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Not what I was hoping for
on April 5, 2012
The reviews for this book are generally quite favorable and go into considerable detail on how ideal a book this is for covering the enormous subject of European history. I've never taken a course in European history, but have of course picked up various tidbits over the years, and was hoping to connect the myriad random historical facts about Europe I have floating around my head to gain context and a clear picture of how everything fits together. Unfortunately this book does not provide that, at least it has not so far. Because of the numerous digressions, allusions, discussions of other historians perspectives and the like, it seems the book is written for those who have studied European history to the point of boredom, and are happy to see a refreshing take on the subject. For me, the much-maligned long string of dates and events would actually be preferable to what I've seen so far, as I would least feel like I'm forming some connections.
As a brief example, looking at the second chapter on ancient Greece, first there are a couple of paragraphs on the possible effects of sun on Grecian culture, then a discussion of previous historians and other more modern folks possibly over-glowing descriptions of Greece, complete with poetry excerpts. A bit further is a brief mention of skirmishes with the Persians, and a reference to three battles, Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis. Oh, hey, I've heard of two of those! Ah, finally a chance to learn something beyond "some guy ran 26 miles" and "300 Spartans died in a really cool battle". Nope, just an off-hand acknowledgement that we have indeed heard of these battles. Then there is a digression on the Greeks concerns on the ecology (just like us forward-thinking modern folk!) and another on money (which is somehow made to be boring). So, seven pages into Greek history, and I have yet to get any better idea of how ancient Greece fits into history. Considering there are over 1100 pages of text, if the goal of the book was aligned with mine, more ruthless editing would have been employed to focus on the raw flow of history. However, judging from the text and glowing reviews, this is not a book to learn European history, but instead to gain an invigorating perspective on European history.
I would not recommend this for those who want a *concise* overview of European history. For those who have a clear picture of European history already and want an erudite lucubration, you've probably found the book.