In Europe



Madison, WI
United States
Wisconsin US

"In 1999 the noted Dutch historian Geert Mak, author of The Bridge (Vintage, 2009) and In Amsterdam (Atlas, 1995), set out to travel through Europe and take stock of the tumultuous century that was then just passing. His account, In Europe (Pantheon Books, 2007), is part travelogue, part history, and takes the unique approach of tying its historical and culture themes to specific European cities, cities that Mak returns to in recurring chapters at different times. So, for example, there is Berlin in 1914 at the delirious beginning of the war that was to have ended all wars, and Berlin in 1945, when the broken German survivors of the second war grappled with the horror of their crimes. There is the Berlin of 1929, the Berlin of ‘decadent’ Weimar and of Isherwood's Berlin Stories (later immortalized in Cabaret), inter-leavened with Red Petrograd and the Vienna of Freud. But alongside the expected (Budapest in 1956, Srebrenica in 1995), Mak throws in places such a Bielefeld: a small, prosperous Germany city that just so happens to have rare photographic evidence documenting the burning of Bielefeld's main synagogue during Kristallnacht—an invaluable, if chilling, refutation of those who would deny the truth of the Holocaust. Or he turns to the curious case of Lourdes in the fifties before traveling to Lisbon, never failing (even with the most well plowed of historical ground) to find aspects both interesting and profound. It may be that such a book can really only appeal to those committed Europhiles like myself. But one does not have to love, or even be interested in, the history of Europe in the twentieth century to find value in reading of Mak's peripatetic wanderings; the ecstasy and horror alike should be quite enough to hold your interest."

Paul Houseman