Austria

What I'm reading: Thirty Years of Woe

Peter H Wilson's Europe's TragedyAs ever my reading list is long with both History and Science Fiction but I think it is worthwhile mentioning a few of the history books here as they are most enjoyable.

The first and best of the lot is Europe’s Tragedy by Peter H. Wilson. There are excellent reviews around so I’ll point you to them rather than write my own right now. I’d point out one small irritant which is that Wilson has a tendency to shift what seems to me abruptly between theatres of conflict. I’m getting used to it, but combined with the huge line up of notable actors in the period, it can make reading harder going that I’d like.

The Telepgraph
Worse than the Black Death, worse than the First World War, worse than the Second World War, worse than the Holocaust – that is how the Thirty Years War lives on in the collective German memory. This is just one of many arresting pieces of information to be gleaned from this colossal history of one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history.

The Times
The lead-lined window that sparked it all is still there, of course: you can even open it, and peer down to the dry moat into which the three Catholic imperial counsellors were cast on May 23, 1618 by a group of enraged Bohemian Protestant gentry. The room itself is on the fourth floor of the great Hradschin Palace, which looks over the river to the city of Prague. All is peaceful now, but it wasn’t then; it was the epicentre of a storm that was to engulf much of Europe for the following three decades.

Californian Literary Review
Wilson, whose grasp of 17th century politics and diplomacy is most impressive, makes two significant contributions toward understanding the origin of the Thirty Years War. First, the Holy Roman Empire, which unified the German and Slavic states of Central Europe under Habsburg rule, was a much more effective political force than is generally realized. Differing in organization from a modern nation state, the Empire was an elective monarchy which kept order and cohesion among the component dukedoms, electorates and free city-states.

BBC History magazine
Perhaps most importantly Wilson is an enemy of historical inevitability. The first 300 pages of this book, far from being a countdown to inexorable catastrophe, are largely about why the war should not have occurred. Against the familiar line that a chaotic and enfeebled Holy Roman empire of German principalities, cities and micro-territories was already long past its sell-by date in 1618, Wilson offers a feisty defence of imperial institutions and of their remarkable success during the later 16th century in solving problems of territorial inheritance, religious rights and political rivalries.

One final observation before I leave it for today, the cover for the British and Irish edition is top left and it really is a nice cover but the US edition is really something, far superior and much more attention grabbing so I’ve included it below right.

See what I mean?
Eoin

Video Review: The Gutenberg Revolution: How Printing Changed The Course Of History

DARN: Somehow I managed to shave the final minutes off the video while recording! Still, the main points are covered.

A short video review of John Man’s book, The Gutenberg Revolution: How Printing Changed The Course Of History, on Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press and creator of the Gutenberg Bibles.

I discuss the merits of the book, how well written it is, the way that it deals nicely with the material, especially relating to the innovation and inventiveness of Gutenberg and how satisfying a read it is.

The Gutenberg Revolution

The Gutenberg Revolution


You can get a copy of the book here from rbooks, Random House’ customer facing bookstore.

Arthur Griffith: The Free State's Lost Leader

Eoin Purcell

Arthur Griffith arriving at Earlsfort Terrace. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

Arthur Griffith arriving at Earlsfort Terrace. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.


**
Ourselves Alone
Whereas my last post on Irish history discussed the 90th Anniversary of the first Dáil, and the post previous to that talked about WT Cosgrave, this post deals with a man whose life and views impacted both the career of Cosgrave and the very formation of the Dáil; Arthur Griffith.

In many ways Griffith’s ideas about how freedom might be best achieved for Ireland had a subtle and under-appreciated impact on Irish affairs.

His promotion of passive resistance and the non-recognition* of British imperial instruments while not directly responsible for it, was a powerful force in shaping the policies that led to the first Dáil, solidifying the democratic mandate of the independence movement and creating a moral legitimacy that became difficult to overcome and which was important in swaying public opinion both domestically and internationally.

By creating that legitimacy (which worked on both national electorate and international opinion levels) the Dáil was better placed to act as a national government and to negotiate with the British Cabinet when the opportunity arose. It also gave the republican courts their legitimacy and reinforced the sovereignty of the democratically elected chamber over the military men.

That primacy of politics over military prowess was crucial in saving Ireland from the threat of military dictatorship. The Free State government was briefly threatened by the ascent of Collins, whose position in the weeks before he died was at the very least questionable in democratic terms.

But it was also threatened by the militaristic trend in teh anti-treaty forces and again after the cvil war by the Free State Army as it struggled to come to terms with its relegated position within a democratic state.

But the Free State government had the legitimacy of democratic process, established since 1919 and reinforced by three elections since to back up their position. In many ways, that was exactly what kept the country democratic, that and the steadying hand of WT Cosgrave as discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Some have suggested that Griffith’s contribution to Irish history has been ignored and I think this is to a degree true. His views do not chime with the founding myth of the Irish State, nor was his position on the treaty palatable to the Republican ethos of the Fianna Fail government hat came to power in 1932 and so effectively claimed the mantle of the state and shaped the founding myth in its created image.

Griffith warrants much more academic and popular attention and I suspect that he will benefit from it over the next few years as we approach the centenary of many critical events.

Campaigning? Maybe a little!
Eoin

* Which he did through his writings like: The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel For Ireland
** I found this picture on the wonderful UCC Multitext site, a fascinating project worth visiting.

The Fall of House Habsburg: Edward Crankshaw

Eoin Purcell

A line to unsettle you on a bank holiday Monday:

. . . she delighted in the sensitive dreamer’s nature of her second son, Maximilian, who was to dream himself to death before a firing squad in Mexico.

I picked up rather nice edition of this in hardback when I was in the US a while ago but I have only started reading it recently. A few great lines already and the historian’s biases are fairly open an clear. It is well worth reading.

– GBS data here
– LibraryThing data here
– Worldcat data here