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The Thirty Years War (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 30, 2005
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"[Wedgwood] tells a story supremely well….she is by far the best narrative historian writing in the English language. She is a superb stylist, her eye for colorful detail is unerring, and she has an unrivaled capacity for catching the signs and sounds and smells of the past."
— Lawrence Stone
"God, I love this book. It’s the history of an utterly depressing war with no real nobility that ultimately descends into cannibalism. Right up my alley.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates, "My 10 Favorite Books," T: New York Times Style Magazine
"The greatest narrative historian of the twentieth century, Wedgwood told complex stories in precise, human terms. The formal perfection and clarity of her prose often recall the work of one of her heroes, Edward Gibbon. Yet she contemplated and described in rapid, vivid detail scenes of past and present horror that would have robbed even the unflappable historian of the Roman Empire of his marmoreal calm. The Thirty Years War shows her at her epic best."
— From the introduction by Anthony Grafton
"This is a masterful narrative, written by one of the great exponents of that all-too-rare skill. Threading her way through one of the most complex and fraught eras of European history, Wedgwood gives all who have followed her an object lesson in clarity and readability that has not been surpassed."
— Theodore K. Rabb, Princeton University
About the Author
Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History and the Humanities at Princeton University. His most recent book is The Culture of Correction in Renaissance Europe.
Top Customer Reviews
Wedgwood's book has three great virtues: (1) the clarity and directness of her analysis; (2) her extensive research in a wide variety of incredibly obscure sources in many different languages; and (3) her remarkable gifts as a literary stylist. She writes beautiful, classic English prose and has a genius for portraiture. Moreover, she has visited many of the sites of the events in question and her feel for the physical background of the story is a particularly engaging part of the book.
To most history lovers, the Thirty Years' War is an obscure and impenetrable thicket considered too much trouble to explore. But Wedgwood recognized that it was one of the decisive episodes in early modern European history. It delayed the unification of Germany by two centuries; began the slow relative decline of Austrian power; paved the way for France's superpower status under Louis XIV; and accelerated Spain's decay into the sick man of eighteenth-century Europe.
One of the other reviewers suggested that Wedgwood's account was marked at times by debatable interpretations influenced by 1930's pacifism. I can see where that idea might come from, but I disagree with it. Certainly, one of Wedgwood's concerns is why the statesmen of the time were repeatedly unable to bring an end to this horribly destructive war, which took on a life of its own that defeated the original intentions of just about all of the participants (much like the Great War of Wedgwood's youth).Read more ›
Wedgewood's sympathies are clearly with the Protestants and there is no doubt who the hero of the book is, Gustavus Adolphus, who is in nearly every way portrayed positively. That is not to say that this is a flaw with the book, rather it is a strength. In these days of sprin doctors, it sometimes seems difficult to realize that good press was sometimes earned and deserved.
It would be too difficult to try and summarize the book in the space provided. In a nutshell, the Thirty Years war evolved into a general European conflict (with the English sitting this one out) due to many of the unresolved issues of the previous century. The Hapsburgs of Austria wanted to dominate the Holy Roman Empire, France wanted to contain the Spainish and Austrian branches, and Sweden was on its way to becoming a world power (for at least the next 100 years). The reason the war went on for so long was that no one really had the strength to land a decisive blow. Oddly enough whenever a power did come close some disaster would over take the army and the powers would have to start over again. Supplying, paying and feeding armies in the field was probably the most problematical undertaking of the entire conflict, along with finding the funds to continue the war for yet another year.
Wedgewood masterfully is able to describe a number of personalities, political situations and religious conflicts to give a real sense of both the era and the people who made it.
This latter fact might be reason enough to read C. V. Wedgewood's classic account of the conflict. But there is a happier reason, and that is that her exposition is, from start to finish, a delight. In his introduction, Grafton calls her "the greatest narrative historian of [the 20th Century," and it is hard to quarrel with him: she is brisk precise, compassionate, mordant and energetic
Having said this, it is no contradiction to say that her story doesn't really gain traction until the coming of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, the man who, as it is said, secured the permanent establishment of Protestantism on the continent. Gustavus is the only character to get a chapter of his own and from Wedgewood, the fullest personal description. "Coarsely made and immensely strong, he was slow and rather clumsy in movement, but he could swing a spade or pick-axe with any sapper in his army. ..." Wedgewood goes on for several pages like this.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This a classic, and has not aged. Of course, there is new research, etc, (check out Wilson's "European Tragedy"), but if you want a vivid story which is also accurate and... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Jacek Lubecki
Still the best book on the most vicious war in European history (in English, at least). Did anyone learn anything from this war? Read morePublished 4 months ago by Marco Buendia
An old friend, last read 40 years ago, and a pleasure 2d time around. British historian C.V. Wedgewood’s The Thirty Years War, is a 1938 account of the tangled conflict from 1618... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Paul Cool
This book was first published in 1938 and is still considered the best book on the thirty years war. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Thomaz Saavedra
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It filled in a huge blank period in my knowledge of European history. Wedgewood is a very good writer, a pleasure to read. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Carol L
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Wedgwood's Mastery of all facets of 30 Years War astonishing
A pleasure to read-Thucididies would approve... Read more