The first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent offer readers a look into the European political, economic and social developments of the Interwar Era. Mazower’s main argument is that many factors influenced the political path that Europe followed: meaning that democracy was not an obvious or guaranteed form of government on the continent.
The changes that were rocking the continent at this time are clearly explained in the book using comparisons as many similarities were seen in countries across the continent. Mazower’s analysis of the way in which both right and left wing political movements gained traction during this period made especially good use of comparison to illustrate the trends throughout Europe. Through this level of comparison, Mazower displays an in depth understanding of the continent’s complexities. These nuances are presented to readers without becoming entirely overwhelming—a difficult task.
The book illustrates a deep understanding of the period in its use of anecdotes and quotations, but these details are very dense to read. Because so many quotations and examples are used, there is a lot of information to process and comprehend while reading. Moreover, the fluidity of Mazower’s own analysis is continually interrupted. Mazower assumes some level of knowledge on the part of the reader, especially in his explanations of events. He refers to many different political figures of the era, with little or no description of who they were and what they did.
Dark Continent does, however, address all of the major themes of the period with a sense of completion that is difficult to find. The book was published in 1998, and was very well received for the originality of many of its arguments. Since it’s publication, it has become a book that has informed many other historians and the perspectives present in their work. Mazower’s analysis of the political movements of the 1920s and 1930s has been used to explain political evolution in works about the Interwar Period and World War II. Julian Jackson’s France: the Dark Years (2003) addresses many of the same themes that Mazower touches upon.
The book does have some weaknesses that impact how the book should and must be read and received. The lack of bibliography at the end of the book prevents readers from being able to see his sources organized by type. The endnotes do reveal that Mazower relied heavily upon secondary sources, listing a very limited number of primary sources. This does not detract from the level of interpretation and study illustrated in the book; however, this does change the way in which the book needs to be read and studied, because it is not largely based on original research—which is surprising given that he wrote in the late 1990s about the Soviet Union, when Soviet archives had opened up to foreign researchers.
Despite the limited number of weaknesses displayed in the book, Mazower’s Dark Continent is an incredible resource for students and scholars studying inter-war Europe.