A sweeping, illustrated history of Europe--a continent whose imperial ambitions, internal clashes, and existential threats are as vital today as they were during the conquests of Alexander the Great
In just a few hundred years, a modest peninsula off the northwest corner of Asia has seen the rise and fall of several empires; served as the crucible for scientific dynamism, cultural innovation, and economic revolution; and witnessed cataclysms and bloodshed that have almost destroyed it several times over. This is Europe: a continent whose identity emerged not so much by virtue of geographic or ethnic continuity, but by a long and storied struggle for power.
Studded with infamous figures--from Caesar to Charlemagne and Machiavelli to Marx--Simon Jenkins's history of Europe travels briskly from the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, and the Reformation through the French Revolution, the World Wars, and the fall of the USSR. What emerges in this thrilling and expansive telling is a continent as defined by its continually clashing cultural identities and violent crises as it is by its tireless drive for a society based on the consent of the governed -- which holds true right up to the present day.
British historian Jenkins (A Short History of England) turns his attention to continental Europe in this swift, engaging traditional political history. The book traces "the struggle of people for power over land" and "the extraordinary role of violence, and the technology of violence, in that narrative" in page-turner fashion. (Jenkins acknowledges that famines, plagues, and assorted natural calamities have played roles as well.) Although the primary focus is the men (and rare woman) who have wielded and lost power among them Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Pope Gregory I, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Louis XIV, Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Bismarck, and Hitler Jenkins does attend to the cultural and social milieu. "Pen portraits of people and ideas that are important to that story" pepper this history; artists, (Leonardo da Vinci) philosophers (Aristotle, Hegel) and writers (Tolstoy) play their parts. Jenkins also brings in the best work of other historians, from the ancient (Herodotus, Procopius) to the modern (Daniel Boorstin, Peter Frankopan). Entertaining morsels of legend, lore, and gossip add flavor, as when he describes Peter the Great as "brash, high-living, persistently drunk." Readers of conventional histories those of the victors, rather than what Jenkins calls "the victims of power" will find this a pleasurable, erudite tour of 4,000 years of European politics.