Tannenbaum, professor of history at NYU, has written with uncommon breadth of the 1890-1914 watershed. Unlike the many historians seduced by the intellectual and artistic innovators of the period, Tannenbaum makes it clear that ""the optimism of the belle epoque. . .was restricted to the 'happy few' among the middle classes."" His Europe extends beyond the boulevards of Paris and the cafes of Vienna to the peasantry of Russia, Ireland, Sweden, and Sardinia. Away from the capitals of Europe, Tannenbaum contends, resistance to modernization shaped the period as much as compulsory education, mass emigration, the rise of 'social imperialism,"" and working-class parties. In the Prussian officers' corps or the Edwardian townhouse, cultural and social attitudes remained tradition-bound. Tannenbaum's prose is peculiarly unelectric but the range of his material makes up for it. The book is full of unexpected illuminations; viz. ""the average European worker was at least three inches shorter than the average bourgeois."" Nor did the workers share middle-class aspirations to upward mobility--when asked about their hopes in life, 20 percent of German miners polled replied ""none."" Among the intelligensia the era may have been synonymous with a daring avante-garde; Tannenbaum redresses the balance by peering at less conspicuous social groups and underlining the enormous divergence between rural and urban peoples, between Russia and England, between the casual laborer and the skilled craftsman. A highly suggestive synthesis of an extraordinarily rich period.