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Books in brief

A Short History of Europe: From Pericles to Putin by Simon Jenkins (Viking, £25)

War and peace, strife and stability: these are the patterns chartered through Simon Jenkins’s new investigation of Europe’s past, which ranges from the Minoan civilisations of 2500BC to the EU referendum vote in June 2016—and beyond. Jenkins takes the long view because, as he argues, “history acquires meaning only if we can see effect following cause over time.” Along the way he builds an engrossing aerial view of a continent now home to nearly 750m people.

He explains how Europe has grappled over the centuries with disparate identities, complex power structures and the troubled relations between its composite nations. Though much of the action deals with human exploits—aristocracies, oligarchies, tyrannies and democracies—natural disasters are shown to play just as large a part in shaping Europe. The Minoan empire, for example, was ultimately extinguished after a volcanic eruption on the isle of Thera (present- day Santorini) in 1630BC.

Jenkins, a former editor of the Times and now a newspaper columnist, is by no means the first to tackle such a narrative, but this is an ambitious work that maintains a relentless momentum. Peppered throughout are counter-intuitive takes: the Vikings, who traditionally receive a bad press, threw “a girdle of enterprise” round the continent’s coastlines, leading to a “mobile and aggressive dynamic” in trade and commerce.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect's November issue: Paul Collier explains how major cities in the UK will always be in the shadow of London unless capitalism is overhauled and suggests ways that we might be able to improve the situation in those communities that capitalism has left behind. Meanwhile, Steve Bloomfield asks what is going at the Foreign Office. The once great institution that was a symbol of Britain’s global power now seems to be lost and unable to explains its role. Also, Samira Shackle explores a Pakistani protest movement that is unnerving the country’s military. Elsewhere in the issue: Dahlia Lithwick suggests that the Supreme Court will struggle to retain its authority now that Brett Kavanaugh is on the bench. Philip Ball argues that DNA doesn’t define destiny as he reviews a new book by Robert Plomin. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Simon Heffer debate political correctness.