book is comprehensive in its treatment of the subject and very well written (though it sounds a bit stilted to today's ear); the prose makes it flow smoothly despite the fact that it can be inherently diffic
May 15, 2013 Steve rated it it was amazing
What stays with me from reading The Thirty Years War is the utter devastation wrought on what was later to become Germany. The Civil War gave us Sherman's march to the sea and the intentional trail of devastation meant to shatter the south's will to fight. The military leaders Tilly, Wallenstein, Arnim and Gustavus Adolphus subjected the civilian population to 30 years of continuous plunder and pillaging as they struggled to feed and pay their armies. Hundreds of marches, sieges, burned homes an ...more
Apr 17, 2016 Ryan rated it really liked it
Written in the 1930's, Wedgwood's book is certainly no longer the cutting edge of scholarship, so it should be read with more than the usual dose of critical skepticism. But its age has not detracted from its genius. Wedgwood's narrative approach is engaging and highly readable, and may still be the best primer available in English on the basic facts and sequence of the war. And the incredible impact her book had on (American, at least) understanding of these events can hardly be overstated: her ...more
Lauren Albert
Jun 29, 2015 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
I found this a bit hard to follow but it is not surprising given the subject. The war began as a religious war but became a religious, political, personal war (or some combination) depending on the protagonist. Mercenaries could switch sides taking their whole army with them. Small states could switch sides if the winds of war changed.

Wedgwood does an especially good job of showing how devastating the war was to the German people often when the warring armies had nothing to do with them. Their
Fiat iustitia et pereat mundus. (Ferdinando I di Asburgo)

Per lo piu' un testo di studio che di quotidiana lettura.
Mancano le cartine geografiche ed almeno un elenco dei regnanti e comandanti.

Nel 1618 la dinastia degli Asburgo era la piu' grande potenza d'Europa, Austria est imperitura orbi universo, sentenziava il suo fiero motto, vanto non infondato entro i ristretti limiti del mondo quale era concepito dall'uomo comune europeo. (21-2)

Il re di Spagna voleva il Reno, in modo che le sue truppe e
Feb 08, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wedgwood's history of the Thirty Years War can be located within that ancient historiographic tradition beginning with Polybius and Thucydides, wherein an objective delineation of events is interwoven with speculative assessments of the major actors' psychological motivations and moral characteristics to produce something which can be appreciated as a work of literature as much as one of scholarship. Wedgwood's narrative is supported with extensive documentary citations, but it is a narrative no ...more
Feb 15, 2010 Alan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
A top-notch narrative history, this book is compellingly readable. While the new Wilson history has much more detail, background and analysis, Wedgwood brings the period alive in a way only the best writers of history can do. She does for 17th Century Europe what James McPherson did for the American Civil War in Battle Cry of freedom. It is interesting, too, to note how a historian’s own perspective can be influenced by the times she lives in. Wedgwood published this in 1938. The Nazi party was ...more
Jun 10, 2013 Tim rated it liked it
Wedgewood was a fine writer. The story reads wonderfully, but I can say that the overwhelming emphasis on political history and its military consequences, as well as mini-biographies of political leaders, wore me out quickly. She does not handle religion well - seems to dislike Calvinists generally - and I was just begging for some social and cultural history within a couple of chapters. Tell me more of economics, social customs, the lives of the peasants or life at court, something other than t ...more
Elliott Bignell
Apr 09, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it it was amazing
Narrating a war of this duration and complexity cannot have been easy work, and the description of Wedgwood as "the greatest narrative historian of the twentieth century" may well be justified. I cannot endorse the statement unequivocally because I have not read them all and am in any case not a historian, but this is one of the most serious and thorough works I have encountered. It is a little on the heavy side for the lay reader, although admirably clear, and I might have docked a star but for ...more
Nikolay Nikiforov
Mar 10, 2014 Nikolay Nikiforov rated it really liked it
Книга поучительная, хотя не вполне вразумительная — впрочем, написана она про войну, которая не была вразумительной совсем.
Кажется, нет в истории такого абсолютного примера войны как игры с отрицательной суммой: от нее никто практически не выиграл, никто не добился своих целей, все потерпели чудовищные убытки, почти никто в ней не хотел участвовать — но после того, как исторический механизм был приведен в движение, его остановило только полное истощение всех участников.
Ну и, наверное, мысли о
Abigail Hartman
Jul 18, 2016 Abigail Hartman rated it liked it
Shelves: history
C.V. Wedgwood was a narrative historian, one who, according to this book's introduction, "placed herself firmly in a line which stretched back through Froude, Carlyle and Macaulay to Gibbon, Clarendon, Bacon and Froissart. At the very least, she wrote, an historian must, as a writer, have form in order to present his material to his reader, even if he despises literary style" (xv-xvi). The commitment to history as story was out of vogue in her day, unfortunately, but it makes her writing enjoyab ...more
Oct 21, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing
I owe my discovery of this book entirely to Ta-Nahesi Coates, who included it on a list to the New York Times of his “10 Favorite Books of All Time”. He is entirely right. It is amazingly good.

Thirty years of horrendous and bafflingly complex European history are condensed into 450 pages of very readable text. C.V. Wedgwood (a legend in her own time - the book was written by her in 1938, on the eve of WWII) makes the whole thing an educational and surprisingly fun ride through an utterly terrib
Aug 27, 2015 John rated it liked it
It's wonderful scholarship but as a book, it's got some problems. Wedgwood is pretty cavalier about making sure we know which Ferdinand or Christian or whatever that she's referring to, and she underuses her commas making some sentences needlessly confusing (at one point I thought she was referring to "war merchants" because she didn't separate her clauses between "after the war" and "merchants ____"). In the end, the top down approach is probably the least interesting angle on this long, horrib ...more
Mike Allan
Apr 26, 2016 Mike Allan rated it really liked it
Probably one of the best overviews of the war I've ever read. It delves into the intricacies of the HRE without going so deep you're lost in Reichskammergericht points of procedure. Strikes a good balance by alternating focus between the common people's plight and the maneuvering of the "great men" of the story like Gustav Adolf, Ferdinand, Richelieu, Wallenstein, Tilly, Frederick V, Axel Oxenstierna, Duke Maximilian, John George, and on (and on, there's a lot of figures in this story). Read if ...more
Bill V
Aug 22, 2016 Bill V rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers the same material as The Thirty Years War by Geoffrey Parker except it covers it in much greater depth. Both suffer from a lack of strategic level maps. This book has one strategic map but it's hard to read as it runs from France to Poland and Germany is full of city and town names, so it is difficult to find a specific one.
This book barely covers the fighting in Spain between the Spanish and French, while the Parker book deals with it a little more.
If you like military history,
Feb 04, 2016 Anya rated it it was ok
very disappointing. many different stands to this war, unclearly outlined here. No matter how admirable it might be to think all violence is pointless, Wedgwood's cynical claim that the cause of the war was upper class selfishness is oftentimes undermined by parts of her narrative. I suspect if the book had covered more of the people's own motivations for fighting, the war of ideas at stake would have come to the fore. class struggle didn't get much of a mention either, which in this case seems ...more
Jul 12, 2014 Kb rated it really liked it
I read the '54 version, so alas, I did not have Anthony Grafton to explain how this book falls into historiography. But it is interesting to think of this book about a war-torn, devastated European continent being written after WWI and reissued after WWII. It's also depressing to know that Wedgwood wrote this book when she was 28. D:

The book helped me understand the scope and the chronology of the Thirty Years' War - something I felt like I had felt my way around but had never made myself really
James Trexler
Nov 19, 2014 James Trexler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Carl Newfield
Shelves: history
A fascinating read, following the major European players in the first half of the 17th century as they proceeded to destroy their whole continent, more or less. The final chapter threw me for a loop, slightly, as it almost sounded like Europe wound up being better off after the war for various reasons, not least of which was the decrease in population. It didn't pull too many punches in characterising the politicians and generals who started what turned into an uncontrollable war, eventually fou ...more
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NYRB Classics: The Thirty Years War, by C.V. Wedgwood 1 11 Oct 31, 2013 04:40AM  
  • The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy
  • The Thirty Years' War
  • Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign
  • The Crisis of the European Mind
  • A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962
  • The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815
  • The World of Odysseus
  • The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 (History of Modern Europe)
  • The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477–1806
  • To the Finland Station
  • The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume 2
  • Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814
  • The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe
  • The Boer War
  • The Reformation
  • Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
Dame (Cicely) Veronica Wedgwood OM DBE was an English historian who published under the name C. V. Wedgwood. Specializing in the history of 17th-century England and Continental Europe, her biographies and narrative histories "provided a clear, entertaining middle ground between popular and scholarly works."
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“The nationalist regrets the change; an ill-founded belief in the merits of purity blinds him to the virtues of the foreign and the hybrid.” 2 likes
“It was written in London under the advancing shadow of the Second World War, and it may be that the apprehensionsof those years can be felt vibrating from time to time in its pages. The historian,concerned as he is with the most vital of all studies, is often more subject than herealizes to the electric currents of contemporary mood.” 2 likes
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