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Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in our Time


Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in our Time

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    Available in PDF Format | Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in our Time.pdf | English
    Bernard Wasserstein(Author)
The twentieth century in Europe witnessed some of the most brutish episodes in history. Yet it also saw incontestable improvements in the conditions of existence for most inhabitants of the continent - from rising living standards and dramatically increased life expectancy, to the virtual elimination of illiteracy, and the advance of women, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals to greater equality of respect and opportunity.

It was a century of barbarism and civilization, of cruelty and tenderness, of technological achievement and environmental spoliation, of imperial expansion and withdrawal, of authoritarian repression - and of individualism resurgent.

Covering everything from war and politics to social, cultural, and economic change, Barbarism and Civilization is by turns grim, humorous, surprising, and enlightening: a window on the century we have left behind and the earliest years of its troubled successor.

This book will almost certainly have a prominent place on the reading lists of courses on contemporary European History. (Christopher Reeves, Political Studies Review)Wasserstein fashions a powerful narrative. (Sunday Independent.)This is a huge synthesis marvelously researched, enriched with interesting pictures and a massive bibliography. (Sunday Independent. Milton Shain.)A rich and broad ranging synthesis...Numerous plums enrich an always fluently written and insightful text that artfully conceals the vast amount of material that has been synthesized. (Mark Mazower. Times Literary Supplement.)An admirable work of scholarly synthesis, which should be required reading... for anyone absorbed by the perplexing century we recently left behind. (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Spectator)eloquent, exhaustive and highly learned, this book is both a considerable achievement and an enlivening read...a highly competent and impressive book. (John Bew, Times Higher Education Supplement)Thoughtful, fast-moving... exciting. As narrative histories of the last century go, this is as good as it gets. (Dominic Sandbrook, Literary Review)By turns grim, humorous and surprising, this is a fascinating sweep of the century, covering war, politics, and social, cultural and economic change. (Belfast Telegraph)

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Book details

  • PDF | 928 pages
  • Bernard Wasserstein(Author)
  • OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (9 Aug. 2007)
  • English
  • 6
  • History
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Review Text

  • By Michael Tracy on 22 February 2009

    Even a keen reader needs some incentive to buy and plough through a book of nine hundred pages (including notes, bibliography and index). There are after all other works which survey the history of Europe in the twentieth century, notably Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (1994) or the final chapters of Norman Davies' Europe: A History (also 1994). Admittedly, Wasserstein takes the story up to 2007, but that hardly justifies the entire volume. His accounts of each event are thorough - he is good, for example, on the origins of the First World War - but on most such events more specialised works can be found: indeed many are listed in his voluminous bibliography (which however does not seem to include either of the works just mentioned). It would be helpful if he indicated which parts of his work he regards as original, but this is not apparent. One could of course treat his very comprehensive work as a useful book of reference - the index is comprehensive - but that was probably not his aim.The title "Barbarism and Civilization" suggests an interesting and potentially important theme, which in a shorter work might have been brought out more clearly. As it is, this gets lost in the mass of information. The barbaric disasters of the century are well enough known, from the horrors of trench warfare in the First World War through the Nazi holocaust and the devastation of the Second World War to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Where, if anywhere, were the "civilizing" influences? Wasserstein concludes on a grimly pessimistic note. After discussing the decline of religion and the lack of an "alternative social morality", he writes: "Evil stalked the earth in this era, moving men's minds, ruling their actions, and begetting the lies, greed, deceit, and cruelty that are the stuff of the history of Europe in our time".Fortunately, most of us can think of more positive factors. It is curious that he passes over, as of little significance, the movement towards greater integration between European states and peoples. One searches in vain in the "Contents" for a chapter, or at least a section, on the creation and development of the European Community/Union: it turns up in scattered fragments, generally as a pendant to the actions of the individual nations, and any comment he makes tends to be critical. Clearly he does not understand the decision-making process of the EU - the Commission does not, for example, "work with" the Council of Ministers (p.461) - and consequently he fails to bring out the complex process by which national interests have gradually been attuned to common European priorities; nor does he discuss the role of the European Court of Justice in ensuring the pre-eminence of European laws in the areas to which they apply.Yet: was it insignificant that France and Germany, having fought each other three times in eighty years, decided first to merge their vital coal and steel sectors, then to create a common market with common institutions? Was it not important that their initiative was followed, step by step, by almost all the Western European nations, that membership came to underpin democracy in the former dictatorships in Southern Europe and later to offer a refuge for the Eastern European countries shaking off their Communist regimes? Has it not been a civilizing influence that citizens can move freely from Ireland to Greece, from Finland to Portugal? or that the Erasmus programme has enabled thousands of young people to study in countries other than their own? That, ultimately, and despite all the faults and limitations of its institutions, Europe - at least up to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union - has become an oasis of relative peace in a troubled world?One feels, sadly, that Wasserstein after all his efforts has missed what might have made his work a real contribution to our understanding.

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