Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

History as Panorama, as Snapshot A Definitive, and Engaging History of Europe; a Sad but Defining Event in Anglo-Indian Affairs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

History as Panorama, as Snapshot A Definitive, and Engaging History of Europe; a Sad but Defining Event in Anglo-Indian Affairs

Article excerpt

Europe:

A History

By Norman Davies Oxford University Press 1365 pp., $25 Our Bones are Scattered: The Cawnpore Massacres and the Indian Mutiny of 1857 By Andrew Ward Henry Holt 703 pp., $25 A book review is not, by its very nature, intended to be a rave notice for an author, however famous or beloved of the publicity gang he might be. That said, Norman Davies's historical perception and understanding is so unrivaled, its breadth so unparalleled, that it is impossible not to stand in awe of this author, who fully comprehends, communicates and explains his mammoth subject in one behemoth volume (weighing 3 pounds, 14 ounces; 1,365 pages), Europe: A History. Unusually, Davies begins with Europe's environmental history: the glacial formation of the continent that left vital mineral deposits, ample fresh water, and a rich swath of farmland, thus encouraging the various nomadic peoples to settle, farm, and trade. Prehistory evolves into classical Greek civilization and culture, which then gives way to the better-organized Roman empire and the advent of Christianity. The empire falls prey to the marauders on its boundaries and to internal corruption and strife, though Christianity survives. Hegemonies - from Ireland to Ukraine - rose and fell before anything resembling our modern conception of a nation-state was formed. Eventually, some 1,500 eventful years later, Davies arrives in 1992, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, war in the Balkans, and the controversy over the European Union. To many, this millennial parade of empires, princes, armies, and peasants will not be new. Indeed, Davies himself avers that his work contains nothing original. That is to grossly simplify and underrate his work, for his approach is both innovative and exhaustive. Too often, "European history" denotes a combined history of England, France, Spain, and Germany, with Italian interludes. Davies redefines the term by including all those places (for example, Poland-Lithuania, Ukraine, Scandinavia, Ireland) and peoples neglected by other historians. Not only does he provide this mass of previously ignored information, but he also reveals its integral importance to a proper understanding of Europe as we know it. His explanation of the barbarian migrations from the east, circa AD 330 to 800, is surely the most cogent and comprehensible on record. Likewise, the analysis of France's Louis XIV and his alteration of the political structures of that country is wonderfully incisive. And it was a revelation to learn that previous assessments of Poland-Lithuania's relative unimportance resulted from a political ploy by Catherine II of Russia: Upon the final partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795, she resolved to suppress every memory of the kingdom of Poland. Her gambit worked. …

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