I’m trying to read some of the books that have been hanging around for a while and this one was an old A-Level history text-book. So Europe 1815-1945 by Anthony Wood isn’t the most gripping of reads but remains fascinating nonetheless.
Dealing with 130 years of European history inevitably means a big picture approach however the book would have benefited from fleshing out the lives and personalities of the more dominant figures (Metternich, Bismarck, Napoleon III, Tsar Nicholas, Kaiser Wilhelm, Emperor Francis Joseph, Cavour, Wilson, Churchill, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin etc…).
The book regularly deals with social, economic and internal political developments across the various parts of Europe but it comes alive when dealing with the international political scene. So much happens in a relatively short period of history, the consequences of which we are still living with.
We enter at the end of the Napoleonic wars and Europe remains under the sway of kings and emperors. The dominant powers are Great Britain, Austria and Russia with a humbled France and the growing power of Prussia. The Ottoman empire is still huge but waning. Revolutions come and go but the industrial revolution takes hold and with it the birth of powerful ideas – socialism, communism, trade unionism, democracy.
By the mid 19th century old nations disappear and new nations arise, the map of Europe is redrawn with the unification of Italy and Germany. The nations of the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Finland, Albania, Greece didn’t yet exist in their current form.
Imperialism and the growth of Empire shapes the world map and we begin the descent into the madness of WWI. Never has there been a conflict so pointless, so damaging with the loss of so many lives. If ever you wanted a conflict to illustrate the senselessness of war then the first world war is the place to look.
From there Europe changes all over again as monarchies give way to republics, new nations arise but everything is fragile and fascism offers strength and boldness. The second world war in many ways the opposite of the first: mobile, dynamic, unjustified aggression and justified resistance.
I’ve been educated and fascinated simply by becoming freshly acquainted with these events, seeing the growth of globalisation and the intertwining of economies, the struggle for ideas, the drift towards unification in Europe and the willingness to go to war.
I intend to read some more history soon.