A slim, useful guide to a politically fraught but historically transformative stretch of European history.

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THE RISE OF THE NATION-STATE IN EUROPE

ABSOLUTISM, ENLIGHTENMENT AND REVOLUTION, 1603-1815

A scholarly history explores the emergence of the nation-state out of the political and philosophical upheavals of the 17th and 18th centuries. 

In this book, Schwartzwald (The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, 2015, etc.) announces an ambitious task: a chronicle of the genesis of the nation-state. The author divides his history into three interconnected parts. First, he charts the attempt of kings to aggrandize their power by claiming divine support—King James of England pursued such unlimited rule, followed by his successor, Charles, who shared his “absolutist pretensions.” Paradoxically, Oliver Cromwell’s thirst for power, which involved keeping the restoration of a Stuart dynasty at bay, ushered in a “triumph of constitutionalism” in England. Later in this section, the focus is on France and King Louis XIV’s indefatigable quest for a centralization of his power and its territorial extension, a quixotic aim that "sowed the seeds of the monarchy’s destruction even as he raised it to its zenith." In the second part, state power is reinterpreted as a contract between ruler and ruled, though in such a way that “enlightened despotism” is preferable to democracy. Schwartzwald lucidly demonstrates that such a reinterpretation of legitimate political authority tended more toward revolution than reform. In the last section of the book, he explores the final throes of political absolutism, its death supported by the Enlightenment philosophers who elevated reason and nature over the divine and made popular sovereignty both attractive and defensible. Each part concludes with a “societal achievements” section, which offers commentary on the intellectual and scientific advances of the time. The author aims to reach the “student and the general reader alike” and does indeed in admirably accessible prose. Occasionally, readers will be overwhelmed by a swarm of details, but Schwartzwald skillfully keeps his eye on the big picture. His view certainly isn’t an original one, and he doesn’t delve as deeply philosophically as other well-known studies. But he ably furnishes a brief but rigorous overview.

A slim, useful guide to a politically fraught but historically transformative stretch of European history.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4766-6547-4

Page Count: 275

Publisher: McFarland

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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