Europe: A History by Norman Davies

This magisterial work takes a completely continental view of European history. It sets the story of migrations and the rise and fall of empires in a geographical context, starting with the premise that Europe is distinguished by the movement of populations in prehistoric times from East to West. It therefore gives proper space to accounts of peoples., empires and movements beyond what we used to call ‘the Iron Curtain’. To emphasise this point, many of the maps are drawn with North at the right-hand side, not the top. Davies constantly reminds us that he is trying very hard to avoid “Western-centricism”.

The book has many ‘capsules’, self-contained essays on topics not central to the main thrust of the historical narrative but illuminating nonetheless. These can be accessed throughout the book by a sort of typographical hyperlink and they do not necessarily correspond to the chronological sequence of the text where they first appear.

The overall effect is one of comprehensiveness. This book is essential reading for anyone who thinks that there is something special about ‘Britishness’ (or any other sort of ‘-ness’, for that matter). It shows that one way or another, we in the UK are all European, no matter what our origin.

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