How European culture has shaped the world for the past 500 years.
MacLennan (Spain and the Process of European Integration, 1957-85, 2001, etc.), the director of the Cervantes Institute in London, worries that the European Union is being unfairly attacked and European unification eroded by revivals of nationalism. To counter those forces, he offers a sweeping history from the 16th century to the present, making a compelling case for European influence throughout the world. Aimed at readers who may wonder, “what has Europe done for us?” the author surveys Europe’s achievements, synthesizing histories of different nations as well as overviews by historians such as Norman Davies, Niall Ferguson, and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. The Renaissance, writes MacLennan, introduced decisive changes in what was “a relatively backward, inward-looking civilization.” “The market economy, the state, and the knowledge-based society” propelled Europe “to take the lead over all other civilizations.” Exploration was spurred by improved sailing technology and daring adventurers. With Columbus’ discovery of America, Spain transformed itself into a global empire, with Portugal, France, and Britain following in overseas expansion, establishment of trade networks, and economic development between Europe and the rest of the world. The age of empire was also the age of economic, social, and political revolutions. The French Revolution, MacLennan asserts, proved transformative for the Western world by promoting equality rather than “a closed elite that monopolized power” and wealth. As European nations extended into Asia, the clash between East and West resulted in cohabitation in India, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia; Westernization of Japan; but resistance by the Chinese, who increasingly looked inward. MacLennan traces the influence of European culture through immigration, colonialism in Africa, and intellectual migration and exile after the world wars. He contrasts the American dream of individual accumulation of wealth with the European dream of a socially and economically harmonious society, underscored by the idea of soft power, “the ability to shape the behavior of others through appeal and attraction.”
A well-supported, wide-ranging history of the Western world.