In This Review

Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century
Out of Ashes: A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century
By Konrad H. Jarausch
Princeton University Press, 2015, 880 pp
Rethinking the European Union (Rethinking World Politics)
Rethinking the European Union (Rethinking World Politics)
By Nathaniel Copsey
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 272 pp

As twentieth-century Europe recedes into the past, books are appearing that seek to make sense of it. Jarausch, a distinguished historian of Germany, views the period through the lens of the continent’s experience of modernization: a rise in economic productivity of unprecedented speed and the consequent effects on social structure, cultural discourse, and political ideas. Jarausch focuses mostly on the last of those categories, interpreting the century as the battleground for a grand conflict among three ideologies that sought to shape European political action: communism, fascism, and (more or less social) democratic capitalism. It’s a story of war, revolution, and, in its final chapters, peaceful integration. This approach is insightful, although readers will learn little about how Europeans thought, felt, expressed themselves, or lived their daily lives. A larger problem lies in the book’s relatively weak conclusion, which inadvertently shows how difficult it is for an approach like Jarausch’s to come to grips with twenty-first-century Europe, which has so far experienced hardly any war or revolution and has seen the momentum toward integration that defined the final decades of the last century grind to a halt. 

Observing that trend, Copsey, a British political scientist, questions the idea that building an “ever-closer union” is still Europe’s aim and notes that the eu now tends to limit itself to a relatively narrow set of issues rather than act as a broad-based, genuinely representative political forum. One consequence is that Europeans increasingly voice concerns about the legitimacy of various eu actions but lack the means to address them. The author’s focus on the euro perhaps blinds him to the eu’s other achievements, and he cannot resist making an idealistic appeal for the union to take on new issues. But otherwise, this is an uncommonly sensible book.