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Category: European History

Book Review: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Tonio Andrade)

The Gunpowder Age succeeds in its lesser goal, which is convincing the reader that the common belief the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks is wrong.  But it fails in its greater goal, which is convincing the reader that except for a brief period in recent history, China has been the equal of the West in the technology of warfare.  And, in the wreckage of its failure, it confirms and reinforces the accurate perception that China has, for a thousand years, been lacking in scientific and cultural innovation.  Since a lack of innovation has negative implications for the Chinese future, and by modern Western standards is a negative judgment on Chinese society, this is probably not the effect that the Sinophile author of this book, Tonio Andrade, intended to achieve.

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Book Review: Europe Since 1989: A History (Philipp Ther)

This book’s title is a lie, as is most of what little history it contains.  I read Europe Since 1989: A History to fill in the gaps from Tony Judt’s Postwar, which ends its history around 2000.  Philipp Ther’s book was published in 2014, with an English translation in 2016, and it specifically name-checks Judt’s book.  Thus, it seemed like the ideal way to bring my knowledge to the present day.  But this book could better be titled A Narrow Attack on the Economics and Social Impact of Neoliberalism in Post-Communist Eastern Europe; Or Why State Socialism is Awesome.  This book is, in fact, an apologetic for Communism, and a plea for a return to as many aspects of it as feasible, buried under a mishmash of rambling attacks on the economic methods used during the return to freedom of Eastern Europe.

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Book Review: The Third Reich in Power (Richard J. Evans)

This is the second of three volumes in Richard Evans’s massive history of the Third Reich.  I noted in my review of the first volume of this trilogy, The Coming of the Third Reich, that Evans does not offer revisionist history, and that “the same bad people do the same bad things that anyone who has read about this period already knows about.”  That statement is true of this volume as well, but the difference is that this “middle” period is less well-known than the other periods Evans covers, so this volume is particularly valuable, I think, to the general public.

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Book Review: Five Children and It
(E. Nesbit)

Five Children and It is a book that resonates on two levels.  On one level, it is an outstanding and well-drawn children’s story.  We read it to our own five children to general acclaim.  On another level, it is a glimpse of upper-class child-rearing in Edwardian England, very interesting as social history to today’s adults, even with no children around.

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Book Review: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe (Rita Chin)

I oppose the theory and practice of Euro-multiculturalism as both stupid and suicidal.  Thus, when I read Pankaj Mishra’s recent review of Rita Chin’s book in The New York Times, it struck me that, in order to be fair, I should read it.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull and narrow boy, after all.  I was not a fan of the most recent pro-multicultural book I read, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, but I figured that maybe the second time would be a charm.  It was not, but this book was interesting, and not dreadful, which is really all one can ask of any pro-multicultural book, since it necessarily has to fight an uphill battle against facts and reason.

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Book Review: The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (Darío Fernández-Morera)

This book is ferociously erudite, but tinged with obsession.  True, nearly all modern academic and popular mention of Muslim Spain endorses an easily disproved falsehood—that Muslim Spain was a golden land of tolerance, offering unique scientific and cultural advancement.  So I suppose that the opposite falsehood, that Muslim Spain was a nasty land of unbroken intolerance where nothing was accomplished, in a sense merely balances the scales.  But a reader of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise still feels like he’s once again only getting part of the picture, and getting berated into the bargain, rather than getting what most readers really want, which is an analysis that is as objective as possible.

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Book Review: The English and Their History (Robert Tombs)

This book is a massive history of the English, written by an English expert on France, Robert Tombs.  Somehow, against the odds, it manages to be sprightly, interesting, and, most of all, generally upbeat about the past, present, and future of England.  Tombs rejects the idea of “Whig history,” not because English progress does not exist, but because the past was rarely as bad as we often think, making any progress less dramatic than it may appear.  He offers rational, yet clear-eyed, hope for a bright future—one not destined to be good, but certainly with a better than even chance of being so.  Thus, this book is a counterweight to recent narratives of English decline (such as 1999’s The Abolition of Britain, by Peter Hitchens), and a book that all pessimists should read.

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Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

Mass immigration to Europe is one of those topics about which there is little mainstream discussion, both in the United States and even more so (paradoxically) in Europe.  What discussion does happen is purely facile, on the “pro” side, or often lacking nuance, on the “anti” side.  Douglas Murray’s book, The Strange Death of Europe, sets out to remedy both faults.  The book is good, if a bit meandering; it offers historical and political analysis, along with relevant philosophical thoughts.  The difficulty, though, as Murray hints himself, is that properly viewed, the topic does not rate an analysis so much as a dirge.  To the extent there is a problem, it has no real solution, and in any case the problem only exists as a second-order problem, made possible by the pre-existing exhaustion of Europe, most obvious in its childlessness.  If Europe was not exhausted, this book would not exist.  Nonetheless, by offering clarity of thought about how Europe got to its current position, The Strange Death of Europe performs a valuable service.

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Book Review: Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Tony Judt)

Postwar, by the late Tony Judt, is the type of book for which the term “magisterial” might have been invented.  Judt takes an enormous amount of information and condenses it down to a manageable narrative, not in the service of some overarching thesis, but simply to communicate the basic history of the period (namely, from World War Two until early 2005).  He is even-handed and insightful.  The only problem, though, is that today’s reader finds it hard to care about this period.  Viewed from the perspective of 2017, very much of this strikes the reader as roughly equivalent to discussion of who ruled Mohenjo-Daro in 2413 B.C.  The knowledge is not worthless, but it is not worth much, because it is irrelevant to today’s Europe, barren of children and swamped by barbarians, a continent whose major challenges are maintaining any global relevancy past the next few decades, and surviving in any recognizable form thereafter.  On the other hand, though, the facts narrated here do offer various lessons for us, which is one reason the book is worth reading today.

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Book Review: At the Edge of the World: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion (Jean-Vincent Blanchard)

Everyone knows about the French Foreign Legion.  Mostly, though, our knowledge ranges from impressionistic to false, derived largely from movies and with an overlay of the kneejerk odium that attends colonialism.  At The Edge of the World:  The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion corrects that lack of knowledge—it gives an excellent overview, both factually and, as it were, spiritually, of the Legion in its heyday, along with some oblique perspectives on the positive and negative aspects of colonialism.

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