Pete Sikora's Reviews > Europe

Europe by Norman Davies
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M 50x66
's review
Jan 03, 2009

liked it
Recommended for: someone trying to write a history of Europe

Davies specializes in Polish history and WWII, but took on a continent-sized task. The result is a haphazardly organized mish-mash that loses its way just as its subject emerges as a concept in the 17th and 18th centuries.

We get a lot of Eastern European history, at the expense of understanding other nations. My Polish background makes that fine by me. However, by writing too many books, historians run a danger: the need to recycle material. "Europe" is proof.

At 1136 pages plus loads of appendixes, it's a massive tome. It would have been nice to see more modern history - as usual for sweeping histories, the last 50 years are covered in the last 50 pages.

"Europe", after all, is a modern phenomenon. There was no "Europe" at all in ancient times - or the middle ages either. Heck, they didn't even have the shape of the continent mapped. Not to mention that it's barely even a real continent anyway.

On some level, therefore, the book is untrue to its title. It's really a history of the geographic area we now know as Europe. That's a quibble tho - I hate those dang : titles anyway, so who am I to complain. Still, it should have been more focused on the modern world.

On the other hand, it's a good stab at a difficult (impossible?)
synthesis. If Davies were a better writer, it'd be really solid a 4. I also suspect that he doesn't really know what he's talking about vis a vis anything other than Eastern Europe. So he can't quite pull it off.

3 side points:
1. the book was written at the height of PC academia. Davies is a tad defensive, albeit understandably.
2. the short breakout segments don't work - they're not compelling enough and as a result are distracting of the narrative, not illuminating. Just like, say, these 2 points stuck into the middle of this review.
3. he makes some attempts to comment on the convergence of communist and fascist ideology. Should have stuck to the history, and avoided the philosophy, because it's a superficial attempt and serves the reader poorly. We get that they both were bad - real bad. No need to try to prove they're basically the same thing, when the governing systems were radically different.

But again, tough subject, and I kept reading. There's real merit to taking on the topic. A little grading on the curve is merited. Kudos to Davies for making the attempt. 3 stars.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
January 3, 2009 – Shelved

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