- Paperback: 206 pages
- Publisher: Black Inc.; 3rd ed. edition (June 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1863955658
- ISBN-13: 978-1863955652
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Shortest History of Europe 3rd ed. Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
I understand the need for brevity in a book that tries to summarize the multi-millenial history of an entire continent, but was it really worth omitting the partitions of Poland--a watershed event with immediate consequences for a vast swath of Europe (and a great counterexample to Hirst's veneration of parliamentary democracy and elective monarchy)--in favor of a detailed genealogy of English kings, who only affected part of one island? Was it really better to recount the history of the Chartist movement than to mention the struggle with the Ottoman Empire for control over the Mediterranean--a struggle that defined the current border between Europe and the "Middle East" and that choked off the land-based spice trade, providing the impetus for Portugal and Spain to seek maritime routes to India? Was it so important to discuss the Jute and Saxon invasions of early England that the Mongol, Magyar, and Turkish invasions could be ignored?
Hirst was right to recognize the need for a brief history of Europe. I originally wanted to give this book two stars for answering to that need. However, I believe that the highly biased view of European history presented in "The Shortest History of Europe" will leave readers worse off than they were before, so I'll stick with just one.
This review is a somewhat longer version of my original review.
The original “Shortest History” covered only up to circa 1800AD. This version brings us up to date. I guestimate that it runs to about 65,000 words. It is a masterpiece of concision, especially as it quite intentionally returns repeatedly to certain points.
Based on a series of his lectures, it is written by an Australian professor, whom I suspect is old enough to have received a Eurocentric and/or Anglocentric education.
It contains very few names and dates instead concentrating on a few very big themes. It might more meaningfully be called, in the author's phrase, "What is it about Europe?" as its subject is what it is that makes Europe Europe? Eastern Europe - other than ancient Greece - and Scandinavia are hardly mentioned.
Hirst begins by looking at the "three elements" that, to him, formed the foundation of European civilization - Graeco-Roman culture, Christianity, the culture of the Germanic warriors who overran the Western Roman Empire and how these three elements interacted and evolved to create Latin Christendom. He then discusses the transition from medieval to modern through the influences of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
These comprise the first quarter of the book. He then looks at the impact of the Germanic, Muslim and Viking invasions; the forms of government in pre-modern Europe and how these were influenced by military necessity and the comparative weakness of European monarchs vis-à-vis their subjects compared to rulers elsewhere; the struggles between emperors and popes; the evolution of Romance languages and of English before a chapter on the lives of the peasants and of the evolution of field systems before what was the brief conclusion of the shorter version where he addresses the question "What is it about Europe?"
The slightly less short Shortest History had two additional chapters, forming its last quarter. The first, on Industrialization and Revolutions, covers the 19th century and compares and contrasts industrialization and political change in Britain, France and Germany. The second covers the two World Wars and is very much focused on Germany.
One factual error I noted was that on page 122 he states that two European countries – Finland and Hungary – have non-Indo-European languages, thus ignoring Estonia and Georgia.
While one can agree or disagree with certain of Hirst's conclusions and/or inclusions or exclusions I regard his work as a miniature gem.
So do others. All the reviews this has received to date are either 4 or 5 star – this is the only 5 star review I’ve given to date – with one exception, a 1 star review by Michael Demkowicz and I would refer would be readers to it to obtain an alternative appraisal.
Based on a series of lectures, this book tells the story of what it means to be European. An easy read, highly recommended to all of us who live in what were once colonies, to remind us of our European heritage. The book deserves a huge readership.
No I'm not a friend of John Hirst, and no, I'm not a publisher or bookseller. Just a fan of engaging history.