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Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century Paperback – March 14, 2000

32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679757047 ISBN-10: 067975704X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews Review

As the European Union introduces a common currency to world financial markets, Mark Mazower's Dark Continent critically examines the notion of "Europe." The Euro notwithstanding, Mazower argues that the "'Europe' of the European Union may be a promise or a delusion, but it is not a reality." Renouncing the notion of an essential "Europe," Mazower instead explores the conflicts which dominated the continent in the 20th century and the social value systems which informed them.

Mazower orders his examination chronologically, commencing with the collapse of Europe's continental empires following World War I and the initial European experiments in democracy and national self-determination which followed. He continues with analyses of state interventions in family health and the importance of healthy progeny, the financial crisis of the 1920s, the Hitler regime, the transformed democracy that emerged following World War II, the gradual erosion of the social state in the 1980s, and, finally, the collapse of communism. He consistently displays a firm grip of European history, directing his argument to readers with a foundational knowledge of the events that shaped 20th century Europe rather than historical novices unfamiliar with the period. Provocatively insightful, Dark Continent makes a convincing argument for a European 21st century characterized by continuity and harmony through divergence. "If Europeans can give up their desperate desire to find a single, workable definition of themselves," Mazower concludes, "they may come to terms more easily with the diversity and dissension which will be as much their future as their past." --Bertina Loeffler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Mazower (Inside Hitler's Greece) shapes his well-written history of Europe's 20th century as a struggle among liberal democracy, communism and fascism. Avoiding the pitfalls of Marxist interpretation on the one hand and capitalist triumphalism on the other, he shows how the failure of liberal democracy after WWI led to the experiment with fascism, which was defeated (principally by the Communists) at an enormous cost. In the first half of this century, he writes, between 60 million and 70 million Europeans died violently in wars or civil unrest, but the figure for the period after the defeat of fascism is under one million. Mazower takes this as evidence that the Cold War was a social and economic, rather than a military, conflict. While this may be true of the Cold War in Europe, the assertion fails to take into account the proxy wars fought by the superpowers in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But this omission doesn't detract from the overall excellence of Mazower's work. The defeat of fascism and the fall of communism have left the field to liberal democracy, which is now faced with the problem it failed to solve in the beginning of the century: how to create a workable relationship between capitalism and representative government. Mazower argues that Europeans can best work this out if they realize that their national differences are greater than any common culture and that Europe has enjoyed its greatest period of peace and prosperity precisely during the period in which it has lost its primacy in world affairs. Maps. Tables not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (March 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067975704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679757047
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on May 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In "Dark Continent" Mark Mazower has turned a bright light onto the frequently murky field of European politics. While by no means a comprehensive review of either 20th Century Europe, or even its politics, "Dark Continent" thoroughly examines the nature of the modern European state. At its most fundamental level, "Dark Continent" takes as its thesis that the view of the modern European state as naturally democratic is definitively false.
It is perhaps obvious that Europe has been dominated by totalitarian regimes, whether fascist or communist, during the 20th Century. What is perhaps less obvious is the degree of intrusion which supposedly enlightened governments inflict on their populations. He correctly points out that socialism in its varied forms has frequently been (and continues to be) an excuse for greater government control.
Ultimately he shatters the myth of a tendency towards European democracy and freedom. While Nazism and the USSR serve as overt reminders of this fact, it is the less obvious examples that drive his point home. By way of conclusion, he does not dismiss the European Union out of hand, but argues strongly that it is in no way a result of an evolutionary process. In other words, there is nothing in modern European history that indicates that it was either foreordained or that it is guaranteed to succeed.
"Dark Continent" is a remarkable book that should be read for two interrelated reasons. The first is that if one assumes a natural benevolence in the political systems of Europe, one can not possibly hope to understand modern European history. On a related note, without a firm grasp of its past, it is impossible to understand what is going on in Europe's present, or to predict what may happen in its future.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James Ferguson VINE VOICE on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's not quite as dark as the title implies, but Mazower does take a sharply critical look at Europe from Versailles, 1919, to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Along the way, Mazower shows the tumultuous course of national politics and democracy as they struggled to fight off totalitarian regimes. There is a welcome focus on the Eastern Europe nations, Yugoslavia in particular, and how the battles for statehood resulted in numerous conflicts, chief among them WWII.

He charts the rise of Hitler and Stalin in a broad sense, noting how their regimes arose as a result of the inability of post-WWI democracies to establish their footings. Yet, he takes a more sensitive view of these regimes than one might imagine, noting that Hitler's New Order found early advocates beyond Germany, and the Soviet system brought initial successes with it in Eastern Europe. But, Hitler's racial view of nationalism, and Stalinism's rigid adherence to a centralized economy ultimately brought their downfalls.

Mazower covers a lot of ground, and doesn't present anything new, but he does put the tumultuous 20th century in perspective. He avoids staking out an ideological viewpoint, criticizing Thatcherism with equal vigor as he did Stalinism, as both failed to recognize the will of the people in their attempts at reforming their national economies. In the end, it is social democracy that prevails, albeit of a surprisingly apolitical tone that has taken a detached view to events such as the war in Yugoslavia, and the attempts to create a stronger European Union. As Mazower noted, it is goods not dogma that people want.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jose Hanson on April 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
I agree with an earlier reviewer that this is the best history of 20th Century Europe ever. Keen insights and fresh ideas leap off every page.

But it needs to be repeated: the Dark Continent is not an introduction to the subject. Unless you have a good knowledge of Europe and its history, this is not yet the book for you. Someday maybe, but for now save your money.

Some found Mazower's style dry and difficult. I started reading it in a coffee bar and got half-way through before I realized the time. That doesn't happen very often. To me, the writing is clear and fast-moving, and the threads are easy to follow.

Imperialism, colonialism, class, nation, prejudice, fascism, communism, democracy, apathy, capitalism, genocide, left, right, in-between, all are described in a calm, intelligent manner, which is perhaps why some see Mazower as being soft on Stalin or Hitler. You won't find hysteria or hyperbole, but then the facts speak for themselves without the need for comments by the author. Think about it: 60-million people were killed in "civilized" Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. With a story like that, a historian doesn't need to raise his voice to get the readers attention.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Kirk Gravestock on November 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Mazower gives a chilling account of how during this last century in Europe democracy has until only recently been accepted by most states. The popularity of ideas e.g. fascism and communism should not be overlooked despite the received wisdom today that such systems were evil. This account of European history this century is by no means comprehensive. Nevertheless, it does reflect on some of the more unsavoury issues that are conveniently forgotten by today's, and even more so yesterday's, writers of legends. Mazower provides the reader with a historical perspective that has the barbed-wire attached. His book is in no way revisionist it simply shows Europe in all its glory and disgrace. A very stimulating and thought-provoking account.
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