Monday, January 26, 2009

Europe, A History by Norman Davies

A one volume history of Europe, from Neanderthal times to the fall of the wall in 1365 pages. Fairly current, copyright 1996. I borrowed it from the town library 'cause it looked interesting. The author spends the entire introduction nattering about just what constitutes Europe, and are the Russians Europeans, and the importance of countries other than England and France.
I got some 500 pages into it and gave up. Davies doesn't believe in narrative history, where the historian tells the story of kings and peasants and nations and religions. Half the text is little one page monographs, set off in boxes, discussing interesting little details, but otherwise unconnected from the main text. Each monograph breaks the continuity of the main text.
Davies clearly believes the cliche "there are no facts in history". He constantly throws doubt upon generally accepted historical facts but never offers an explanation for his doubts. For instance he says "If it really happened" right after Luther's posting of the famous 95 thesis on the cathedral door. Great. He offers no evidence that the generally accepted history is false, he just casts doubt and moves on. If he really thought that Luther didn't do what most historians think he did, he ought to offer a reason for his doubts, or quote a contrary source, or something. The book is full of revisionist stuff like this but with no backup. I'm as ready as the next man to accept revisions, but I want some evidence in favor of the revision.
Or, he will pass over an important, controversial, historical thesis like the relationship of the Protestant work ethic to the rise of capitalism in a single sentence. I'd like a page or two discussing that one.
So, bottom line. Read another historian.

No comments: