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The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy Paperback – September 6, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Reprint edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674062310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674062313
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. From the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, brutal warfare swept across Europe. In his monumental study of the causes and the consequences of the Thirty Years War, Wilson, a professor of history at the University of Hull in England, challenges traditional interpretations of the war as primarily religious. He explores instead the political, social, economic as well as religious forces behind the conflict—for example, an Ottoman incursion left the Hapsburg Empire considerably weakened and overshadowed by the Spanish empire. Wilson then provides a meticulous account of the war, introducing some of its great personalities: the crafty General Wallenstein; the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, who preserved his state through canny political treaties and military operations; and Hapsburg archdukes Rudolf and Matthias, the brothers whose quarrels marked the future of Bohemia, Austria and Hungary. By the war's end, ravaged as all the states were by violence, disease and destruction, Europe was more stable, but with sovereign states rather than empires, and with a secular order. Wilson's scholarship and attention to both the details and the larger picture make his the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. 16 pages of color photos; 22 maps. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

In his monumental study of the causes and the consequences of the Thirty Years War, Wilson challenges traditional interpretations of the war as primarily religious. He explores instead the political, social, economic as well as religious forces behind the conflict...Wilson then provides a meticulous account of the war, introducing some of its great personalities: the crafty General Wallenstein; the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, who preserved his state through canny political treaties and military operations; and Hapsburg archdukes Rudolf and Matthias, the brothers whose quarrels marked the future of Bohemia, Austria and Hungary. By the war's end, ravaged as all the states were by violence, disease and destruction, Europe was more stable, but with sovereign states rather than empires, and with a secular order. Wilson's scholarship and attention to both the details and the larger picture make his the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. (Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2009-08-24)

Among continental Europeans, the Thirty Years War is etched in memory...A definitive account has been needed, and now Peter Wilson, one of Britain's leading historians of Germany, has provided it. The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy is a history of prodigious erudition that manages to corral the byzantine complexity of the Thirty Years War into a coherent narrative. It also offers a bracingly novel interpretation. Historians typically portray the Thirty Years War as the last and goriest of Europe's religious wars--a final bonfire of the zealots before the cooler age of enlightened statecraft. Mr. Wilson severely qualifies this conventional wisdom. It turns out that the quintessential war of religion was scarcely one at all...Wilson's masterful account of the Thirty Years War is a reminder that war, and peace, are almost never the offspring of conviction alone. (Jeffrey Collins Wall Street Journal 2009-10-01)

Only in retrospect did the strife acquire coherence as the Thirty Years' War, and Wilson incisively cuts through its several phases to recount the objectives and options of the warring parties...Confidently argued, clearly written, Wilson's history is superb coverage of this pivotal period in European history. (Gilbert Taylor Booklist 2009-10-01)

Peter Wilson's book is a major work, the first new history of the Thirty Years' War in a generation. It is a fascinating, brilliantly written attempt to explain a compelling series of events, which tore the heart out of Europe. (The Times 2009-08-01)

[It] succeeds brilliantly. It is huge both in its scene-setting and its unfolding narrative detail...It is to Wilson's credit that he can both offer the reader a detailed account of this terrible and complicated war and step back to give due summaries. His scholarship seems to me remarkable, his prose light and lovely, his judgments fair. This is a heavyweight book, no doubt. Sometimes, though, the very best of them have to be. (Paul Kennedy Sunday Times 2009-07-19)

Wilson's monumental study captures both the complexities of the political and military transformations and the level of brutality that the endemic struggles unleashed...This will be the defining study of the Thirty Years War for the next generation. (P. G. Wallace Choice 2010-04-01)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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If you have any interest in this war I would strongly recommend this book.
Arch Stanton
This makes the book, even when discussing multiple strands of subject matter at once, both readable and user-friendly.
William Alexander
If you read Geoffrey Parker's "Thirty Years War", and you wanted more, this is the book for you.
Brandon Felger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

241 of 247 people found the following review helpful By Arch Stanton on September 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I saw this book for sale I was afraid that it would be another REALLY long, dry history book written by somebody who doesn't know how to cut things out. Fortunately I was wrong. This book is pretty much the definitive history of the Thirty Years War. At 851 pages of text it is certainly a long book, but given the complexity of the source material I don't see how it could be otherwise. It has to make up for years with little printed research (At least in English) as well as include all the recent papers printed in other languages. As he points out in the introduction, any comprehensive book on the Thirty Years War requires knowledge of at least 14 different languages. For some reason the English speaking countries don't have much interest in the Thirty Years War. There is a very short list of books that cover it.

A lot has changed since the greatest previous book on the war came out in 1938. There has been a copious amount of new research that just wasn't available then. Also, having been written after World War I the perspective is rather different. In some ways that helped of course, since both wars were so tragically pointless. This book is rather different from that one. While Wedgwood's book relied almost entirely on the chroniclers of the time, this book includes a better look at the war's causes. In fact, the war itself doesn't start until page 269. Wedgwood's book kind of reminded me of Gibbons, at least in the way she arranges her information quite clearly to add force to her thesis. Basically her thesis is that the war was a stupid waste that was caused by naivety and greed for power.
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124 of 126 people found the following review helpful By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on October 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book on September 15th, and it has taken me this long to digest the contents (while reading other books.) Make no mistake, the Thirty Years War was extremely complex, and reading about it will be necessarily slow to allow the reader to fully comprehend the subject. This work is extraordinary in that it starts well before 1618 to address the causes of the war, and ends well after 1648 with three chapters addressing the impact of the two treaties ending the war (Osnabrueck and Muenster, together called the Treaty of Westphalia,) the costs of the war, and the general population's experiences and adaptations.

This is only the third general book on the war I have read in English, the other two being Wedgwood, "The Thirty Years War" and Parker, "The Thirty Years War", although I have read a number of books in German on the subject including Schiller and Jessen. There are also books more limited in scope that I could recommend like "Wallenstein" by Golo Mann. But so far, this work seems to me to be the gold standard.

It is impossible today to depict the utter devastation visited on the German population during this war, and the author frankly doesn't try. The book is primarily concerned with the political and military maneuvering that allowed the war to break out and continue for so long. Even in Chapter 22, "The Human and Material Cost", the focus is on the macro level. The discussion of populations deaths in Germany have ranged from fifteen to eighty-three (5/6ths) percent, although the author, after much discussion, adopts twenty percent in one place and thirty in another. Certainly the populations of many towns were extirpated, and killings by soldiers of civilians and vice-versa was endemic outside of the formal battles.
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68 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Severian TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I may amend this review later, but after waiting forever to get a copy of this (publisher is backordered), I've discovered that Harvard University Press has cleverly excluded a key feature from the first edition, mainly a "theater level" map of Central Europe in the period covered. If you happen to know where Westphalia. the River Weser, and Julich are, no problem, but the rest of us would appreciate being able to sort out the complex political and military events being described in the book by looking at an included map.

This is definitely a publishing screw-up; the general map is mentioned in the List of Maps in the contents, but is not present in the book. The publisher has the map available on its website, but the file is monstrously large and will not print correctly on either of my two printers. I guess you could use an atlas or keep walking back and forth between your computer monitor and reading chair, but considering the not insubstantial cost of this book, I do not find this state of affairs satisfactory.

Moreover, even if we did have the theater level map mentioned, the absence of smaller operational scale maps is a pretty grave omission. The gold standard in epic narrative history, Foote's Civil War, has various scales of maps every few pages so the armchair general can see exactly what is at stake and what each side was trying to accomplish in a given area. Wilson gives us numerous battle maps but that's it. Some intermediate scale maps (along with the large scale map that was supposed to have been included) would have been very welcome.

I've emailed the publisher and will amend this review if they provide any sort of meaningful customer service to resolve the issue.
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