MixedForeign Affairs... neither deep nor authoritative. But it certainly is entertaining ... He nods to historiographic fashion just long enough to inquire about the impact of climate change and to ask why European countries rose to global preeminence in this period. But in the end, his question-begging answer is simply that they had grown stronger and richer, and he tells that tale without much criticism of its more brutal aspects. Still, the resulting account of the Middle Ages is as engaging a read as any.
MixedForeign AffairsThis is the best English-language biography of her rise from a tough and traditional family, through her career as a physical chemist in communist East Germany, to her current renown—but it is far from definitive. As with most traditional journalistic accounts, Marton’s book focuses a great deal on what Merkel said and did at various critical meetings, attributing her success to her intelligence and tenacity and her failures to her idealistic moral courage. The reader learns far less about the electoral, partisan, diplomatic, and technical constraints under which Merkel acted. The picture is further limited by the author’s curious decision to focus almost exclusively on German relations with the United States and Russia, thereby excluding economic diplomacy, climate change, China, the European Union, and the developing world—not to mention German domestic politics, about which the book says hardly anything.
MixedForeign AffairsAt times, one wishes for more depth and subtlety, as well as more attention to the often dark ways in which colonialism, anticommunism, and simple wealth accumulation actually drove the process. Yet this book succeeds in casting new light on a critical European legacy of liberal and moderate values, one that may again be in danger today.
MixedForeign AffairsWith painstaking and pathbreaking primary-source research, this book seeks to redeem Metternich from the criticisms of his detractors. It ultimately fails. Siemann tries to explain Metternich’s uncompromising reactionary views as a sincere response to early trauma suffered when the French Revolution dispossessed his aristocratic family. But portraying Metternich as a victim of trauma, a thoughtful strategist, a harbinger of modern European federalism, and a kindly and moderate man in private doesn’t excuse the cruelty and intolerance of his politics. The book does succeed in forcing readers to wonder whether Metternich’s efforts to defend an essentially conservative order against populists and terrorists are so different from the struggles that liberal democracies face today.
Robert Menasse, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
PositiveForeign AffairsMenasse’s novel is a satirical send-up of contemporary Brussels ... Menasse gets many details of the EU just right. His cruel caricature of the technocratic, self-important, and sometimes petty bureaucratic culture of the commission is largely accurate. He skillfully renders the bland life of the expatriate in Brussels—not surprising, since his book research required him to become one. More profoundly, he captures how in modern Europe, where historical memories tied to a specific time and place have grown less vivid, people invoke the Holocaust[.]
MixedForeign AffairsAnyone even slightly familiar with the historical literature will be baffled by the book’s repeated claims of originality for a thesis that echoes (daringly, without citation) the ideas of Karl Marx, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, and generations of eminent historians of empire. Yet in an era when great-power competition seems to be on the rise, this book reminds readers that few, if any, modern nations have ever been strong enough to dominate all those around them through brute force alone.