Book Review on European History
The book, The Essentials of European History: 1953 to the Present, was written by Donald H. Norton. The author was born on April 1928 and died seventy-four years later. The author has been a lecturer of history at the Fitchburg State College. He has been a professor there from 1969 to his death. He dealt with the fields of History and Political Science. He had a doctorate degree form Clark University. Before lecturing in Fitchburg State, he lectured in Ursinus College. There, he lectured in the History department. His vast experience as an educator in the field of history provides an adequate background for him to analyze the European history. He also has other works whose subjects surround that of history.
The book, The Essentials of European History: 1953 to the Present, offers precise information on the historical periods that it covers. Unlike other historical books, it gives content that covers a wide scope of the area, but this information is more concise. Deeper interpretations of historical events are offered in a less cumbersome manner. The book helps in giving an account of significant events in the history of Europe, and it outlines the key people involved in these events. The book provides a very firm grasp of the journey through Europe’s history. It enables the reader to have a concrete idea of the pre Second World War period to the period that surrounds the demise of communism. This approach to the study of history is unique in its own ways. Not many historical books have taken this approach.
The first chapter talks about the situation in the European states. The period dated is 1936 to 1939. Countries that are greatly scrutinized are the USSR, Germany, Britain, Italy and France. The main subject of scrutiny is that of the existing political systems. The authoritarian and democratic systems are looked at with examples drawn from the different European states. Under the authoritarian rule, the main examples are USSR, Italy and the Nazi state that is currently known as Germany. In USSR, the influence of Stalin as an authoritarian leader is analyzed. Hitler and his impact on the Second World War are the case study while looking at the Nazi state. In Italy, Mussolini is studied. The implications of his rule in the economy are greatly discussed. Other authoritarian states in Europe are also shortly discussed. An example of these states is Spain. The democratic system of government is also looked at. France and Britain are the main areas of study. Other states like Czechoslovakia are shortly discussed. A cover of the existent culture in Europe is also given.
The second chapter talks about the situations surrounding the second world war of 1939 to 1945. This chapter gives an analysis of the international system. The author discusses the main causes of the second world war then goes further to discuss the course of events leading to the second world war. One of the reasons attributed to causing the Second World War is dissatisfaction of nations like Japan and Germany with the peace Treaty of 1919. Another reason is that the democratic states disliked inhuman treatment encouraged by the authoritarian states like Italy. Neville Chamberlain also assumed that Hitler would easily prefer war to peace. After these factors, the author outlines events from 1936 until 1939. This begins with Hitler’s reoccupation of Rhineland and ends with Germany’s invasion of Poland. This invasion marked the beginning of the Second World War. It took place in 1939.
The author gives a vivid account of the Second World War events. He begins by describing the fall of France as a major super power. Then the Second World War experiences a significant shift when the USA entered the wars. This was contrary to their earlier policies of non-involvement. USA had purposed not to engage in the wars because they believe that they were Europe’s affairs. What followed after this was the victory of the allied alliance. The event that follows is that of japans bombing. After the invention of atomic bombs by USA, they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At this point of the book, the author has expressed a keen interest in following chronology. The order of events makes it so easy for the reader to keep the events in memory.
The chapters describe the post Second World War ambience. The book explains the peace that prevailed among the states in Europe. This peace is attributed to various factors. One of them is because of the state of balance of power that had been achieved. This is attributed by the purported equality in the measure of power between USA and USSR. After the Second World War, they had subsequently emerged to be the international system’s major powers. The two powers did not engage in physical combat. Despite the absence of a physical combat, a war existed between the two states. This war was a silent one, and it affected the rest of Europe. It was the cold war.
The cold war is a significant historical event in the European history. A cold war ensued between the two states. The threat of war is what prevented both the states form rising against the other for hegemony. The rest of the world was then divided into two. States were forced to align themselves with either USA or USSR. There are, however, countries that chose to be non-aligned. The implications of the cold war were felt by the rest if the international system. The attacks of USA and USSR were not directed to each other. Instead, these two states targeted those who were aligned to the rival state. Peace was also encouraged with the increase of multilateral agreements. This saw the birth of organizations like the UN that were created to be the custodian of order in the International system. There was finally a significant amount of order in an anarchical system.
The book manages to meet the author’s purpose of providing a vivid account of history in Europe. It follows a sequential order that allows the reader to grasp every period and event in history. For this reason, I would highly recommend the book to a scholar either at the secondary level or university level. Those majoring in the field of Internationals Relations, Political Science< History, Development Studies would find the book rather informative because it shows the changes and development in the international system. The book also covers historical events without availing too much information. This eases the reading process as only precise information is given.
In my opinion, the book has a few shortcomings. The scope of study is rather good and gives adequate information on the history of Europe. However, certain aspects of the European history have been left out. Though they date much earlier than 1936, they are important in shaping the history of Europe. One of these events is the Westphalian Treaty of 1648. The reason I recommend this event in history is that it marks the end of the Roman Empire as “Europe’s” government, and the beginning of the national state system era. This information is essential when studying the history of Europe because it forms the basis for the events that take place later.
The Second World War is a crucial area of study in the book, The Essentials of European History: 1953 to the Present. The reasons attributed to the cause of this war surround the aspect of state sovereignty. This is shown in their freedom to join alliances and make treaties without having to answer to a higher authority. This liberty of the states was birthed with the signing of the Westphalian Treaty. The absence of a central governing power for Europe was a prerequisite for the Second World War. The international system’s state of anarchy was achieved through the Westphalian Treaty of 1948. The Westphalian Treaty is therefore an important historical event as far as European history is concerned.
Another negative aspect of this book is that it focuses too much on man’s political history. History can be defined as the study of the past events of a group of people. These past events usually revolve around the economical, social and political dimensions of the people. The book does not entirely ignore the social and economical aspects of Europe, but little emphasis is put on them. In the third chapter, the author tries to show the economic history of Italy during Mussolini’s rule (Norton, pg. 4). Delving deeper into the social and economic background of Europe will help learners to understand why some of the events in history took place.
The Essentials of European History: 1953 to the Present is a book I would recommend to other learners and those interested in learning the European history. It has been particularly informative. This is because it has managed to give me coverage of significant events in only a few pages. Despite of the few negative aspects, the author does an admirable job of giving an account of historical events that shaped Europe.
Norton, Donald H. The Essentials of European History: 1935 to the Present. Piscataway, N.J: Research & Education Association, 2002. Print.