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The Thirty Years War (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 30, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A book which is, and will long remain, the standard authority on the subject…I doubt if there is anything in any European language which covers the ground so comprehensively and so satisfactorily."

"[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

Cicely Veronica Wedgwood (1910–1997) was born into an innovative and intellectual English family. Her father, a direct descendant of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, was the chief general manager of the London and North Eastern Railway and her mother was a novelist and travel writer. After success at Oxford, Wedgwood rejected an academic career and took up writing instead. She published her first history, The Thirty Years War (1938), before her thirtieth birthday, and in the years that followed wrote a succession of chronicles of seventeenth-century Europe that made her one of the most popular and best-known historians in Britain. Her most important works include The King’s Peace; The King’s War; and William the Silent: William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, 1533–1584, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography in 1944. She was a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies, a Dame of the British Empire, and in 1969 became the third woman to be appointed a member of the British Order of Merit.

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.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 536 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (March 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590171462
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171462
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is quite simply one of the finest works of history produced by an English or American historian during the twentieth century. It occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf alongside the works of Steven Runciman, Peter Green, and C. Vann Woodward.

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).
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Format: Paperback
This is by far the best book ever written on the Thirty Years war and this judgement is unlikely to change very soon. Wedgewood is one of the 20th century's distiguished historians. This book was written and published during WWII and as such this gives the works a sense of dramatic urgency. Wedgewood saw clear parallels between what happened in the 17th century and what was happening to Europe in the 1940s. The Jesuits for example are referred to as "the storm troopers of the counter-Reformation.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Halfway through this splendid book and a third of the way through this dreadful war, the reader confronts Germany as a wasteland: its crops ravaged or burnt or trampled, its peasantry slaughtered or starved or dead of disease. One might well expect that the combatants, even if they had reached no closure, would fall back exhausted. But no: there was worse to come-another 18 years of pillage and devastation until at last the participants, by now nearly bled dry, at last reconciled themselves, if not to an understanding, then at least to go home. Oddly enough the Peace of Westphalia, which at last brought the conflict to a conclusion, came in time to serve as a template for the modern political world.

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.
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