EUROPE by Peter Rietbergen


A Cultural History
Age Range: 0 - 415
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paper 0-415-17230-6 By Rietbergen (Modem History/Univ. of Nijmegen, Netherlands), a magisterial review of Europe’s cultural history from the Roman Empire to the post-WWII era. Rietbergen denies that Europe is a strictly geographical expression: instead for him, Europe is “a series of world-views, of peoples’ perspectives on their reality, sometimes only dreamt or desired, sometimes experienced and realized as well.” Despite the cultural diversity of Europe, the author perceives several unifying themes: one is Catholicism and its offshoots, which for centuries after the collapse of Rome defined the civilization of Europe. A modern unifying trend is the gradual evolution of many European countries toward constitutional and democratic government, which emphasizes the political and economic freedom of the individual. To present these themes historically, Rietbergen divides European history into four distinct cultural phases: the gradual emergence of a pan-European entity in the Roman Empire, which gave political unity to far-flung lands formerly dominated by Celtic and Germanic barbarians; the coalescence of a Christian Europe with a Roman character, which resulted in a uniquely European civilization in contrast to the eastern Christian and Islamic civilizations around the Mediterranean; the development of new ways of looking at man and the world with the emergence of humanism, the Renaissance, the great world explorations, and the Enlightenment; and the modem age, with its emphasis on consumption and communication, material culture and progress. The author concludes that Europe is evolving toward a future in which classical tradition, Christianity, and ethnic identity will have less cultural significance for Europe than in the past, but in which distinctive humane European values will continue to have an impact on the world. A thoughtful though ponderous meditation on the development of the “European idea” and its significance for the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-415-17229-2
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Routledge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999


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