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85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent survey of European history
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...
Published on November 9, 2004 by Robert Moore

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13 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars i'll pass
Studying Eastern European histry, this book came as a shock to me for its lack of depth and truth concerning this region of Europe. The first constitutional monarchy in Europe, Poland, is given no credit for its Constitution of May 3rd, 1791. In fact, it's not even there at all. Other misleading factoids have the Lithuanian state 'defeating the Teutonic knights at...
Published on November 15, 2002 by chris


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85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent survey of European history, November 9, 2004
This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (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. I have over the years read pretty extensively in European and American history, but not systematically. The great thing about a single-volume history is that it allows you to engage in a self-test. I was, of course, already quite aware that there were many things in European history about which I was ignorant, but this book helped me to learn more precisely what it was that I didn't know. For instance, I'm dreadfully ill informed on Baltic, Slavic, Polish, and Russian history. My knowledge of the Habsburgs is spotty. And my knowledge of European pre-history is practically nonexistent.

This is not all. Not only do you learn what you do not know (thus setting the stage for additional self-education in the future), but also it is great to go over what you do know in a larger context. I knew a surprising amount about the French religious wars of the 16th century, but reading about them in a larger context brings home an increased sense of how they fit in the scheme of things. In addition, the book served as a good review for a host of topics, such as the history of Ancient Greece or the Hundred Years War or the years between WW I and WW II.

Is this an ideal way of learning European history? No. In fact, I would not recommend this book for beginners in the subject at all. Instead of immediately striving for an overview, I would recommend instead focusing on a particular period that one finds interesting. Read several books on that first, and then allow oneself to expand. More than that, you must eventually force yourself to expand. What happens eventually is that you will have criss-crossed European history to such a degree that your studies will start to connect up with fascinating ways. The book you have read on WW I will connect with the book by (or about) T. E. Lawrence, which will connect up with a book on the break up of the Ottoman Empire, which will connect up with the book on Byzantine Art. This way you can gain both breadth and depth on the subject. Reading Roberts will only gain breadth, and if one is unfamiliar with at least most of the highpoints, it is unlikely to make much of an impact.

So, I think this book can be helpful to those with prior familiarity of the subject who want to review what they already know, gain some sense of what they don't know, or get a sense of how the whole thing fits together, but I am not sure that this would be at all a good place for a beginner to go to learn about European history.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to write history, October 7, 2002
This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (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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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not for beginners, May 2, 2006
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This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost excellent, June 7, 2008
This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (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). Lists of place-names appear which are probably familiar to knowledgeable Europeans, but not to me. More and better maps, closely tied to the text, would be a big improvement. Roberts' books are so good that Penguin owes them this.

His perspectives on American Independence and growth (tantalizingly brief) are useful antidotes to American mythology and narrow vision. Without ill will, he recognizes the American presidency as the (18th c.) British-like constitutional monarchy it essentially is; he's sober about the relatively minor grievances used to justify revolution, and (as typically) that a radical elite inflamed opinion towards violence; that Americans would have lost without French and Spanish help (also crediting American generalship, when British blunders are a better explanation); and that the U.S. wouldn't have expanded westward so quickly without British naval protection. He doesn't dwell on it, but doesn't romanticize the ruthless illegitimacy of this expansion, including gross abuse of American Indians and the naked land grab called the Mexican War (with the evils of slavery and the Spanish-American War in the longer list). But America's a sideshow here.

Roberts makes a good case that WWI was never inevitable, but the final lead-up is so compressed it's a bit misleading. He suggests Russia told Serbia to comply with Austrian demands, Serbia largely did, but Austria's quick invasion was intended regardless. Russia actually sent Serbia mixed signals, and invasion seems unlikely had Serbia completely complied. Had Russia been as clear as Roberts suggests, war might have been averted. But the world wars have been covered so thoroughly elsewhere that this isn't a big problem.

Roberts' focus is political, economic, social and cultural; he provides very little military history. His approach to WWII is similar to WWI, although Hitler's rise is given very little space while the war itself gets more coverage. He provides another interesting perspective on the US, suggesting Truman's 1947 decision to contain the USSR by providing aid to Greece and Turkey (reversing traditional American isolationism) "may well be thought the most important [decision] in American diplomacy since the Louisiana Purchase."

A couple other of many interesting tidbits: both the US and USSR supported the creation of Israel (for Russia this was anti-British rather than pro-Israeli). Of course Russian support was short-lived, and in the 1973 Yom Kippur war it's thought they provided Egypt with nuclear weapons, prompting American forces to go on worldwide alert, essentially ending the war. I always wondered how David beat Goliath again, when this time Goliath had a large quantity of good Soviet weapons. This explanation is more plausible than the Israeli myths.

What Roberts does best is draw out patterns from a mass of detail and make reasoned judgments about these patterns, and he does it very well. All in all, a rip-roaring ride through the fascinating and often hideous past.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Subject covered by a good author, February 1, 2006
By 
David N. Reiss (Haymarket, VA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
To begin with, J.M. Roberts wrote the large one volume History of the World, which was also, was published by Penguin as The Penguin History of Europe.

It is good that Roberts has multiple publishers for his major books, as they are works that should remain in print for a very long time. I always hate it when I find good stuff that is out of print.

Now, about "A History of Europe": Good work. It focuses more on history after 1800 though. But then, this is what is important to most modern readers. We read to find out some answer to the question of who we are. So, naturally, a general history is going to focus more on later periods that tell us more about who are currently are.

It does cover all the topics of interest. Prehistoric Europe, thru the Classical period of Greece and Rome, up thru the Middle Ages and into modern times.

It is a great book to own and read and reread all the time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Solid History, If a Bit Dry, July 30, 2014
By 
Cody Carlson (Salt Lake City, UT United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
J. M. Roberts is a fine historian that brings some very interesting ideas to the table. "The Penguin History of Europe" is a good, concise history of Western Civilization from its beginnings to the present. This is a great reference work, though reading it straight through can be something of a chore. Roberts' writing style is a bit dry and, at times, detracts from the overall narrative. Still, there is enough meat here for this book to deserve its place on the shelf of any serious historian or history buff.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of a gigantic subject, July 31, 2013
By 
Sirin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
Some historians are truffle hunters, immersing themselves into a lifetime of study in a particular period, others are parachutists, preferring the broader overview, and synthesising different parts.

The field of historical study needs both types, of course, and J. M. Roberts is an exemplary version of the latter. His history of Europe makes a masterful go of synthesising a huge range of sources, and writing a narrative of European history from the neolithic revolution to the post Cold War era that is multi stranded and treats all parts of Europe with (relatively) equal weight.

I read this book over a summer holiday last year and I confess that I have forgotten much of the narrative threads. This is the price one pays for an overview. One should keep this book for reference, and combine it with more detailed historical scholarship to embed one's knowledge of European history further.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, August 29, 2014
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This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
Served the purpose for my son's college class much less expensive than through school.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History book rating thing, November 12, 2012
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This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
The word are really small and it is hard for me to see them. They are also densely packed in the lines so in hindsight I wish I had looked for a large print edidtion but I'm not complainin'. No biggy
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13 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars i'll pass, November 15, 2002
This review is from: The Penguin History of Europe (Paperback)
Studying Eastern European histry, this book came as a shock to me for its lack of depth and truth concerning this region of Europe. The first constitutional monarchy in Europe, Poland, is given no credit for its Constitution of May 3rd, 1791. In fact, it's not even there at all. Other misleading factoids have the Lithuanian state 'defeating the Teutonic knights at Tannenberg', while in reality they only constituted about a third of the Polish force. So, in general, this book goes nowhere new; it overgeneralizes and misrepresents Eastern Europe while glorifying the big two; France and England.
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The Penguin History of Europe
The Penguin History of Europe by J. M. Roberts (Paperback - December 1, 1998)
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