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Charles Hazen: Europe Since 1815

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As is customary in PHR, I would like to recommend a book that will benefit adult students of history. This month's recommendation is especially important to me personally, because it's about the nineteenth century, a part of history for which I have found it very difficult to get good resources. The book is "Europe Since 1815" by Charles Downer Hazen (Henry Holt and Company, 1910).

Although I'm still reading it, and thus my recommendation has to be considered somewhat provisional, there's no doubt in my mind that this is a great book. Normally, when one reads about the nineteenth century, one either has to contend with books that focus on too narrow a topic (such as the revolutions of 1848) or too restricted a theme (such as the rise of Nationalism). More often, studies are confined to the story of a single nation, such as Italy or Germany. It is easy to see why this is the case, because the nineteenth century is the most complicated period in history! By contrast, the 20th century, with its obvious large-scale convulsions, is straightforward! Unfortunately, the result is that one cannot expect to grasp this period as a whole without dedicating oneself to it full time. The onus is on the reader of history to integrate this topic, since historians have not.

At least, no one has demonstrated the slightest hope of doing so to me, until Hazen. He has a way of selecting out the facts that are important to the broad progression of events, and discarding the minutiae that normally clutters history books. Consequently, his narrative is purposeful and easy to follow. In recognition of the complexity of the political history of this time, Hazen carefully dissects the sum and presents it in manageable units (such as the story of Spain and Italy from 1812 to 1822.) Crucially, however, one never gets the sense that the telling of one part of the story is disconnected from the rest. Hazen always asserts the broader context and demonstrates the significance of what he is presenting.

The only drawback of "Europe Since 1815" is that it is 736 pages. That means it really isn't an ideal place to *start* learning about the nineteenth century. The solution is, of course, to take "A First History for Adults, Part 2 - Europe: Context and Foil" (starting in January), or, at least to read "Modern Progress" by Willis Mason West, as previously recommended in PHR, to get some context. Once you've made a proper start on the whole story, though, Hazen will take you the rest of the way when it comes to this challenging part of history!


Scott Powell

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