cover image Personality and Power: Builders and Destroyers of Modern Europe

Personality and Power: Builders and Destroyers of Modern Europe

Ian Kershaw. Penguin Press, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-59420-345-9

Historian Kershaw (The Global Age) profiles 12 leaders who shaped 20th-century Europe in this astute survey. Focusing on “crisis conditions, the type of leader these produce and the role of individuals at crucial junctures of change,” Kershaw follows a similar pattern in each essay, beginning with the “personality traits and the preconditions that... provid[ed] the potential for the leader to acquire power,” then exploring how that power was exercised and offering an assessment of the leader’s legacy. Dictators abound (Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler, among them), but Kershaw also illuminates how democratic heads of state expanded their authority in response to crises, like the 1958 military coup in Algeria, which allowed Charles de Gaulle “to mould the nascent Fifth Republic as a vehicle for his own extended power.” Light is also shed on Stalin’s enduring popularity in Russia; Margaret Thatcher’s view, influenced by her reading of Friedrich von Hayek, that trade unions “were the source of the disease that had eaten into British greatness”; and Tito’s use of “subtle diplomacy” to maintain Yugoslavia’s role “as the pivot between East and West in the Cold War.” Striking an expert balance between personality profiles and political and social analysis, this is a rewarding study of a turbulent century in European history. Photos. (Nov.)