The History of Europe

J. M. Roberts, Author
J. M. Roberts, Author Viking Books $34.95 (832p) ISBN 978-0-7139-9204-5
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
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Last year Oxford published Norman Davies's huge history, Europe, for which Davies, best known as a historian of Poland, was justly criticized for various errors, particularly in dates. That book, however, managed to drag the focus of European history eastward and peppered it with numerous fascinating anecdotes and tidbits. Roberts, who narrows his focus after his monumental History of the World, is much more stolidly on track. Most readers reasonably well versed in European history will find little to get exorcised with or even to highlight. Roberts's Europe is shaped by long-running oppositions, between Byzantium and Rome, Islam and Christendom, laity and clergy, town and crown, rich nations and poor, industry and agriculture, communism and capitalism, etc. England, France, Germany and Italy are back at center stage here, as are the larger social, economic and political forces. Recent, almost scholastic enthusiasm for the telling banausic detail is largely absent and such subsidiary influences as intellectual trends are often condensed to the bare outlines, as in ""Art in the 1920s and 1930s showed that though many people still clung to old shibboleths, many in the elites which led thought and opinion found the old foundations no longer firm."" All of which tends to make Roberts reliable, if a little sketchy and dull. Given its curiously haphazard sprinkling of footnotes (most chapters have only three or four with Bury's edition of Gibbon winning a plurality), this is probably meant as a good, solid introductory text. And that it is. (Dec.)
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