The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933

In This Review

The Lights That Failed: European International History, 1919-1933

By Zara Steiner
Oxford University Press, 2005
960 pp. $55.00
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This huge study of Europe after the end of World War I is an awesome achievement, thanks to the author's extraordinary immersion in diplomatic and economic history and expertise in the complex issues of debts and reparations, security and disarmament, and nationalism. One of the many virtues of the book is Steiner's awareness of the domestic pressures that statesmen of the time faced, thanks to the collapse of the walls between domestic and foreign affairs. The first part deals with the attempt to put together the pieces of a "shattered Europe"; the second covers the "hinge years," 1929-33, when world recession, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the rise of Hitler undermined the global system and destroyed the hopes of internationalism. Many of Steiner's insights (for example, that if the League of Nations "was accepted as part of the international landscape, it was because it did not attempt too much," or that "the equivocal nature of Britain's commitment to Europe" undermined France's position) are familiar. But her exploration is so thorough and incisive that, to this reader at least, her story felt as new as it was tragic.