Friday, August 4, 2017

My Amazon Review of Richard J. Evans' "The Pursuit of Power: Europe, 1815-1914"

The European Century

The distinguished Oxford Historian Richard Evans has given us a kaleidoscopic view of European civilization during the century it came to dominate the globe. A reader will learn a lot by going through this very long book (848 pages in the print edition without footnotes or endnotes.) In my opinion too long for the average lay reader. Evans offers us a bottom-up socio-political history where the focus is more on the average citizen and culture than the political elite.

In essence Evans discusses how Europe came to terms with the political earthquakes brought about by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and the industrial revolution. In 1815 the so called Concert of Europe is brought into being by Metternich as a conservative reaction to the French Revolution. That framework largely keeps the peace until 1848.  Nevertheless the ideas of the French Revolution bubble up and gradually work to democratize European society as the franchise is extended to more and more people. He highlights the conflict between the liberal reformers in the bourgeoisie and their more democratic counterparts whose visions extend to feminism and socialism.

Along the way nationalism becomes the most powerful force in Europe as Italy and Germany unify and the minorities within the decaying Austrian and Ottoman Empires revolt. It is those revolts that light the match that starts World War I.
Nationalism also becomes the motivating force in the establishment of European colonial empires in Asia and Africa. Territory abroad yielded political prestige home. The power of nationalism proves itself in 1914 when the previously anti-war socialist parties all vote for war credits in their respective nations.

All told The Pursuit of Power is well worth the read, but it will take a patient lay reader to get through it all.

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