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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > September 2016 > Books in brief

Books in brief

The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914

by Richard J Evans (Allen Lane, £35)

Anyone expecting a dry account of the European balance of power will be in for a pleasant surprise. Richard J Evans’s The Pursuit of Power is a richly woven tapestry depicting a continent undergoing rapid transformation and achieving worldwide hegemony. The politics is deftly explained. But it is seamlessly intermingled with a dazzling range of subjects. In one roller-coaster chapter Evans takes us on a tour of European emotional life, a section that covers weeping, top hats, moustaches, women’s rights, association football, sexuality, religion, beer drinking, nationalism, Darwinism, Impressionism, opera and much more. The narrative nimbly hops from country to country, making comparisons and connections. We are taken to concerts in the 1840s where hysterical audiences fight over Franz Liszt’s handkerchiefs and women try to cut off locks of his hair. Forget Victorian propriety: this was an age of strong, often wild, emotions.

But as the title suggests, the theme that runs through the book is power. “States grasped for world power, governments reached out for imperial power, armies built up their military power, revolutionaries plotted to grab power...” Europeans contested for power over nature and over other peoples, committing monstrous crimes in the process. At the same time, Evans identifies the struggle against power on the part of serfs, workers and women (feminism features prominently) as a defining characteristic of the period. The “sublime self-confidence”—so ably portrayed in this book—that sustained Europe’s rise to global dominance was made possible by a century of peace after Waterloo and shattered by four years of cataclysmic war.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Paul Johnson argues that there is no getting away from the fact our economic prospects have got worse post-Brexit. Paul Wallace attempts to outline how the government will try and deal with that situation, while Nicolas Véron suggests that The City of London will decline outside the European Union. On a brighter note, Clive James explores what we can learn from the television show Mad Men. Also in this issue: Patience Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer, suggests that Brexit might not be a done deal with a rebellion in the Lords possible. Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the work and Beyoncé and argues that black artists are failing to say anything profound and James Dyson outlines how he would rule the world.
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