114 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable desk reference as well as fascinating history
This book has proven to be one of my most valuable desk references. I wished I had bought the hardback, given the wear and tear on it over the 6 years I have had it. Davies has done a marvelous job of condensing a tremendous amount of history into one volume. He approaches it in a three-fold way. He provides a richly flowing narrative that covers the story of Europe...
Published on January 5, 2004 by James Ferguson
69 of 84 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So Much History, So Little Space
Having searched for an exhaustive survey of European history to buttress my spotty grasp of the subject, I thought I'd found it with this book. Starting out with the primordial ooze, Professor Davies takes 1136 pages to lead us chronologically from there around all of the continent's many subregions right into the current events of the post-Soviet era. He tries very...
Published on September 3, 2000 by Mark Edward Bachmann
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114 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable desk reference as well as fascinating history,
This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)This book has proven to be one of my most valuable desk references. I wished I had bought the hardback, given the wear and tear on it over the 6 years I have had it. Davies has done a marvelous job of condensing a tremendous amount of history into one volume. He approaches it in a three-fold way. He provides a richly flowing narrative that covers the story of Europe much like an epic novel. He intersperses the narrative with an extensive series of "Capsules" that take in special events and interesting asides in the development of a European identity. Lastly, he provides a massive set of appendices that cover everything from royal lines to WWII death tolls.
The narrative is divided into a set of 12 chapters that cover broad periods of time starting with the environment and prehistory of the contintnet to the Cold War era. Davies has a tremendous command of the events which shaped Europe. His strength lies in his understanding of Eastern Europe, and in particular Poland, expanding the breadth of the continent beyond its usual eastern borders. In fact one might say that Davies has made the case to rethink European history along Eastern European lines, which is the logical extension of his earlier two-volume history of Poland. He takes in Russian history, with special attention to its Slavic roots. He deals with the inevitable conflicts that arose and provides good summaries of the World Wars. He deals with the restoration of Western Europe and the demise of Eastern Europe following WWII along ideological lines, noting how one rose at the expense of the other. He chooses to end his narrative with the collapse of the Soviet Union, providing a short epilogue on his thoughts concerning the new allignments in Europe.
The numerous capsules are a very interesting approach in dealing with cultural aspects of Europe. He offers an astonishing array of anecdotes in these capsules such as the origins of Dr. Faustas to the transcendental nature of the famous war song, Lili Marlene. Although he covers much of the cultural history of Europe in his narrative, it is in these capsules that one finds many fascinating aspects of this cultural history and how it has evolved over the century.
The appendices cover a lot of ground, illustruating some of the iconography of Europe, providing extensive lists of everything from the Popes and Patriarchs of Rome to a selection of the works and authors banned by the Papal Index. He provides numerous maps and charts to help guide you through the rough and tumble history of Europe, and provides accurate death tolls of the World Wars. He also provides extensive book notes as well as an excellent index to help guide you in subsequent searches.
This is probably the best one-volume history of Europe available today and one that will serve you will in gaining an understanding of this rich and varied continent. His rich prose makes it a pleasure to read and his excellent index allows for quick searches to look up key events. A book that will find its place with all your other desk references or by your armchair for a long and enjoyable read.
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Balanced Perspective On European History,
This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)This is a totally absorbing, sparkling romp over the just completed millennium of European history. A fantastic job, although I will agree with other reviewers that this can be a tough read if you are not already familiar with much of the range of ethnic and national history.
Davies clearly states his premise in the Introduction.....his desire to provide a single volumn survey that provides an evenly magnified view from both the number of pages per year and the geographic/ethnic perspective of the writer. His objective is to avoid focusing on recent centuries or recently predominant cultures at the expense of more distant or less studied times or regions. This alone is a worthy effort and makes the entire tome almost an obligatory read for a serious amateur historian like myself.
Davies provides several ingenious aids to your perspective as you plow through this vast field of information. There are 300 capsules that entertain as well as provide tangential sideshows. (Did you know that Pope John Paul II approved the exhumation of Elizabeth of Austria's tomb in 1973 in an attempt to foser Polish patriotism, yet 16 people may have died from the bacilli that were released? Or, how about stretching your mind by trying to comprehend the horror of Stalin's genocidal act of state policy as he created an artificial famine by cordoning off the Ukraine in 1932-3 until 7 million people were dead?) This is a powerful book.
Even better is the orientation of the European maps throughout the book so that you are looking at them with the west uppermost, thus viewing the continent as the first settlers (and more importantly, central and eastern Europeans) perceived their relationships. Especially for those of us with anglized perspectives, it's a very good thing to see the distance and small scale with which the western European nations hold by comparison with the mass of the rest of the continent.
This book is remarkable in the unique perceptual orientations it provides. When added to the balanced approach of the quantity of text, there is a true effort to provide a non-western European view and this is very much needed. A great job and a worthy read for anyone serious about the past of our species.
51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Overview with Much Detail!,
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My European Guidebook,
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This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)I lived in Europe for 3 1/2 years while in the Army. I lived in Germany and was deployed to Kosovo for over a year. I traveled to nearly 20 countries and countless cities in that time. This book was with me for it all.
With this book Davies attempts the enormous task of trying to plot the entire history of Europe from its creation up until modern times. Although no work of this type could possibly be complete in one volume, Davies does a very good job in hitting almost everything you could want.
This is essentially a reference book. It gives you a good starting point on almost any subject or period you are interested in. I would suggest a basic knowledge of European history before trying to read this cover to cover like I did.
Even though it is rather bulky I took it with me on all of my travels. Every city I went to I used this to maximize my travel so that I could focus on what I thought would be most interesting. Lets face it a normal guidebook will bring you to the places a tourist would find interesting and not what is necessarily historically significant.
Although there are a lot of books that are more specific than this work in any given area none are as complete a compendium as this work is. If you are a student of history then this book is a necessity.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One-volume European history as good as it gets,
By A Customer
There are several features of Davies' book that, to me, make it stand out from other histories of Europe. First of all, he begins with, if you will, a "history of European history", describing how the subject has been viewed and written about in the past. He describes how various historical schools of thought have come and gone over the years, thus describing the larger context into which he introduces his history. Davies attempts to write his history without some of the biases that he believes exist in many previous works.
Secondly, Davies tells the story of Europe along several threads, understanding that "European" history is really several parallel and interacting histories of peoples, nations, states, etc. It is only relatively recently that one can really say that there has been a coherent and truly "European" history.
Thirdly, eastern Europe is finally given some due attention. Too many European histories have tended to dwell on northern and/or western parts of the continent. Only someone such as Davies, whose specialty is Polish history, could adequately include the more neglected parts of Europe. I especially liked his telling of the Soviet liberation of Warsaw during the last years of WW2 as contrasted with the Allied liberation of Paris at about the same time. It was definitely an eye-opener.
Finally, I especially liked Davies' use of "capsules" to address topics that might not be adequately covered in a narrative history, but that would be helpful in understanding the history of Europe in its entirety. The main text provides the meat of the story, but it's the capsules that give it the right spice and flavour.
The book is excellent because it covers a big topic without being too generalizing. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a good, substantial history of Europe.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far the best history book,
This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)Having read much on Europe over the years through books on specific parts of it, books on Europe itself (including J.M. Roberts' 'The Penguin History of Europe') and books more on the history of Europe and the world as a whole (inc. 'A History of the Modern World', by R.R. Palmer, et el), I am absolutely certain that 'Europe: A History' is the best history book out there. I cannot possibly praise this book enough and it has set in my mind an almost impossible standard for other history books to follow. May I say that Davies leaves Roberts in the dust?!
As other reviewers tell you, Davies' style is absolutely compelling, and every page-turning chapter also includes fascinating boxed-texts ('capsules'), periodical chapter summaries, and very likely comprehensive charts, graphs and similar information in the extensive appendices that are also provided. All this makes not just for a book, but for a near tomb of information that can be read again and again. As big as it is, I would sooner throw out a pair of good shoes than demote it from pride of place in my traveller's backpack.
The most obvious thing about 'Europe: A History' is that it doesn't ignore significant chunks of Europe! Many writers on Europe - Roberts included - focus so much on Western Europe (Germany, France, and especially England) that recently converted arm-chair historians could be forgiven for thinking that the rest of Europe never existed until post WWI. For example, Roberts practically sums up the whole of Poland prior to WWI in just one page [p. 177], and the impression given is that Russia was always Poland's elder brother and often rightly its political dictator. In this example, Davies demonstrates just how significant and advanced a kingdom Poland-Lithuania was, and this was when Muscovite Russia was still paying tribute to the tartars in Kazan.
But although Davies loves Poland, he doesn't make the mistake of forgetting about the other players too. Russia is still probably covered more extensively (her history having had more of an impact on the whole of Europe), however none but perhaps the very smallest of countries doesn't get her fair share of recognition. A one volume history cannot set out to cover every single detail and historical happening. Naturally, Davies' aim is to discuss key events that have shaped Europe into what she is today (as they have shaped much of the world), but through his style of chapters, capsules, summaries and appendices, he also succeeds at capturing many small glimpses of another side of Europe that is normally neglected within a book of such scope. Davies writes with more than just historical authority, he uses a well-trained imagination to create a text that is wholly more real and personal. My own imagination began to run totally wild, and for the several months that it took me to complete the book (I'm a slow, but I like to think a 'thorough' and 'methodical', reader) I practically lived European history from the start of every discussion to the end of every dream. If you read only one book on Europe, let it be this one. If you have already read other books on (or covering) Europe, then you have done well to save the best to last.
69 of 84 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So Much History, So Little Space,
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly Rewarding,
This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)No one book could possibly tell the whole story of Europe, but Davies comes amazingly close with this volume. This is no quick study, but a dense, detailed and yet very engaging study of the origins and history of the entire European peninsula. I have been reading this volume for two weeks no, inching along, absorbing the material as fast as I dare, and I'm still only a quarter of the way trhough the book. For example, in the space of six pages detailing Roman spiritual life, Davies also gives us: Detailed sidebars on the Arician cult; why for both the Greeks and Romans there was only one word that descibed both Cedar and Juniper; a history of Samian Pottery and its place in Roman life; and both a biography of Spartacus and a history of the subsequent use of the name of Spartacus in various utopian political movements- plus further cross references to related sidebars. There is so much here, in the narrative the the numerous sidebars, that it nearly threatens to overwhelm the reader at times. And yet the narrative never suffers for all this detail.
The result of all this is great entertainment for the history buff as well as detailed narrative an some unique perspectives for the specialist. A fine read.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Massively important work,
By A Customer
This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)A work of commendable boldness, Norman Davies Europe is the kind of work that most historians tend to cringe from. Written with the intelligent layman in mind (the only reader who matters), Davies prose brings life to material that would come off as positively dessicated in less skilled hands. While he modestly claims that there is little original material of his own that he contributed, the synthesis is nonetheless spectacular. Also, he puts Eastern Europe in the forefront of European history, where it unquestionably belongs in the twentienth century. The power struggles between Germany and the USSR are positively incomprehensible without a thorough knowledge of this area. On that note, I would like to comment on one issue that has come up in the course of the reviews on Amazon concerning the massacres of the Stalinist Soviet Union. While I agree that Davies' main source for this material, the historian Robert Conquest, has quite possiblly exaggerated the numbers of the dead, the fact remains that even by the most conservative estimates there were still millions killed. Anyone who contends otherwise is a Stalinist sycophant of the type who still believes that the Ukrainian Terror Famine was a fabrication of the "pro-Nazi" Hurst press, who were, incidentally, duly and deservedly excoriated by George Orwell, a voice of reason in an age of intellecual delusion and frivolous posturing. While I mean absolutely no disrespect to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, I believe that the victims of Stalin deserve equal respect, not the vile, despicable calumny that is still allowed to pass under the guise of respectable opinion in this day and age. While I would not wish the fate of Stalin's victims on the reviewers who are so contemptuous and glib about those who suffered and died under his rule, I don't think it would be too sadistic of me to wish that they could live just "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Europe' for all Europeans,
This review is from: Europe: A History (Paperback)"I am a candle," said Reason. Love replied: "Brother! I am the sun - so your time comes only when I set." Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916)
There are not many examples of such an altruistic approach in European history. It makes us appreciate even more those few that are left. The NATO action aimed at liberating the Albanian minority in Kosovo is one of those generous acts worth remembering. Norman Davies makes us remember some other examples. When the Ottoman Empire troops stood at the gates of Western Europe more than three centuries ago, the Polish king, John Sobieski, led the Polish Commonwealth army and decisively contributed to saving Vienna , (a faraway place given the Warsaw perspective), from almost sure disaster. Not many people know the sad epilogue of that story. In less than a hundred years, the Austrian Emperors grabbed one third of Poland! That was really a special "generosity". We must not forget that some of the Western glory was just grabbed from many, sometimes exotic countries of Asia, Africa and America. The "discovery" of America could also be easily read as conquest. Immeasurable riches gathered that way by Spain are much better known than the fact that Polish prosperity at that time was earned by grain export to Western Europe. At that time, the Polish Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) was called "the Granary of Europe". The timing of publishing this huge work by Davies is particularly symbolic and favourable. At the turn of the third millenium, Europe and also America badly needed such a book! Unlike his many predecessors, Davies paid a lot of attention to the many factors integrating rather than dividing Europe. The book is full of fine verses, original descriptions coming from library sources, and wonderful capsules - tiny streams feeding the River of European history. I absolutely agree with one of the readers in Sweden that Davies' work is one of few, if any, readable histories of Europe. Cultural European heritage is widely attributed to the Western part of Europe. Thanks to this honest West European historian, we now have a much more balanced and fair account. Davies has shocked some old-fashioned readers with his would-be new facts about Eastern Europe. The old logic of reading history was: no rights for the weak and no voice for the weak. I would compare it to the position of women or slaves throughout the ages. The Ancient Romans would probably be astonished that someone would point out their foul practice of enslaving people. Many XIXth century gentlemen would feel offended to hear that women deserve exactly the same rights that the gentlemen enjoy themselves. Oh yes, the kingdoms of Hungary and Poland were in the forefront of Christianity for centuries, defending prosperous Western European nations against the hostile Oriental world. They became much weakened that way. Their bodies, placed geographically at the heart of Europe, have been multiply raped, not only by the East, but also by the West (Austria's invasions on Hungary and Poland, Brandenburg's and Prussian Drang nach Osten against Poland). This has repeatedly occurred in more modern European history. The battle of Poland against Soviet Russia's Bolshevik hordes - culminating with the successful battle near Warsaw called the 'miracle on the Vistula', was really an event confirming that Providence had Western Europe in mind. Only a few know what a stiff price was to be paid in Katyñ and numerous other places just twenty years later. Many of Davies' readers would hardly believe how much ignorance could be displayed in some would-be reputable books on world history (see the monumental "History of the World" compiled by Prof. Esmond Wright, 1984); the battle with the Mongoles of Liegnitz (Legnica, 1241) has been located in Hungary(!); few and hard-to-find sentences, full of basic mistakes, on the history of Poland at her Golden Age have been placed in the chapter devoted to Russia's history!). I think a few readers reacted in a negative way to the abundant information on Polish or Hungarian cultural contributions or religious tolerance in XVIth century Poland. Prejudice and taboos haunt not only European nations even now. These are something Davies ruthlessly traces and embattles. Thank you, Norman, for your human and balanced insight into European history! You presented history as a source of inspiration for all Europeans and surely also Americans. Yes, the weak also have rights and with your helping hand the weak will get stronger. I would like to see an optimistic view of European history given at the end of this book.
"And I was with them drinking wine and mead, And what I saw and heard all men may read" Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), an excerpt from the "Pan Tadeusz" poem.
Really, reading this book I have an impression of being in the heart of Europe for ages. Zbigniew Lechniak, engineer, The Very Heart of Europe
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Europe: A History by Norman Davies (Paperback - January 20, 1998)