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The Penguin History of Europe Paperback – December 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0140265613 ISBN-10: 0140265619

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

J. M. ROBERTS was a Fellow and Tutor of Oxford University, now retired. His numerous publications include Europe 1880-1945 and The Paris Commune from the Right. In 1985, BBC2 transmitted the series The Triumph of the West, which he wrote and presented.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (December 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140265619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140265613
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.3 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
At approximately the same time, we were blessed with not one but two single-volume histories of Europe: one by Norman Davies and this one by J. M. Roberts. I have read around in the Davies and have completed this one, and I can point out a couple of differences between the two. One, Davies's history is probably more well rounded and a bit more comprehensive. This partly stems from its greater length. On the other hand, Davies is more willing to grind axes (though I have nothing against axe-grinding myself), while Roberts is almost aggressively neutral on most issues. Roberts simply gives the history as best he can; Davies is apt to brood over the very idea of giving history. If forced to make a recommendation, I would recommend the Davies over this volume by Roberts. There is more personality in Davies's book, and while I admire Roberts's evenhandedness, it doesn't help that much in assisting one through a long book.

And speaking of long books, why would one want to read such a volume as this? It is far too short to be adequate as a history of Europe. Too many things must be mentioned quickly, if at all. For instance, as a former student of the history of philosophy, I was struck by the fact that everything that Roberts says about Descartes, Montaigne, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume, Bacon, Spinoza, Kant, Rousseau, Mill, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Sartre could have easily fit onto two pages, with room for an extra paragraph or two. There is simply no room for depth or detail. In other words, at best we will get a bird's eye view of the landscape of European history. All subtlety, all nuances will be indiscernible. The question reasserts itself: is there a point to this?

I think there is.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By DeeK on October 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
The other reviews for this book make me wonder whether the other reviewers actually read the book.
I found a The Penguin History of Europe (A History of Europe in hardback) a delightful informative read. Mr. Roberts covers history in a way that provides facts without sounding factual. I am researching my own book and found his to be a good starting point for chasing down relevant information. The book is only loosely chronologically based and instead emphasizes topical issues. After I read this work I understood the how each country in Europe related to others worldwide and to history itself. If this book had been available in my high school, I would have looked forward to class!
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Janez on May 2, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A nice book on European history, but I didn't like it as much as I liked his History of the World. For one thing, there is not much more on European history in this book than it was in the former. Secondly, his narrative seems to be aimed at those who already know the history, but need a synthesis, or analysis, not a sequence of facts. This made the reading much harder and, at the end, less informative. And thirdly, maps are very scarce, so unless your geography is perfect, or you have time to check other books while reading, you will not always know where things happened or who was occupying what at some point in time.

Also, I've read complaints about the author's coverage of Poland, and I have to add that the short section on the disintegration of Yugoslavia leaves a lot to be desired. Roberts' judgement here has no substance, and some of his explanations (like why Serbs bombed Dubrovnik) are very shallow. Still, I wouldn't extrapolate this to the other parts of the book, I think saying that he was not particularly interested in the East is enough. In my modest judgment this has something to do with the IMPORTANCE of the countries in question for the history of Europe.

These setbacks aside, I can't think of a better way of writing history. Lucid, concise, critical, synthetic, and, not the least important, incredibly literate.

For those who have never read Roberts, here's a sentence typical of his writing:

Furthermore, many of the Spanish were sincerely horrified at such practices as the Aztec human sacrifices (however hard it may be for us to understand why men easy with the idea of burning Christian heretics should have been so offended).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By T on June 7, 2008
Format: Paperback
Much like Robert's excellent History of the World (which I think is a bit better). From the jacket: "For his ability to grasp and communicate the full sweep of the past, Roberts ... must rank as the leading historical mind of his generation." "A monumental work of synthesis ... outstanding factual accuracy and solid judgments." "His gifts of compression and clear exposition are outstanding."

The first third covers ancient civilization to 1500, the next third from 1500 - 1900, then the 20th c. Emphasis is on the latter part in the first two sections, and on modern history generally, though the treatment of late Roman times to 1500 helped me much better understand that period.

It also gave me a handle on many other fuzzy items - the position of Emperor, relationship between Emperor and Pope, the French Revolution and aftermath, 19th c. French history in general, the confusing German tapestry before unification, how unification came about, and similar for Italy. It also shed light I hadn't had on the Balkans, Eastern Europe generally, Russia (especially post-Ivans), Byzantium, and the long, complicated decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Intense compression necessarily involves omission, and some things would benefit from more coverage. How Switzerland came about isn't explained, unless it was so brief I missed it. Germany's unification is brief but a good synopsis; that of Italy is too brief to be clear. But these are minor quibbles considering the book's scope. His coverage of European imperialism, its entanglements and effects on other societies and the results, is excellent (and often depressing). Another quibble (or more) - the few maps aren't great, and they're often only tangentially related to the narrative (similar for the occasional timeline).
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