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Every twentieth-century historian must have at least one favorite journalist. bitterness. long-time socialist and pacifist leanings. 879 pp. Mingling the testimonies of the living and the dead. Based on a vast mingling of lives. this Europe. Mak’s book fuses journalism and history around the theme of the rapid and irreversible transformation of a traditional Dutch village. having shaken the habit of war.” and his own bio-historical portrait of the twentieth century (De eeuw van mijn vader. abandoned buildings. and Ogborn–has bequeathed it. Mak centers his work around a single year of travel. during which he crisscrossed Europe. Mak’s shifting spatio-chronological frame moves from large towns. Schmidt In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century. times. afterward they existed as a prize to win or exploit for colonization and commerce. old rural way of life and. Stopping at sixty-six places big and small. Constant in his testimony to the personal. and a liberal disposition to side with the outsider and victim. Mak weaves individual lives into a compelling chronology of a century’s tragic events. and political instability that history–so eloquently narrated by Cunliffe. cafes. In Europe displays a mastery of journalism and contemporary history. apartments. minorities. The George Washington University & Quinnipiac College of Law Albert J. Based on a long residence in the small Friesland village of Jorwerd. By Geert Mak (New York: Pantheon Books. to borrow from the book’s subtitle. he creates a polyphony of human voices that sing in deep keys of memory. Eastern European voices sing the commanding bass conscience of what Europe suffered during the past century and what is still to be tested in the century ahead. race. and historical works. In In Europe we have Jorwerd. battlefields. . suspicion. and spiritual destructiveness of the century past.REVIEWS 969 of pursuit. covering its loss of autonomy. In recent years. he explores Europe’s prospects for the future. loss. 2007.). and villages to cemeteries. Mak first gained my attention with Jorwerd: The Death of a Twentieth Century Village. winner of the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding in 2008. “how God vanished” from the town. whose skill and sensibility rests on academic training in sociology. 1999. The unanswered question remains how the Atlantic world will manage both the moral and strategic responsibilities and still resolve the issues of environment. Mak’s “Brief History of Amsterdam. has assumed a moral if diminished political role while military leadership has passed to Atlantic America. poverty. places. and finally they became an ally of Atlantic Europe in its Continental conflicts. collective. “The Age of My Father”) writ large. and out of the way places where plots were hatched and events transpired. his travels covered the continent from Madrid to Moscow and from Gdansk to Sarajevo. and yet achievement and hope. Benjamin. With a poignant pointillism. In interviews of the famous and the ordinary. Mine is contemporary Dutch journalist and historian Geert Mak.
Mak never travels free of the tether of Anne Frank’s house. newspaper articles. On the pages of In Europe different generations. diaries. and cowardly. In Europe is a serious meditation—a memorial of the cruel.” Though Mak continually deploys moral cases of who did what to whom and for whom. Faithful to memory. along the streets of the city of the Grand Illumination. resistance. sacrifice. the reality of the present. songs. democracy. and other iconographic materials. documents. lies in his evocation of the singular person. While not a religious text. we meet not just prophets of the new century but ordinarily forgotten grandpères and grandmères. Along a short stretch of highway. and now and again Mak points our forgotten marginal lands. cruel. who in different guises intrude their way into Mak’s narrative of epoch change. what can only wrongfully be forgotten. individual choices. He cannot forget the Nazi world organized against her.”which abound in Eastern Europe. Much more a matter of juxtaposition than argument.970 journal of social history spring 2011 Mak fleshes out his work with secondary texts. A case in point is Mak’s harsh judgment of Pius . or the Dutch world that failed to save her. defiant of generalization. as most in the twentieth century did. “where the goats go up and the girls come down. paintings. statistical reports. through the darkest forests. beliefs. alas. dead. his work at its best reads like prose poem. Indeed. amounts to a spirit in prayer. and sent marching forward to the front for a second hero’s death. after we’ve been told of the deadly “sum of the Somme”—1. His deepest truths—the points at which his meaning is most intense—come in the form of facts. event. Mak’s path led. is re-animated. sacrificed. Tragic commemoration forms Mak’s dominant mode of surveying the past. classes. places. meanspirited. or social class formation. At the start of his book. At points Mak’s tenacious fidelity is grim. he understandably does not systematically take up the question of collaboration. and slaughtered. destinies mingle. Along the way we meet solitary protesting heroes like Franz Jägenstätter. A few pages later. Based on a poem by Bertold Brecht. Eastern Europe—its Gdansk and recent tragedies at Chernobyl and in Bosnia—are used to remind prosperous and content Western Europe that progress does not obliterate the truth of the past. There are not just bombs and even an occasional tank still exhumed in the farm fields of Ypres but a photo of a memorial of children’s shoes from Chernobyl. what. stories. heartbroken. and consequence. at the 1900 Paris World Fair. His primary power. for a religious sensibility. and anecdotes. moment. re-constructions. or the steep challenge of the future. As an Amsterdam resident. violent.2 million were killed in the late summer of 1916—we learn of a popular anti-war German song. those “territorial Jorwerds. drafted. Though his work is not without strong opinions. treatments. his congregation is Western Europe’s self-assured consumers and self-content citizens. he repeatedly brings up what is gone. reports. and martyrdom. If the moral subject of Mak’s sermon is Europe at its most tragic. it does not constitute an ideological expedition into the past nor an exercise in applying social science theories of demography. having died before the war. and omissions in Mak’s book will be challenged.” Mak delivers us to the battle of the Somme. it recounts the tale of a dead hero who. old travel guides. and. with “only a tap of the accelerator along the autoroute from Lille to Paris. who didn’t believe someone could be a good Catholic and a Nazi. films.
India. accompanies this challenge. geography. industrialism. the expulsions and restrictions of centralized monarchies. Southwest Minnesota State University Joe Amato Human Nature in Rural Tuscany: An Early Modern History. But whatever the case. controllable bits of . The absence of footnotes in the book will underpin criticisms of it as general. Certainly. Writing his work against the immediate background of the Bosnian War and the prolonged siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. This brings us to the largest proposition of Mak’s broad tapestry and moral inventory: Twentieth-century Europe essentially lost its culture. the intimate detail of a world in miniature can be attached to some larger historical vision. Europe cannot form a new spirit unless it admits its history. xiii. It must acknowledge where it has been in the twentieth century to get a fresh start in the twenty first century. and even architecture. plus 218). Abstractions about trends and patterns are replaced by individuals who have names and kin. Mak found plenty of evidence of the depths of multi-ethnic misunderstanding and hate and western Europe’s continuing battle for justice and tolerance. An implicit assumption. Mak does not take up the question of what constituted the substance of the culture Europe lost. the exclusive and divisive secular rationalism of the Enlightenment. nor whether it was lost well in advance of the twentieth century with (I only suggest some possibilities) the crusades. the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. in Mak’s view. By Gregory Hanlon (New York: Palgrave Macmillan.REVIEWS 971 the XII as simply a Machiavellian anti-Semite. plus 17 plates. and other regional powers. Local history has a double appeal for historians. economy. on the one hand.” and “journalistic. Events occur in a circumscribed setting easily connected to a specific climate. Tiny. and it must find another to survive the pressing decades ahead. and the failures and tragedies of Eastern Europe and the neglectful indifference of Western Europe. and revolutionary ideologies of the nineteenth century. 2007. and quit its infantile but century-long dependence on the United States. At the same time. or the nationalism. In Europe constitutes a powerful historical evocation of need of past for the life of the present and birth of the future. Surely his pervasive critique rests on the twin pillars of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. contemporary historians can use a copy of this work on their shelf of thoughtful books. it somehow must learn anew if it is to compete with a still growing and vital America and the emerging worlds of China. Mak leaves no doubt that Europe is absent the unity and determination it needs. Europe has no choice but to put aside its provincialism and nationalism. With a declining and aging population. “moralizing. end its hostility to new immigrants. Its necessary concreteness gives a comforting reassurance of historical reality.” Larger criticisms will focus on Mark’s proclivity to interpret Europe as une revolution manqué yesterday and a failing revolution today. Europe must be determined to rescue itself from its own crises.
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