Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present by Brendan Simms - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

How the West Won

Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 698pp £30

Brendan Simms made his name in 2001 with Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia, a fiery denunciation that deplored the impotence of Europe and the intellectual cowardice, if not dishonesty, of British politicians such as David Owen and Douglas Hurd, who let the Serbs shed so much blood for so long. As happens when a brilliant lecturer is rewarded with a professorship, savage indignation simmers down into a calm, even complacent acceptance of the Machiavellian principles underlying history. This makes Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy more informative than provocative, and mildly disappointing. The book fails to explore what the blurb hints at: that Europe owes its supremacy to qualities and political strategies that others, say the Chinese or Arabs, were incapable of sustaining. Perhaps no European can write of Europe’s supremacy with real polemical verve. A history of Europe written by an African, an Indian or a South American might be able to inject savage indignation into the narrative.

Six hundred-odd pages are probably too few to recount the history of European state-building and state-disintegration and then to draw convincing conclusions about the processes that govern these rises and falls. Simms focuses very much on the 20th century: the first 450 years of his narrative take up no more

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