DECADES OF CRISIS by Ivan T. Berend

DECADES OF CRISIS

Central and Eastern Europe Before World War II

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Inspired by the example of historian Eric Hobsbawm's grand syntheses of European history, Berend (History/Univ. of Calif., Los Angeles) applies a similar method to exploring the tumultuous history of Central and Eastern Europe during the first half of this century. First published in Berend's native Hungary, the study was expanded for its English-language publication. The result is wide-ranging, both in the variety of areas examined and in geographical scope. At its core is an appraisal of the revolutionary forces that, since the turn of the century, have steered social, political, and economic trends in the region toward nationalism, fascism, communism, and right-wing dictatorships, while also creating a parallel upheaval in culture and the arts. The effects of railroad development and economic nationalism are discussed by Berend, who is a specialist in economic history, along with Kandinsky, Schînberg, and Jugendstil. Although it serves his purpose of highlighting the revolutionary character of the period, the author's inclusion of Russia seems off, since Central and Eastern Europe ordinarily are considered a distinct geopolitical unit. At the same time, Berend discusses only minimally such other countries as Slovenia and Bulgaria; his main interest is Romania and Czechoslovakia, along with Russia and Hungary. His study also contains additional flaws. Foremost among these is an overall cursory attitude; the book is too general for the experts, who will want more than just a learned rehashing of familiar territory, and too vague for the general reader, who is searching for depth and analysis. The chapters on artistic movements and on communism are particularly weak, with considerations of familiar figures and -isms reading like formulaic encyclopedia entries. Berend's strikingly dry narrative style doesn't help to enliven his rich material, although the book's 94 photographs do.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-520-20617-7
Page count: 452pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998




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