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Not their best work

Modern Europe, 1789-Present  - Patricia Clavin, Asa Briggs

History textbooks are almost always group efforts, as specialists are tapped to present what represents the current thinking about their respective eras of specialization. So for a publisher seeking to produce a textbook on 19th and 20th century Europe, Asa Briggs and Patricia Clavin are good choices. A leading historian of 19th century Britain, Briggs was a pioneer of social history, while Patricia Clavin has written excellent monographs on interwar Europe that adopt a continent-wide perspective. And their resulting work offers a good overview of European history form the French Revolution to the start of the 21st century. Yet their very prominence makes the book's flaws so frustrating.


Foremost among them is the text's dominant focus on political history. This is especially surprising for a book co-written by Briggs, given his many excellent works on Victorian society. Yet chapter after chapter concentrates on relating political developments, often with little in the way of analysis explaining their significance. While other aspects of European history are addressed, these parts are crammed into chapters which cover important issues in a spare sentence or two.


This in itself limits the book's value, yet it is further undermined by the sheer sloppiness of the text. For a book in its second edition there are a surprisingly large number of basic factual errors, from the misattribution of a famous malapropism to stating that OPEC stands for "Organisation of Oil Producing Countries." A third edition could address this problem, but the lack of one points to the increasing datedness of a book purporting to survey European history to the "present." The authors' final chapters are practically begging for revision in light of the events that have taken place since then, yet with each passing year the prospects for one dim further.


Taken in combination, these flaws limit what is otherwise a useful survey of two centuries of European history. While it can still be read by profitably for anyone seeking to understand the political evolution of Europe from absolutism to the early years of the EU, readers desiring a more comprehensive account of modern Europe would be better off looking elsewhere.