Wednesday, June 8

Book: Instant European History, Robert Libbon

Weighing in at a palsy 220 pages, this books presents us with over 300 years of European history in what seems an amazingly concise volume. However Libbon does a good job of only covering the important bits while filtering the rest and what we end with is a nice introduction for the non academic.

As well as being brief, the book is also well written. Going against the typical stereotype we have of historians, Libbon manages to make history relevant and engaging by using contemporary language to communicate with the reader. For example:

The Renaissance was a sweeping artistic and philosophical movement that not only celebrated human form and potential but also supplied names for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles*.

Some may wonder what the point of such a course history book is; well I also took out a 720 page volume (The Penguin History of Europe, J. M. Roberts), which, frankly, scared me off (although to be fair it does seem like an easy read too. Long, but easy). I guess most history books are written more as a reference than a novel, but it's good to see the few that are more accessible to people like me. My only major gripe was that the book started very late into the history I wanted to read about (I'd have liked to have read about the Roman empire and Muslim influence which was pretty relevant before the 1700s) especially since getting this from any other source would mean losing Libbon's unique style, but I guess we take what we can get. If you want to focus on modern European history, then this book is ace.


* In primary school, we once had to create a restaurant menu based on a theme of our choosing. Since Gavin Pascal (my partner for the task) and I were such big TMNT fans, we ended up with Michelangelo Milkshakes, Raphael Rolls etc. Our teacher was so impressed that we based our menus on the major players during The Renaissance. We kept quiet of course, but mainly 'cos it was all new to us. True story.