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The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914

by Richard J. Evans

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An Economist Best Book of the Year

“Sweeping . . . an ambitious synthesis . . . [Evans] writes with admirable narrative power and possesses a wonderful eye for local color . . . Fascinating.”—Stephen Schuker, The Wall Street Journal

From the bestselling author of The Third Reich at War, a masterly account of Europe in


An Economist Best Book of the Year

“Sweeping . . . an ambitious synthesis . . . [Evans] writes with admirable narrative power and possesses a wonderful eye for local color . . . Fascinating.”—Stephen Schuker, The Wall Street Journal

From the bestselling author of The Third Reich at War, a masterly account of Europe in the age of its global hegemony; the latest volume in the Penguin History of Europe series

Richard J. Evans, bestselling historian of Nazi Germany, returns with a monumental new addition to the acclaimed Penguin History of Europe series, covering the period from the fall of Napoleon to the outbreak of World War I. Evans’s gripping narrative ranges across a century of social and national conflicts, from the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 to the unification of both Germany and Italy, from the Russo-Turkish wars to the Balkan upheavals that brought this era of relative peace and growing prosperity to an end. Among the great themes it discusses are the decline of religious belief and the rise of secular science and medicine, the journey of art, music, and literature from Romanticism to Modernism, the replacement of old-regime punishments by the modern prison, the end of aristocratic domination and the emergence of industrial society, and the dramatic struggle of feminists for women’s equality and emancipation. Uniting the era’s broad-ranging transformations was the pursuit of power in all segments of life, from the banker striving for economic power to the serf seeking to escape the power of his landlord, from the engineer asserting society’s power over the environment to the psychiatrist attempting to exert science’s power over human nature itself.
      The first single-volume history of the century, this comprehensive and sweeping account gives the reader a magnificently human picture of Europe in the age when it dominated the rest of the globe.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mike Rapport
The Pursuit of Power…unpacks the fascinatingly complex and interconnected range of historical forces at work between 1815 and 1914…The enviably Tolstoyan scale of the book allows Evans, first, to immerse the reader in a narrative that moves seamlessly from Russia to Iberia and all points in between. Second, it allows him to explore almost every nook and cranny of European life in this 100-year period, from the high politics of courts, diplomats and military commanders to the squalid slums of Europe's expanding industrial cities; the analysis is enlivened by eyewitness observations and interwoven with cultural detail…Among the pleasures of reading The Pursuit of Power is learning how the great forces that altered the face of the continent forever—including industrialization, the growth of the cities and the introduction of rapid transport and communications—emphatically transformed, in the short space of a few generations, the day-to-day world of all Europeans. One of the achievements of this volume is to put a human face on economic and social developments that in most college texts are inevitably explained by statistics like railway mileage or mortality rates. Evans's analysis has such data, too, but he also devotes considerable space to describing how ordinary Europeans experienced and responded to the changes…With its skillful interweave of political conflict and transition, economic transformation, social upheaval and cultural change, The Pursuit of Power bears witness to an old world fading, inside and outside the home, and a new, modern one taking shape.
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/03/2016
Evans, a professor emeritus of history at Cambridge University who is best known for his three-volume history of Nazi Germany, enhances his reputation with this analysis of Europe during the century leading to the Great War. He concentrates on the now-unfashionable issue of power: who had it, who wanted it, and how it was achieved and retained. Evans doesn’t simply focus on war and diplomacy—he defines power broadly to include advances in medicine and technological sources of literal power, from steam to electricity. As the integrated developments of personal freedom, mastery over nature, and the rise of nationalism nurtured one another, Europe became the focus of “a process of globalization” in which capital, goods, people, and ideas flowed “from continent to continent.” This was an “age of emotion” characterized by a passion for knowledge and the pursuit of happiness in an increasingly secularized and gendered environment. Governments and societies responded to the resulting “challenge of democracy” by barreling forward until the catastrophe of 1914, which “was a surprise to almost everyone”—and perhaps should not have been. Evans demonstrates expertise of a broad spectrum of specialized sources and synthesizes his research into a work “designed to be read through from start to finish.” (Dec.)
From the Publisher
The Pursuit of Power...unpacks the fascinatingly complex and interconnected range of historical forces at work between 1815 and 1914. . . [A] skillful  interweave of political conflict and transition, economic transformation social upheaval and cultural change.”—The New York Times Book Review

"An outstanding volume that leaves no stone unturned in providing a taut narrative of this important era of modern European history. Using dense and well written narrative and cogent analysis of cause and effect, Professor Evans has provided another excellent contribution to [the Penguin History of Europe] series."—New York Journal of Books
"Wonderfully researched, highly readable, engrossing . . . The Pursuit of Power is required reading for anyone looking to understand what is at the foundation of today’s global economy, the difficulties between nations, or for those simply wondering how Europe as a whole came to its current form."—Portland Book Review

"A massive and masterful account . . . This is a beautifully written, wide-ranging study that explores in depth the political, social, and economic factors that shaped and continue to shape modern Europe and the wider world.”—Booklist, (starred review)

“An impressive and richly documented new book . . . A distinguished scholar of Germany, Mr. Evans is just as sure-footed across the continent . . . The book is particularly illuminating on how social trends after 1848—the spread of education, the standardization of languages, railway development and the mass production of newspapers—led to the rise of political forces like nationalism and democracy . . . Mr. Evans is a skilled synthesizer with a strong eye for narrative . . . the book’s real success lies with its timeliness. Europe is rendered not as a geographical space—its eastern borders have always been hard to define—but as a collective entity with a shared history. European leaders invited ruin upon themselves when they forgot that in 1914. They should never do it again.”—The Economist

“Sweeping, panoramic history . . . Splendid . . . Evans wants above all, as he puts it, to convey ‘the flavor of the period, in its mixture of strangeness and familiarity, and as far as possible to allow contemporaries to speak for themselves.’ This he does beautifully, enlivening his straightforward narratives with short sketches of little-known but fascinating personalities . . . fine scholarship.”—Financial Times
“Magnificent . . . masterly . . . This outstanding and authoritative synthesis, weaving social, political, diplomatic, cultural, engineering, scientific and economic history, is eminently readable and so carefully crafted that I was always reluctant to put it down. It will help readers appreciate the period of Europe’s growing dominance in the world as seen from variety of perspectives and better understand some of the roots of World War I.”BookPage

“Transnational history at its finest . . . social, political and cultural themes swirl together in one great canvas of immense detail and beauty.”—The Times

"Dazzlingly erudite and entertaining."Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times

Library Journal
Historian Evans (emeritus, history, Univ. of Cambridge; The Third Reich at War) continues the "Penguin History of Europe" series following Ian Kershaw's To Hell and Back: Europe 1914–1949 with this volume that begins after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and recounts pivotal events leading up to 1914, the eve of World War I. In surveying the political, cultural, and economic landscape of Europe during this period, Evans focuses on everyday people, specifically the agrarian as the ruling monarch. With this fairly comprehensive and ambitious appraisal, Evans views this 100-year stretch as a paradigm for the demise of the status quo and the quest for more power on either a macro- or microlevel; whether it be for the aristocrat or the serf. In particular, readers are well served by the author's holistic and refreshing interpretation of these years on a socioeconomic scale. VERDICT Despite its page length, this highly accessible work on a vital period should find eager audiences among casual and general interest readers of European history. However, the lack of footnotes or a further reading section, like other books in the series, is unfortunate. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/16.]—Ben Neal, Blackwater Regional Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
A 100-year survey of European history that moves by transnational themes emphasizing powerover industrialization, class, selfhood, wages, and nature.In this sweeping survey, accomplished British historian Evans (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Cambridge; The Third Reich in History and Memory, 2015, etc.), a winner of the Wolfson History Prize, does not neglect the convulsive changes that occurred among the nonelite across Europe. His forte is his emphasis on how the Republican ideals ignited by the French Revolution, promulgated and corrupted by Napoleon and severely suppressed in many places afterward, never died among a growing class of proletariat and petty bourgeoisie (e.g., in France) who were dissatisfied with the authoritarian policies of the Restoration. While the European powers were reorganizing after the Congress of Vienna, the revolutionary genie was out of the bottle, as evidenced by the subsequent Decembrist uprising in Russia, the Polish officers insurrection, the movement for Greek independence, and the July Revolution of 1830, among others, all creating ramifications that would explode by midcentury. With the emancipation of the serfsAlexander IIs rationale was that it was better to abolish serfdom from above, than to wait until the serfs begin to liberate themselves from belowmany faced new economic hardships (e.g., the decline of the sharecropping system) leading to peasant revolts and famine since most people lived on the land and depended on it for survival. Pauperism increased (see: the Irish famine) and, with the conquering of rail, steam, and speed, the European working class rose as well. With the advent of the second Industrial Revolution, the British imperial lead declined, and the German economy took center stage. With the urbanization of Europe, Evans meticulously follows the accompanying developments in culturein literature (Charles Dickens novels), the adoption of the metric system, the Dreyfus Affair, and the general shrinkage of space. An immensely readable work that considers incremental continental developments up to the outbreak of war in 1914.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Penguin History of Europe Series
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6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)

Meet the Author

Richard J. Evans was born in London and educated at Oxford University. He has taught at Columbia University and Birkbeck, University of London, and since 2014 has been the Regius Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Cambridge. His many publications include an acclaimed three-volume history of the Third Reich and a recent collection of essays, The Third Reich in History and Memory. A Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, he is a past winner of the Wolfson History Prize, and was twice a History Honoree at the Los Angeles Times Book Awards. In 2012 he was appointed Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List, for services to scholarship.

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