Europe: A History

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Here is a masterpiece of historical narrative that stretches from the Ice Age to the Atomic Age, as it tells the story of Europe, East and West. Norman Davies captures it all-the rise and fall of Rome, the sweeping invasions of Alaric and Atilla, the Norman Conquests, the Papal struggles for power, the Renaissance and the Reformation, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Europe's rise to become the powerhouse of the world, and its eclipse in our own century, following two devastating World Wars. This is the first major history of Europe to give equal weight to both East and West, and it shines light on fascinating minority communities, from heretics and lepers to Gypsies, Jews, and Muslims. It also takes an innovative approach, combining traditional narrative with unique features that help bring history alive: 299 time capsules scattered through the narrative capture telling aspects of an era. 12 -snapshots offer a panoramic look at all of Europe at a particular moment in history. Full coverage of Eastern Europe—100 maps and diagrams, 72 black-and-white plates.All told, Davies’'s Europe represents one of the most important and illuminating histories to be published in recent years.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The pre-eminent scholar of Polish history, Davies (God's Playground and Heart of Europe) expands his focus to all of Europe. While the book is bulky, its size is hardly adequate to a complete history of the continent from pre-history to the dismantling of the Soviet Union. In addition, as one might expect, Davies has taken great pains to treat countries other than England, France and Germany as legitimate parts of Europe not just as the thresholds over which barbarians crossed. ("For some reason it has been the fashion among some historians to minimize the impact of the Magyars," Davies writes when discussing what would become central Europe. "All this means is that the Magyars did not reach Cambridge.") The book works because his subject is not the constituent countries but the continent as a whole. Thus, while Elizabeth I gets one brief mention in passing, Aristide Briand, the French foreign minister who tried to effect a Franco-German reconciliation until the Nazis won power, gets several paragraphs. Aside from defining what Europe is and giving all countries their due, Davies also tries to show the joys of an inclusive reading of historical subjects (he disparages excessive specialization and writes admiringly of the Annales school). A master of broad-brushstroke synthesis, Davies navigates through the larger historical currents with the detail necessary to a well-written engaging narrative. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Historian Davies (Heart of Europe, 1984) is perfect for this ambitious project, a panoramic history of Europe from prehistoric times to the present. He reminds readers that East and West have much in common, beginning with a long, conjoined history of events, personalities, movements, and concepts. Narrative chapters alternate with tableaux of specific events; there are numerous digressive inserts. The prose is elegant throughout; Davies's comments are always insightful and frequently witty. (Of the Western historians' dismissal of the Magyars as "not a creative factor in Western history," he comments: "All this means is that the Magyars did not reach Cambridge.") The author muses on "the extreme contrast between the material advancement of European civilization and the terrible regression in political and intellectual values." At last, a truly pan-European history that rests firmly on solid scholarship and exhibits wisdom and literary elegance; highly recommended.-David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus
From the Publisher
"Mr. Davies...describes Europe in all its diversity with immense learning and panache in a book weighing almost two kilos that sweeps from Hellas to the collapse of the Soviet empire."—The Economist

"Stone Age recipes, ancient Greek jokes and the origins of the condom—these are the sorts of small, delectable facts that punctuate Europe: A History.—The Wall Street Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060974688
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1998
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 1392
  • Sales rank: 187,228
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 2.29 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Norman Davies is Professor of Polish History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. His previous books include God's Playground, A History of Europe (2 volumes), and Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland.

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Read an Excerpt


A History
By Norman Davies

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Norman Davies
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060974680

Chapter One


Environment and Prehistory

There is a marked determinism about many descriptions of Europe's environmental history. Many Europeans have assumed that their 'continent' was so magnificently endowed that it was destined by Nature for world supremacy. And many have imagined that Europe's good fortune would somehow last forever. 'The empire of climate', wrote Montesquieu in 1748, 'is the first of all empires'; and he proceeded to show that the European climate had no rival. For Montesquieu, as for his many successors, Europe was synonymous with Progress.1

There has also been a good deal of national parochialism. Even the founder of human geography, the great Paul Vidal de la Blache (1845-1918), one of the intellectual ancestors of the Annales school, was not above a touch of Gallic chauvinizing. The geography of France, he stressed, was marked by the keynote of variety. 'Against the diversities which assail her', he wrote, 'France sets her force d'assimilarion, her power of assimilation. She transforms everything that she receives.' On Britain, in contrast, he quotes the doggerel lines about 'this paltry little isle, I with acres few and weather vile'. Onehundred years later one finds Fernand Braudel doing similar things.2 Variety is indeed a characteristic of France's superb make-up. But it is not a French monopoly; it is a hallmark of Europe as a whole.

In fact, the Peninsula of Europe is not really a 'continent' at all: it is not a self-contained land mass. At c.10 million km2 (3.6 million square miles), it is less than one-quarter the size of Asia, one-third of Africa, one-half of each of the Americas. Modern geographers classify it, like India, as a subcontinent of Eurasia: 'a cape of the old continent, a western appendix of Asia'. Even so, it is impossible to deny that Europe has been endowed with a formidable repertoire of physical features. Europe's landforms, climate, geology, and fauna have combined to produce a benign environment that is essential to an understanding of its development.

Europe's landforms do not resemble those of any other continent or sub-continent. The depressions to north and south have been flooded by the ocean to form two parallel sea-chains which penetrate deep into the interior. In the north, the North Sea-Baltic sea lane stretches 1,500 miles (2,500 km) from the Atlantic to Russia. In the south, the Mediterranean-Black Sea system stretches over 2,400 miles (4,000 km) from Gibraltar to the Caucasus. Within these protected seas lie a vast complex of lesser gulfs and a huge spangle of islands. As a result, the ratio of shoreline to landmass is exceptionally high: at c.37,000 km, or more than 23,000 miles, the European shoreline is almost exactly the length of the Equator. For early Man, this was perhaps the most important measure of accessibility.

What is more, since the shores of the Peninsula lie in the temperate latitudes of Eurasia's western extremity, they are served by a user-friendly climate. Prevailing ocean winds blow westerly; and it is the western coasts of the great continents that stand to benefit most from the moderating influx of sea air. Yet few other west-facing continental coasts can actually enjoy the advantage. Elsewhere, if the western shore is not blocked by towering peaks or icy currents, it is lined by deserts such as the Sahara, the Kalahari, or the Atacama.

The climate of Europe, therefore, is unusually temperate for its latitude. Generally speaking, under the influence of the Gulf Stream, northern Europe is mild and moist; southern Europe is relatively warm, dry, and sunny. Central and eastern Europe enjoy elements of a true continental climate, with clear, cold winters and baking hot summers. But everywhere the weather is changeable. Extremes are usually avoided. Even in European Russia, where the difference between the mean temperatures of January and July can approach 45°C, the range is only half what it is in Siberia. The wettest district in Europe is in western Norway, with an average annual precipitation of 3,500 mm (138 inches). The dryest district surrounds the Caspian Sea, with less than 250 mm ( inches) per annum. The coldest spot is Vorkuta, with a mean January chill of -20 °C; the hottest is disputed between Seville and Astrakhan, both with mean July roasts of +29 °C. These extremes do not compare with their counterparts in Asia, Africa, or the Americas.

Europe's temperate climate favoured the requirements of primitive agriculture. Most of the Peninsula lies within the natural zone of cultivable grasses. There were abundant woodlands to provide fuel and shelter. Upland pasture often occurs in close proximity to fertile valleys. In the west and south, livestock can winter in the open. Local conditions frequently encouraged special adaptations. The extensive coastline, combined with the broad Continental Shelf, gave fishermen rich rewards. The open plains, especially of the Danube Basin, preserved the nomadic horse-rearing and cattle-driving of the Eurasian steppes. In the Alps -- which take their name from the high pastures above the tree-line -- transhumance has been practised from an early date.

Europe's climate was probably also responsible for the prevalent skin-colour of its human fauna. Moderate levels of sunshine, and hence of ultra-violet radiation, meant that moderate levels of pigmentation came to be encoded in the Peninsula's gene pool. Certainly, in historic times pale faces have predominated, together with blond or golden hair and blue eyes in the northern regions. The great majority of Europeans and their descendants can be easily recognized as such from their looks.

Until recently, of course, it was impossible to take anything but the most superficial racial factors into consideration. The analysis of blood groups, body tissues, and DNA imprints, for example, was unknown until the late twentieth century; and it was not realized just how much genetic material all human beings have in common. As a result, racial theorists were apt to draw conclusions from external criteria such as skin colour, stature, or skull form. In reality, the racial make-up of Europe's population has always displayed considerable variety. The tall, blue-eyed, fair-skinned, platinum blonds of the so-called 'Nordic race' which established itself in Scandinavia forms the only group remotely qualified for the label of 'white'. They bore little resemblance to the squat, brown-eyed, swarthy-skinned and black-haired people of the so-called 'Mediterranean' or 'Indo-Mediterranean Race' which dominated large parts of the south. . . .


Excerpted from Europe by Norman Davies Copyright © 2006 by Norman Davies. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Key Concept Chart
Ch. I The Burdens of History: Nuclear Weapons, the Cold War, and Massive Defense Spending 3
I.1 The Nuclear FAQ
I.2 The Man Behind the Bomb 9
I.3 How Soviet Physicists Caught Up 18
I.4 Four Trillion Dollars and Counting 25
I.5 Midnight Never Came 37
Ch. II The Proliferation Problem: Will "They" Get the Bomb? 53
II.1 The Myth of the Islamic Bomb 56
II.2 Engineer for Hire 64
II.3 Black-Market Bombs and Fissile Flim-Flam 68
II.4 Potatoes Were Guarded Better 76
II.5 Non-Proliferation Regime: Jury-Rigged but Working 79
Ch. III Legacies of Insecurity: Human Costs, Societal Impacts, and Environmental Disasters 89
III.1 Victims of the Arms Race 92
III.2 Nothing Clean about Cleanup 94
III.3 Who the Hell Will Insure Us? 98
III.4 Poisoned Pacific 101
III.5 Chernobyl: The Decade of Despair 105
III.6 Nuclear Language and How I Learned to Pat the Bomb 114
Ch. IV From Foe to Friends? The Soviet Successor States 125
IV.1 Russia Will Turn Inward 128
IV.2 Baltic Pride, Russian Tears 132
IV.3 Kazakhstan Finds Its Own Way 139
IV.4 Power Play in Central Asia 144
IV.5 Armenia's Energy Choice 148
Ch. V Promoting Global Cooperation: Multilateral Peacekeeping and Sanctions 159
V.1 Phantom Forces, Diminished Dreams 162
V.2 We Are Dying of Your Protection 167
V.3 A Stronger U.N. Strengthens America 173
V.4 Misreading the Public on Peacekeeping 180
V.5 On Sanctions, Think Small 183
V.6 Who Suffers from Sanctions? 188
Ch. VI Arms and Security at Millennium's End 193
VI.1 More Security for Less Money 196
VI.2 A Chinese View on Nuclear Disarmament 202
VI.3 World Court Says Mostly No to Nuclear Weapons 205
VI.4 The Revolt Against Nuclear Weapons 208
VI.5 Comprehensive Test Ban Only a Beginning 211
VI.6 Four Steps to Zero 215
Ch. VII The Emergence of Global Citizenship 223
VII.1 Scientists as Public Educators: 1945-50 226
VII.2 The Global Tide 230
VII.3 A Movement Is Born 238
VII.4 The Revolutions of 1989 243
VII.5 Squeezing Apartheid 248
VII.6 Remember Your Humanity 253
Index 265
About the Contributors 273
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 26, 2014

    I tried to read this monstrocity three (3) times to no avail. T

    I tried to read this monstrocity three (3) times to no avail. The author merely comments on history but never attempts to teach it in this book. It is very incoherent and sketchy. I am not a learned historian and need something to connect the dots. This book is the largest commentary I have ever seen. It is definitely not a history book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

    A remarkably thorough and inclusive explanation of european dyna

    A remarkably thorough and inclusive explanation of european dynamics.
    The weight of the book is a bit intimidating at first,  
    but the read is easy and it guides you effortlessly through its richly layered perspectives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2010


    The most in depth overview of european history i have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2006

    Entertaining, informative and visual

    For quite an ambitious project, the author manages to hit the high and low points, and adds enlightening critiques of historical prejudices. There are many maps, charts, and visual goodies to supplement the text. I can't think of a better general survey to begin on European History, aside from the antiquated and biased Chicago list.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2006

    I'm torn

    I would have to say I found it quite the accomplishment that I finished this tome. I would recommend it for those who want a serious overview of European history and to not take this on some relaxing beach vacation--unless you need an anchor. The reason I'm torn--I have something good to say and bad. The good is I learned a lot, and not just in one area, but in all like political, economical, folklore, etc. and I really enjoyed the side notes of interesting tidbits...hats off to someone who mentions a brief history about captain condom. However, sometimes I felt there was too much detail in the slower parts and not enough in the exciting parts. I'm the better for reading it, but it was work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2003

    Fact quibble

    I have a fact quibble: Page 335, Davies gives three facts about the Battle of Hastings. 1) It was Sept. 28, 1066; 2) Harold's Saxons were waiting for William after William and his forces landed; and 3) Harold died on Sept. 28 with an arrow in the eye. Let me correct each, one at a time: 1) The Battle of Hastings was on Oct. 14, 1066. Sept. 28 was the date William and his force landed. At the time, Harold had finished beating the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge, in the north. 2) William found no one at Hastings -- Harold was on his way down from Yorkshire after the battle, so William and his forces had time to build a good camp and wait. 3) Harold died on Oct. 14, and it's possible that he died with an arrow through the eye -- that info comes from the Bayeux Tapestry, which itself is ambiguous. Davies's book, generally, is OK. The best stuff is the boxed-in snapshots of history, worth the cover price. But the factual issues (is he writing from memory?) and the lack of depth make this a frustrating read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2003

    Very well written

    The History of Europe I read by Norman Davis is now one of my favorite books I have ever read. The language in it was superb. A beautifully written book, parts about Eastern Europe, Poland, the Byzantine Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, the World Wars, Russia, and the Cold War were the most enlightening for me personally. Some of the material was review, but so much was new and fascinating for me. I enjoyed the fact that this was a book written by an Englishman, an Oxford historian. It was refreshing to get European history from a European¿s point of view, as apposed to the more American-centric education I received, where World Wars seemed to start with the entry of US forces. While the author¿s typical English cynicism and tendency for understatement were characteristically represented throughout the book, I enjoyed the unbiased and almost detached manner that the stories were told in. It really gave me a solid history of Europe from Stone Age to the modern age in one book. I tell a lot of people about it all the time because it was so well written and enjoyable to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2002

    European History doesn't have to be 1300 pages long!

    I will admit I did enjoy this book.I am a huge history fan.Although it seems unclear why the author spent so much time covering all of the unclear pretenses of the past,he did a fairly decent job.I wish the book would have spent more time in the 1600-present era,which I consider to be the most interesting period in time.But I do not believe everything in this book can be considered true.Hopefully a great author will come along and rewrite European History on an epic level like this book,but only better.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2000

    A good history that sheds light on some dark areas.

    Davies has done an admirable job in this book. Perhaps one can criticize him for glossing over some points or downplaying some of Europe's great tragedies while highlighting others. On this score, I would instead commend Davies. The history of Europe is long and complex, and, to a certain extent, the very idea of history only emerges late in the story after the Middle Ages. As a political philosophy student, I might disagree with Davies on certain points, but the merit of this book is that it allows for debate. Davies points to incidents that need further consideration. When it comes to the sensitive topics of the twentieth century, Davies himself notes that we are probably too close to events to take an objective look at them. But, in the end, he presents us with aspects of Europe's history that have been too quickly forgotten. Like a good historian, he points us to facts we might otherwise have missed. For this, he deserves thanks.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2000

    An interesting overview

    Davies sets out to write a comprehensive history of the contintent and its culture-- first warning us that it will in fact fail, and lambasting all those who have defined Europe narrowly, with their different takes on European history. The panoramic picture Davies presents is patchy. He hits most of the high points but prefers to linger longer on those points less well covered in our basic educations, and spend a good deal of time linking events in Western and Eastern Europe. He inserts mentions of well-known atrocities into the text, but tends to linger longer over those less-well-covered in the schools. Sidebars on various subjects, where his commentary is a bit more opinionated, are scattered throughout the text. Sometimes he is very pointed in his comments, other times, he is understated to the point of oversubtlety. For instance, one can compare his comments on the bombing of German cities and on the Allies lack of interest in Auschwitz film footage and the pleas of Jewish leaders to have bombing strategically done to stop the moving of the Jews to camps-- and see a very pointed criticism... but it is too subtle for some. Davies seems to be assuming that anyone who will struggle through a 1200-plus page book has already some smattering of history and is aware of some key events. More problematic is his blythe assumption that American readers will have a notion of the geography of the less-well-known cities of Europe-- Americans should read this with a good geographic and possibly historical atlas to hand. Davies' biases are evident, also. His academic field of study is Poland, and as a result, Poland-Lithuania pops up a lot. But the German states do also. Hardcore British history fans will be disappointed, the history of the island is featured prominently only when it interacts with other nations/powers. Davies is also an anti-Muscovite, and he takes a number of shots at them. For proud Protestants, this will also be a disappointment, as Davies does not detail all the sins of the Roman Church but does cover in detail the wars and persecutions of the Lutheran-Calvinist-Catholic conflicts of the Reformation. There is also scant treatment of the horrors of colonialism -- since, to be fair, they happened outside of Europe! There is, however, a great deal of condemnation of nationalist history. Minorities get somewhat short shrift (blacks, Jews, gypsies, moriscos, etc.). What Davies does do, for those who like their history varied and are willing to be openminded in dealing with their own, their authors' and their educations' biases, is a widespread panorama of European history, connecting topics that are usually hermetically divided, such as the Hundred-years-war between France and England and the beginning of the Ottoman invasions in the East. It is readable, witty, and interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted November 2, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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