The Penguin History of Europe series reaches the 20th century with acclaimed scholar Ian Kershaw's long-anticipated analysis of the pivotal years of World War I and World War II.
The European catastrophe, the long, continuous period from 1914 to1949, was unprecedented in human history - an extraordinarily dramatic, often traumatic, and endlessly fascinating period of upheaval and transformation. This new volume in the Penguin History of Europe series offers comprehensive coverage of this tumultuous era. Beginning with the outbreak of World War I through the rise of Hitler and the aftermath of the Second World War, award-winning British historian Ian Kershaw combines his characteristic original scholarship and gripping prose as he profiles the key decision makers and the violent shocks of war as they affected the entire European continent and radically altered the course of European history. Kershaw identifies four major causes for this catastrophe: an explosion of ethnic-racist nationalism, bitter and irreconcilable demands for territorial revisionism, acute class conflict given concrete focus through the Bolshevik Revolution, and a protracted crisis of capitalism.
Incisive, brilliantly written, and filled with penetrating insights, To Hell and Back offers an indispensable study of a period in European history whose effects are still being felt today.
©2015 Ian Kershaw (P)2015 Recorded Books
Lots of information, intelligent narration. All books by Kershaw I've read so far are well-researched and highly informative. I have heard Kershaw lecture in both English and German. He is a great historian, and could have been a great narrator as well, had he chosen to narrate in this case.
Not applicable in a book with so many historical personages.
Not applicable to a large-scale factual historical study, I think.
Learned more about how high-placed Europeans did self-destructive things, then as now.
Looking forward to the next volume.
A deep question never perfectly answered, but driving my quest into history is, "what is a reasonable baseline?" What norms of events can I compare my own experience to? The violence I have personally experienced? My income? The stability of my economy? The costs imposed by impingements of wars, invading armies, disruptive history beyond my control? Good history constantly jolts me out of my sore sense of things not going right for me. Compared to what? To Hell and Back is spot-on in marching me past a panorama I can only gape at in wonder and horror. I realize I have things incredibly soft and good, with an appropriate baseline over, say, the last century globally, and Europe's compass is a good sample. Why 4 stars overall? Because the march here (not much, but) occasionally sags a little bit, goes a little flatter for a few sentences, and I have got spoiled by those authors who give me a little more spice with my fare, who can tell stories with slightly more lyrical grace, sentence for sentence. But that may be a less responsible kind of history. That more glittering eye-catching popularization style, perhaps, takes another pass of editing with an eye for the mind-stirring images, which is perhaps not this author's intention. So I mildly prefer a slightly different sub-genre. But for getting a clear-eyed look at humanity's gropings, follies and disasters, nothing beats "the facts, ma'am," and we get them here. There is plenty in intensity, well told, to freeze one's innards. There are passages of surpassing clarity and probity. And they are delivered in a crisp British cadence I like best with my history. At this moment my reflection is, for all those basking smugly or defensively in the wonders of our brilliant western civilization, and the horrors of the bad guys of the moment, how this post-mortem brings me to the realization that from this cradle of civilization, so fancied, Europe-centric paroxysms of violence in the last century dwarf anything Islam ever did, over any number of centuries, anywhere. Perhaps this can be marked to the brilliance of our science -- so much the pity there too. All these brilliant, flourishing nations, with their schools of diplomacy and great academies, could yet allow an assassination in some backwater to draw them into world war. And after the world wars, with hundreds of millions dead, one must also include the Cold War as a beef between western philosophies. The industrial scale of violence, the author notes, was presaged in the American Civil War, and starting in 1914, emerged in ghastly full flower, as if (in my phrasing) football suddenly allowed the offense to brandish cannons, and blast the spectators as well. And the second war only got worse, in terms of engulfing whole swaths of earth in fire. The suffering is incalculable by any yardstick my mind can produce. The numbers alone are numbing. And, our reasonable affable, responsible, confident neighbor Germany had to undergo a bloody makeover beyond human ken, scorched to the ground, broken, before emerging with its smiling burghers and beer-gardens of today. (And now I can nervously eye the European project yet again, another topic, but echoing in my listening to this. We see here how bad things can be, and be again.) All of which does not excuse any bad actors, Western, Islamic or otherwise, but again, it helps me constantly emerge from drifting into the hysterical ninnyhood of the eternal media now, to be a sober observer with some well-grounded perspective on things. And reaching hard for my next breath, as if I had passed through experiences I could not dream up.
I classify this type of history 'Armchair History' (the armchair perhaps situated in an academic Ivory Tower), which I would normally sneer at derisively, but this armchair historian can get away with writing a book from pure memory-based narration (or so the narration seems) because the results were in-depth. I call it 'armchair' since the author did not have to do any 'footwork' - traipsing around the world conducting first-hand interviews and researching previously unresearched primary sources and making first-hand conclusions and recreations.
For me, the most valuable part of the book was the coverage between the two World War's, where I was personally weakest. Now I can patch it all together - the First World War was the demise of monarchies, the period between the wars was absolute chaos and experimentation, with the rise of authoritarian regimes - some OK, some the Banes of the Century. The book ends at the end of the Second World War, but touches on the beginnings of the Cold War.
So it was a very knowledgable armchair presentation, and a good performance by the narrator,
I have read and studied this time period for decades, but I've always looked at each issue or incident in isolation. it's quite eye opening to "read" the history of this time period as a single narrative. it definitely adds a new perspective.
Kershaw continues to be one of my favorite historians and he covers the period of the 2 world wars masterfully. There is a good combination of research that reads like the telling of a story. If you like this period of history you will like this.
A very thorough and comprehensive look at the myriad forces at play which plunged Europe into its second war in less than a generation. Well done.
Ian Kershaw accomplishes a very difficult feat: he tells the story of Europe over a violent, complicated 35-year period in a way that is both comprehensive but not overwrought. I highly recommend it to all.
Excellent version of Ian Kershaw's book. It follows the essential thesis in the book: that 1) aggressive nationalism in conflict, 2) unresolved territorial questions associated with nationalist claims, 3) class conflicts and 4) the existentialist crisis faced by capitalism drove European conflict between 1914-1949 to near apocalyptic destruction. This historical narrative is comprehensive and detailed.
Well produced and detailed
fluidity and pacing
It made me reflect on the vagaries of history
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