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



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...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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