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The Thirty Year's War: Europe's Tragedy

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  496 ratings  ·  75 reviews

A deadly continental struggle, the Thirty Years War devastated seventeenth-century Europe, killing nearly a quarter of all Germans and laying waste to towns and countryside alike. Peter Wilson offers the first new history in a generation of a horrifying conflict that transformed the map of the modern world.

When defiant Bohemians tossed the Habsburg emperor’s envoys from

Kindle Edition
Published (first published 2009)
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Steven Peterson
This is a difficult book. Peter Wilson clearly has provided us with a detailed volume that is a major resource on the Thirty Years War. However, it is not a reader-friendly work. For one thing, we need more maps to make sense of events--whether of the entire region being discussed or lower level, more focused maps. For another, the actors move by in kaleidoscopic fashion, one after the other, and it is not easy to keep track of key players and the governments that they represent. A table summari ...more
Nine hundred pages on one of the bloodiest wars in European history. A considerable portion of Germans, when polled, consider this to be the worst war in Germany's history, including both World Wars!

Perfect Christmas-time reading.

This is a very thorough one-volume overview of the Thirty Years War, providing some 290 pages of background before finally reaching the Defenestration of Prague.

The machinations of the Swedes, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs, the French, and the separate duchies, kin
So how does someone review a book as large, in depth, and complex as this one? This conflict, which I certainly learned less than nothing about in school, was a brutal, long, and devastating war that ravaged many parts of Central Europe. Modern estimates put total losses at 15%-20% of the Holy Roman Empire's population, a loss rate greater than that suffered by the Soviet Union during WWII.

I still cannot conceptualize just how terrible this conflict was. There were domestic armies crisscrossing
A.J. Howard
Only upon reading the first chapeter of Europe's Tragedy did I realize how little I actually knew about the 30 Years War. Usually when I pick up a history book, I have a general idea of the subject matter. I might not have a firm grasp of the details but I'm aware of the major events, and players. The Thirty Years War was a almost completely dark gap in my knowledge. It was jumbled up with several other European Wars that took place between the Reformation and the French Revolution. I knew it la ...more
Thomas Paul
There are a few problems with this book but the main one is that it is simply too long. 800 pages on the Thirty Years War is just too much unless you have an extreme interest in the topic. I was interested in learning about the war because it is one of those topics that are skimmed over in European history classes and there really isn’t that much out there to read. Plus the start of the book makes it seem like it will be fun reading as he discusses how the war was started because of some Bohemia ...more
José Luís  Fernandes
This work is a very good read on the Thirty Years' War. It details all of the conflict very well and contextualizes it in early Modern Europe.

The author has a great knowledge of his matters and gives examples when he claims something, making his argumentation very strong. He just has some small issues with early modern history outside of Central Europe (like describing the Ottoman court as very similar to the medieval Roman one, despite all the obvious influences, or confusing between principal


2014 marks one hundred years since the outbreak of the Great War, which was itself the beginning of a conflagration which some historians have referred to as the Second Thirty Years War (1914-1945). Yet while the Second Thirty Years War continues to transfix our collective consciousness, hardly any of our contemporary political discourse in the West reflects on the original Thirty Years War, or even seems to acknowledge the fact that the horrors Europe experienced in the twentie
William Young
Writing a history of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) presents the historian with many problems because of the complexity of the conflict. Major stumbling blocks to the study of the war include the need to work with at least fourteen languages, study thousands of published works, and toil in numerous archives to produce a study that would cover all aspects of a conflict that involved much of Europe. As such, there are few full-length general accounts of the Thirty Years War. Most of the publishe ...more
This 30 year period of European History is sadly neglected, but it seems I have found the right book for unraveling the turbulent times of 1618-1648. This war, incidentally, was the one that launched the Finns onto the world scene: King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden employed Finnish horsemen, whose war cry, "HAKKAA PÄÄLLE" (up and at 'em!) was turned into the name of the troops, the Hakkapelites.

Now that I have finished it, I must say, Prof. Wilson has produced a massive, yet approachable tome, w
This is a comprehensive and authoritative history of the 30 Years War. No stone goes unturned, but few are picked up and examined with a storyteller's eye. Rather, it is dense and difficult to read because the stories require the author to compress weeks into a sentence. I know more about this seminal event in European history after reading Wilson's 1,000-page book, however I still couldn't tell you the story of the war. This feels like a book that can benefit from the author's excerpting and el ...more
Slighlty disappointing as dull and only moderately well presented; magisterial in scope and presumably accurate and well researched, but it falls into the middle hole of not scholarly enough for a reference book and neither entertaining enough nor presented superbly by bogging down into details for a "popular book"

Makes one really appreciate John Julius Norwich, Adrian Goldsworthy and several other historians who manage to be both comprehensive and good writers

Still recommended but it could hav
Outstanding dissection of the causes and course of the 30 years War. Wilson spends something like a quarter of the book exploring the 16th century origins of the conditions that set the stage for the war starting in 1618. Wilson's take on the Swedish motives for intervention is the first I've ever seen where the more mercenary aspects of Sweden's grasp at empire are plainly explained. If you have read Wedgewood's or Parker's books on the TYW, do not miss this volume. There is much new informatio ...more
Daniel Koch
Peter H Wilson's epic The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy is a wonderful analysis of a largely forgotten major European war. The sheer density of the book can be often overwhelming and confusing. I will admit there are times where the sameness of the battles began to bore me and I wanted to learn about another facet of the war but overall I was engrossed and immersed in a truly complicated and fascinating story. I am an 18th century history nerd so this was my first foray into the 17th centur ...more
Peter Wilson's book is about more than the war that consumed central Europe in the 17th century. To adequately explain the factors that led up to it and influenced its outcome, he describes the context of politics and government in the Holy Roman Empire. This vast, unwieldy, and yet surprisingly effective institution was at the center of the struggle, as Protestants and Catholics struggle to coexist within it in the years following the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. Fragile as it was, this peace was ...more
My only issues with this book derive from the same reasons that cause the Thirty Years War to be barely studied in the US: It's complicated as all hell. Keeping mental track of the rise and fall of the multitude of colonels and generals, particularly once Sweden and France recruit Germans into their armies, is a feat in itself. I lost track for 30 pages once 1640 hit of who was working for whom, besides the major players. Additional maps besides the battle maps, showing affiliations or neutralit ...more
One of the best "chores" I have ever done. Although Wilson has a 250+ page intro in this book, it is necessary to understand the framework of a very complex war. Those who give it less than 4-5 stars dont understand what a complex war is. For a war that destroyed most of Germany and killed 1/5 of Europe, we ignore it for more "important" European wars such as WW1 and WW2 while failing to realize that those wars only killed about 5% of Europe's population (each). The Thirty Years War killed over ...more
Confident and compelling argument about the context, origins, experience, and consequences of the conflict. Somewhat meandering and unenthusiastic recounting of the thirty years' worth of troop movements and sieges.

In short: an outstanding guide to the troubles of the major European dynasties in the 16th and early 17th Centuries, or the religious and constitutional crises of the Holy Roman Empire. Not so much on the battlefield tactics and genius of Gustavus Adolphus. Fortunately more of the boo
Nick Sorensen
Wow, what a project. This has to be the definitive history of a war and era most Americans know little about. Very satisfying. But not as compulsively readable as (and much longer than) C.V. Wedgwood's classic account, now about 70 years old. If Wedgwood leaves you wanting more, here's where it is. Marvelous cast of characters, the Defenestrations of Prague, the doomed Protestant hero Gustavus Adolphus, the crafty Hapsburg commander Wallenstein. In some ways, central Europe is still recovering f ...more
Mark Lawry
I don’t know how you can give anything but a 5 to this monster of research. This is a full graduate course in itself and not at all an easy read. One really needs to have a solid grasp on European history and geography (which evidently I don’t) to make any sense of it. It took me months to read this monstrosity since I found myself continually googling/wikipeding names, places, battles, terms. I still feel I didn’t even scratched the surface of the topic. At least I now have an idea of how vast ...more
Benjamin Cooper
Great book if you have the hankering to study the 30 Years War. The latest scholarship, comprehensive.
Finally a history of one of the largest and most devastating wars that came before the World Wars. There have been others but, in my opinion, lacked the breadth and the ability to provide an entire account of what was a long and complex war. At least in English and that I know of.

It is not easy to read of course. There are a lot of people who come in and without wanting to scare anyone off, it does get hard to keep track. But this is history, so read carefully and slowly if needs be.
Don't be put off by reviewers who say this is dense or confusing. If you are the kind of reader who unashamedly comes looking for this book, it is well within your grasp. And you won't be disappointed. Wilson's book is rich and thorough, both intriguingly and maddeningly so, but because his prose possesses the faintest whiff of textbook (i.e. clearly-marked sections, broad introductory paragraphs, tightly-written conclusions, etc.), it is easy, even pleasing, to digest.
Without doubt, one of the most fascinating periods in European history, the Thirty Years War is a microcosm of the struggle that was afoot between protestant and Catholic, Hapsburg and the growing powers of the other great families, the church and all the other players, in particular Denmark and Sweden. The politics were not always straightforward nor the motivations. Replete with its colourful characters and events, it could just as easily have come from the pages of a novel. It wasn't the end ...more
Mal Watlington

This book is a real doorstop (nearly 1K pages) but an absolutely fascinating read. My understanding of the events that shaped modern Europe was about 1 inch deep before I dug into Wilson's incredibly well-documented book. His analysis blows away the conventional wisdom on this era.
This was a long, long read, however necessary. Thirty years of war, the events leading up to it, and the conclusion combined with other wars on the periphery lead to a large book. I recommend this book to anyone with LOTS of time and a desire to learn about this struggle.
Call Me Ishmael
Slog and plod. The long version. 1040 pages. So long, you forget. From the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 through Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Catholics fight to remain in control of Europe, and it turns into the worst war in Europe’s history… depopulating war.
Bill Wallace
A stunning piece of historical scholarship but probably more than I needed. My knowledge of the 30 Years War was pretty sketchy and this 900-page account was overwhelming in its detail -- nearly every page could have been an entire book. Still, it more than accomplished what I was looking for, giving me a decent understanding of one of the events that shaped modern Europe. I especially liked the latter chapters -- on the congress of Westphalia and the experience of living through the war as port ...more
I couldn't finish this one.

I'm giving the parts I managed to get through four stars, because I can't imagine a way this amount of material could've been handled any better. I'm only giving it four stars because that's the problem -- it's just too complicated a subject for a single-volume treatment. The Thirty Years' War was as complex, and probably as proportionally devastating, as one of the World Wars. It just can't be covered in one book, especially because the Early Modern era itself might
C.J. Underwood
Great book if you love history. Used it a lot in my research and found it well written and informative. Not boring at all, but it is long.
James Folan
This book's erudition and scope are both its strength and weakness: the wealth of unrelenting detail makes for a gruelling read.
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  • The Crimean War
  • 1848: Year of Revolution
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From backcover:
Peter H. Wilson is G. E. Grant Professor of History at the University of Hull.
More about Peter H. Wilson...
The Holy Roman Empire 1495-1806 The Thirty Years War: A Sourcebook From Reich to Revolution: German History 1558-1806 (European History in Perspective) War, State and Society in Wurttemberg, 1677 1793 Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire

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“Though they are now largely silent, the voices from the seventeenth century still speak to us from the innumerable texts and images we are fortunate to possess. They offer a warning of the dangers of entrusting power to those who feel summoned by God to war, or feel that their sense of justice and order is the only one valid.” 1 likes
“The Swedes captured 5,000 new uniforms, broke into monasteries, held the monks to ransom, and opened the crypts to steal rings from the corpses. They took even more from the living, including 10,000 books which they sent to quench Queen Christina’s thirst for knowledge.” 0 likes
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