The revolutionary outburst of 1848 was unprecedented in Europe.
Only in that year did revolution assume virtually continental proportions: France, Italy, Germany, and the countries of the Habsburg monarchy experienced serious revolutions, and significant outbreaks occurred in Switzerland, Denmark, Romania, Poland, and Ireland. Britain, though untouched by formal revolution, saw the last wave of Chartist agitation. Of the larger countries, then, only Russia and Spain were exempt.
Peter N. Stearns uses a comparative approach in his analysis of these largely interconnected risings. Concentrating on the key areas of revolutionary action—France, Germany, Italy, and the Habsburg monarchy—he shows how the revolutions were linked by economic causation, by ideology, and by the fascination of revolution itself. In exploring the origins, successes, and failures of these movements, Professor Stearns goes beyond the specific political and intellectual factors involved in the events themselves to discuss the kind of society that could produce such an astonishing revolutionary contagion. He assesses the tragic consequences of the revolutions' failure, particularly in central Europe, and analyzes their positive impact on the nature of political protest, the rise of the labor movement, and the attitude of conservatives in power toward change.