This book chronicles five centuries of diplomacy, alliances, and war -- all aimed, Simms argues, at asserting or blocking dominance of the European continent. The story begins with the maneuvering of absolutist monarchs before the Thirty Years’ War and ends with the enlargement of the European Union. Germany, with its central location, remains the main problem throughout: its weakness and division create a power vacuum, and its strength and unity pose a threat to all. Simms’ narrative is very much in the style of histories penned in past eras by the likes of A. J. P. Taylor, Leopold von Ranke, and Henry Kissinger, in which leaders pursue great-power rivalries through subtle diplomatic schemes and brutal military tactics. Less sure-footed is the analysis of leaders’ deeper motivations and of the sweeping changes in domestic politics and society that transformed Europe over that time. Yet the many insights and engaging anecdotes make this a fine read.
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