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Category: European History

Book Review: The Middle Ages
(Johannes Fried)

It is universally accepted today that the Dark Ages are a myth, roughly as believable as the Australian bunyip.  In fact, medieval Europe was far more dynamic and far more intelligent than it was once portrayed.  Certainly, post-Roman Europe underwent material decline, and it temporarily lost the high culture, and high thought, of Rome.  But soon enough it began to rebound and expand, both geographically and mentally.  Johannes Fried’s main theme in this book, which covers A.D. 500—1500, is the rebirth of “mental acuity and of methodically controlled thinking” in the West, and the creation thereby of a new thing, from which the modern world is made.

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Book Review: The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (Niall Ferguson)

This book, by the always fascinating Niall Ferguson (though his main product for sale is always himself), analyzes capsule summaries of episodes from history, in order to negatively contrast spontaneous, networked action (the “square”) with hierarchical control (the “tower”).  Two theses flow from this, one stated early on, the other only explicitly presented at the end.  The first is that our networked age is not unique; in fact, it is the second such age, and lessons are to be gained from this, including that, from a historical perspective, networks are too often ignored in favor of focus on hierarchies.  The second is that networks with actual power are mostly anarchistic poison.

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Book Review: Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Christopher Caldwell)

This book, published in 2009, shows its age.  It was written before the mass immigration to Europe of the past few years, and also before the increase in Muslim terror.  While nothing the book says is wrong, and its analysis is sound enough (though it nowhere justifies, or even attempts to justify, the echo of Burke in its title), its problem is that nearly everything it contains is outdated.  The future has arrived, and it is much worse than Caldwell pessimistically predicted, though at least we can now look forward to a fresh future for Europe that will be even farther downhill.

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Book Review: The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (Mark Lilla)

Mark Lilla’s books are all polished gems, perfectly and fluidly written, brief yet complete within the ambit Lilla sets for each of his works.  This book, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, was written about a decade after the collapse of Communism.  From its title, the casual browser might think it was a general attack on intellectuals.  It is not that at all—Lilla is nothing if not an intellectual himself, and he sees a lot of merit in the world of ideas, if he also sees its limitations.  Rather, this is an examination of why brilliant men and women of the modern world so often willingly dance with tyranny, and an attempt to draw a distinction between mere intellectuals, who often toady to raw power, and true philosophers, who pursue virtue.

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Book Review: Stasiland (Anna Funder)

The wicked reality of Communism has, over the past twenty-five years, been deliberately erased from Western education and, more broadly, from the Western mind.  This was entirely predictable.  The reasons behind the erasure are not complex.  The ruling classes and social tastemakers in the West at the time that Communism fell, and for decades before and since, had and have a lot of sympathy for Communism.  They were appalled by efforts, like Reagan’s, to actually end Communism, and  they had no real problem with it in practice.  To nobody’s surprise, today they have no interest in admitting their support for evil, or in exposing their guilt to a new generation.  Moreover, as Ryszard Legutko has explained at length, Communism has much in common with modern liberal democracy—far more than liberal democracy has with pre-liberal forms of political thought.  Education and the media are today controlled by these philo-Communists, throughout the West (with a few virtuous exceptions, notably Poland and Hungary).  As a result, from a combination of self-interest and ideological sympathy/compatibility, the vast majority of people under forty today have little idea that Communism was the most evil and most lethal political system ever derived, because the truth has been deliberately hidden from them.

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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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