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Good book about 20th C. European history?

Good book about 20th C. European history?

Old Sep 27th, 2014, 10:21 AM
  #1  
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Good book about 20th C. European history?

We watched a good film about Ceaucescu's Romania the other night, had to admit how little we know about the past hundred years of European history, even the big chunk when we were on the other side of the water.

Does anyone have a favorite book for an overview of that period? Something not too deeply academic would be great, like along the general lines of M. Carter's "George, Nicholas and Wilhelm." Or maybe two or three such books for a fuller picture?
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 10:32 AM
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Could start with this:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentis...arbara-tuchman

If you've never done it, also watch Charlie Chaplain's The Great Dictator
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 10:55 AM
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Europe: the struggle for supremacy from 1453 to the present, by Brendan Simms.

You might think it covers 450 years more than you're interested in. But his point is you really can't understand, for example, the alleged fall of communism in 1989 without understanding the previous 500 years of Russian neurosis continually giving it what its dictators (it has no experience of anything else) claim to be an excuse for grotesque interference with its neighbours.

Nor can you understand the economic illiteracy that led to the Euro (or to the past decade's equally insane collapse in border security throughout much of western Continental Europe) without understanding how Germany, like its predecessor states, spent the 500 years before its 1945 collapse paranoid about being hemmed in by its neighbours - and invading them every few decades to stop that perceived hemming. To its immediate neighbours, almost no price is too high to stop that ever recurring.

By today's count, there are over 50 independent countries in Europe, so summarising their last 550 years is complicated. But Simms manages it in a masterful way.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 11:50 AM
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Agree that there are many significant themes that will make no sense unless you understand the past - including religious intolerance - which is again/still raising it's hideously ugly head in some places.

And realizing that there are huge differences in the various areas (and what those areas are). This is one of the things that makes me nuts when people call Hungary and czech republic "eastern europe". They have never been part of eastern europe, have a very different history with strong ties to the west in terms of religion, political philosophy, historical perspective etc - and are totally unlike the real eastern europe - which until very recently was operating in an almost medieval manner.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 01:56 PM
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Agree that there are many significant themes that will make no sense unless you understand the past

I started a reading project focused on World War One and I quickly realized that I could not hope to understand the reasons for the war until I understood the Balkans War, The Russo-Japanese War, and the Franco-Prussian War. But it didn't stop there -- I needed to know about German Unification which requires going back even further. Suffice to say, if you want to really understand Central Europe, you're going to have to go all the way back to the Romans and read forward.

Ain't history fun?
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 02:15 PM
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Not a direct answer but map to provoke more thought.

PartickLondon introduced me to this : not sure how accurate it is but an interesting watch anyway.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u1sjHGODFHg
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 02:35 PM
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Sandralist, flanner, and Dickie, thank you. I'll check those out.

sparkchaser, I'm shooting for the understanding level of a fairly bright high school senior who must also budget time for escapist novels.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 02:55 PM
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Dickie, that video is not available in the US, but maybe similar to this fun one:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiGdFnlzBdo

or

www.youtube.com/watch?v=l53bmKYXliA

Sad when the Ptelomies just vanish around 20 BC. We rise and we fall, don't we.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 03:10 PM
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You should read Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn To Decadence" a cultural history of the last 500 years. A great masterpiece.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 03:11 PM
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Thanks SB

This well outside the OP but I am currently reading the history of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie. Gives a hugely interesting insight as the what happens when the State fails and "others" move in. The book has many echoes of modern day Iraq with similar outcomes.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 03:35 PM
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Thanks, RJD.

Dickie: I like digressions, especially friendly ones.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 03:53 PM
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Age of Extremes:The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, by Eric Hobsbawm is on my reading list, although I haven't got there yet. It's written from a left-wing perspective.

Also, Dark Continent:Europe's Twentieth Century, by Mark Mazower, which I also haven't read yet.

I'm working my way through World War I books right now.

I have read, and really appreciated Churchill's series about World War I and World War II. You have to keep in mind that he isn't much interested in self-criticism, and glosses over his many errors. But he's a great writer and was a principle actor in the first half of the century.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 11:18 PM
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"Age of Extremes:The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991"...is written from the perspective of a committed, uncritical and entirely gullible Marxist.

In fairness, most of this book recounts most facts almost objectively. But it simply ignores the misbehaviour of Russia since 1917 (absolutely crucial to understanding the past 30 years' history of those states damaged by Russian thuggery) and gives next to no account of the real political debates in WW1 Russia that Hobsbawm's heroes brutally repressed (equally crucial to understanding why Russia still behaves like the leader of a street gang).

For a similar review from a left-leaning scholar who doesn't let his political delusions interfere with historical facts: Tony Judt's Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945.
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 03:56 AM
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If you don't mind a doorstep of a book, but one offering what my mother used to call "full measure, pressed down and running over", with lots of interesting "sidebar" nuggets about particular themes and topics, try Norman Davies's "Europe" (one to borrow from a library, perhaps).
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 05:10 AM
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Winston Churchill's books on WWI and WWII, while focusing on the conflicts, are excellent sources of European history and the backgrounds and causes. Besides, he's such an excellent writer that the reading is easy.
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 08:48 AM
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I think Churchill is one of the last great writers in the English language. You do have to take some of what he says with a grain of salt. He was still convinced after its tragic end that the Dardenelles invasion would have worked if only it had been executed as he planned it. I've read several historians on the topic, and all of them think the basic plan was fatally flawed. That wasn't his only flawed plan by any means.
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 09:28 AM
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By the way, William Manchester's biography of Churchill is another great work on 20th century Europe. The final volume, written by a collaborator (whose name I don't remember) from Manchester's notes, when the latter was not able to finish it, is weaker than the first two. I believe he used every note he found, whereas Manchester would have picked and chosen to create a more coherent narrative.

"The Arms of Krupp" is also excellent, on the relationship between German power and one of its great armaments factories.

"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", by William Shirer, is also good, although written before a lot of more recent knowledge has become available. A much shorter book, written in the heat of events, is Shirer's "Berlin Diary". This is a fascinating book. Shirer was a journalist stationed in Berlin in the days before WWII broke out. Because of censorship (before the days of the internet) he could only guess what was happening.

I would highly recommend "Spy Counterspy", by Dusko Popov, if it were not out of print and very expensive if you can find it used. I've unfortunately lost my copy in one of my transatlantic moves. I did read a good biography of Popov, though, that tells much of the story.

I can second the recommendation of "The Guns of August", about the opening days of World War I, by Barbara Tuchman. I would also recommend "The Proud Tower", about the pre-WWI years in the countries that later were engaged in the war.
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 11:21 AM
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Tuchman is a classic and Shirer is a great summer beach read (my degree is in history - specializing in europe post renaissance) and yes - IMHO it is fascinating. Especially when one takes the learning and applies to current events (the US history for the past 50 years would have been significantly different if anyone in power had done that).
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 11:49 AM
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Good question. Unfortunately I can't answer it. Every time I find a worthwhile book (like Tony Judt's "Postwar,") it invariably sends me off in a new direction--like to the Russian take-over of the more eastern European countries and their fates thereafter. This led me to reading about East Germany and the lives of the people who lived under the Communist rule. So I did that for a while.

I found Shirer's "Berlin Diary" to be fascinating as a sort of day-by-day account of his life in Germany during the Nazi time. I also liked "The Rise and Fall...."

I also found "Dreadnought," with its portraits of the various important figures involved in the international politics of the time leading up to WWI to give by far the best explanation (for me, anyway) of the causes of the war. Max Hastings "Catastrophe 1914" painted a vivid picture of an awful war.

What I'm stuck on now is the last part of the war. I want to know how the ending came about. I understand that the American entry brought about the defeat of Germany and its allies, but I'd like more details. The books that have been suggested to me seem to be about individual doughboys, rather than about strategy.

I want to know how Hitler could have blamed Germany's defeat in WWI on the "November criminals." I want to get a better idea of how the situation stood in order for him to be able to utilize the "stab-in-the-back" accusation.

That will have to wait, though. I became interested in Lincoln and read Carl Sandburg's three volumes and another by a guy named Henderson (I think) and have almost finished T.H. Williams' "Lincoln and His Generals." "Team of Rivals is in the queue.
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 12:22 PM
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What I'm stuck on now is the last part of the war. I want to know how the ending came about. I understand that the American entry brought about the defeat of Germany and its allies, but I'd like more details. The books that have been suggested to me seem to be about individual doughboys, rather than about strategy.

The simplistic version is that the both sides were exhausted from fighting for so long and the the U.S. came in all bright-eyed and bushy tailed and the failed German offensives of 1918 tipped the scales in the allies favor.

The more complicated version is, well, more complicated.

The First World War by John Keegan does a decent job explaining this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/037...MS7LASREXIMX3B


I have it but have not read it yet, but With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 by David Stevenson is highly regarded: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067...SFU5DV6UX62NGM




I want to know how Hitler could have blamed Germany's defeat in WWI on the "November criminals." I want to get a better idea of how the situation stood in order for him to be able to utilize the "stab-in-the-back" accusation.

After my WWI reading project draws to a close, I plan on doing a bit of reading into the Weimar Republic before diving into the rise of the Third Reich.
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