The second installment of the eminent English historian’s comprehensive overview of modern European history.
Kershaw’s latest, following To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (2015), is equally as massive as the previous volume, as he explores “the most striking legacy of the war for the immediate post-war world,” which was “twofold: Europe was not a continent divided down the middle by the Iron Curtain; and the new age was a nuclear era, with both of the superpowers in possession of super-weapons of mass destruction.” The astounding advances in material wealth and medical well-being across Europe, thanks to the miraculous economic recovery from the war, were accompanied by provincial attitudes that would take another generation to explode. These included blatant race-based discrimination; increased influence of Christian churches; and intolerance regarding homosexuality, women’s rights, and abortion, among other human rights concerns. While the Soviet Union was pursuing dominance over its satellite nations (“The Clamp” is Kershaw’s chapter title), Europe was developing a middle class well into the 1970s (“Good Times”), encompassing the newly modernized life enjoyed by postwar parents. The baby boomers, however, took their parents to task (“Culture after the Catastrophe”), asking questions about their participation in World War II, agitating against the Vietnam War and general anti-imperialism, and often exploding into violence, as in the student riots in Paris in 1968 and the Baader-Meinhof Group in Germany. Kershaw sees 1973 and the Arab oil embargo as the tipping point, when the price of gas soared and the economy tanked. “Change was on the way,” he writes. “But the oil crisis was a massive accelerant.” The author notes that in 1950, oil had provided 8.5 percent of Western Europe’s energy supplies, while 20 years later, it had risen to 60 percent. In the latter portion of the book, Kershaw directs his considerable talents to the fall of the Berlin Wall, reunification of Germany, and the “global exposure” of newly vulnerable Europe.
Though Kershaw doesn’t
offer a wealth of new material, this is a terrific roundup by a trusted
historian, featuring an extensive bibliography for further reading.