Academic journal article Military Review

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914

Academic journal article Military Review

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914

Article excerpt

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 Richard J. Evans Viking, New York, 2016, 848 pages

Sir Richard Evans adds his considerable powers of analysis to this work, the seventh volume in The Penguin History of Europe, which spans ancient to modern Europe in a series of nine single editions. The author is a professor of history and president of Wolfson College in Cambridge, and his contribution, The Pursuit of Power, is the most recent publication in the series. Chronologically it predates the next volume in the series, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949, by Sir Ian Kershaw, published earlier in 2015 and analyzed by this reviewer in the July-August 2016 edition of Military Review.

Evans employs the same holistic style that was so effective in his renowned Third Reich trilogy, which encompasses far more than simply political or military history. In that series-which spanned the Reich's coming to power, its conduct while in power, and its prosecution of World War II-Evans covered such diverse topics as culture, the economy, religion, science, the Holocaust, and resistance movements. Aimed at the general reading public, if not the specialist, the Third Reich trilogy was a highly acclaimed model of synthesis and scholarship. The same attributes are evident in The Pursuit of Power.

Evans began writing The Pursuit of Power in 2009, which attests to the level of effort and perseverance required to compose a history of Europe that spans one hundred years in a single volume. Evans's slice of The Penguin History of Europe covers the post-Napoleonic period to the eve of World War I, specifically 1815-1914. Why those benchmarks? In his very useful preface, Evans explains that those years in particular signal the high-water mark for the continent; that is, during that timeframe, Europe stood first globally in a number of important areas, which he highlights throughout the text. Additionally, the author makes a keen early observation that sets the tone for the entire book: "Europe is best seen as a social, economic, political, and cultural region sharing many common characteristics and stretching from Britain and Ireland in the west to Russia and the Balkans in the east." Thus, Evans places a premium on considering Europe as an entity whenever possible in his treatment, rather than as an accumulation of regional histories or individual country narratives. The Pursuit of Power is thus unique and works on multiple levels of analysis.

The organization of the book is elegant in its use of thematic "lines of effortľ It also reflects Evans's intent to approach his history of Europe in a manner different from previous writers. The author divides the book into eight chapters of roughly equal size, each in turn consisting of ten sections. Exactly half of the chapters-1, 3, 7, and 8-cover political history and are organized chronologically. They include, amongst an impressive scope of topics, an excellent synthesis of 1815 Europe, the French Revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the Italian and German unifications of the 1870s, and the dissolution of the Ottoman and Habsburg empires. Chapters 2 and 4 cover socioeconomic themes, each encompassing roughly a half century in time. Here, Evans tackles such seminal developments as the emancipation of the serfs, the rise of industry and the working class, the decline of the aristocracy, urbanization, and European emigration. Chapters 5 and 6 are uniquely titled "The Conquest of Nature" and "The Age of Emotion," respectively, reflecting what the author considers as broad "cultural" history. The former describes the state of nineteenth century "globalization" and the shrinkage of time and space with developments in transportation, commerce, medicine, and the adaption of standard time as well as the metric system. The latter focuses on broad intellectual and cultural movements, in particular the transition from Enlightenment principles to those of Romanticism and later, Realism. In this fascinating chapter, Evans spans an eclectic variety of subjects, including religion, literacy and language, education, the arts, gender issues, and the rise of nationalism. …

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