The first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent are incredibly informative, original, and thought provoking in regards to twentieth century European history. In these chapters he primarily focuses on the contending issues that arose after the First World War and continued to linger until the onset of World War Two. His approach is unique because he does not recount the history in a chronological order, instead choosing to focus on developing specific issues and showing how they were interrelated throughout the entire continent in one way or another. The thesis of these chapters is that the mixture of an unsettled post war climate and the failure of several democratic governments to solve the economic and social issues at hand led to a contentious political climate. This climate was ripe for the emergence of radical socialist and totalitarian regimes.
The first chapter is centrally focused on democracy and alternate forms of government. The second chapter is about nation building and post war re-structurement. The third chapter’s focus is based on government initiatives and social programs aimed at cultivating the populations of each nation. Lastly, the fourth chapter is about various economic conflicts and rebuilding efforts. Within each of these chapters Mazower chooses a topic and then elaborates on it and expands it to Europe as a whole. An example of this is when he addresses the toll that World War I inflicted on population numbers. The male populations were severely reduced in every country that fought in the war, leading to a fear of population decline and thus the weakening of the country. To combat this fear each government tried to bolster population numbers by encouraging women to reproduce prolifically, creating social programs to aid mothers in child raising, and either discouraging or outright outlawing abortion. Mazower wrote that there was a “pro-natalist reassertion of traditional family and gender roles,” that overtook much of Europe (Mazower, 84).
Mazower does an excellent job of supporting his evidence with a mix of primary and secondary sources. He cites a pro-natalist publication in Britain titled 1916 Cradles or Coffins? Our Greatest National Need, to emphasize the concern that genuinely existed in Britain. In the following sentence he mentions how Germany was doing the exact same thing, thus adhering to the structure of his book by emphasizing how certain prevailing themes crossed international boundaries and were applicable to Europe as a whole in one form or another. While his use of supporting evidence is prolific and well chosen, he tends to jump around in the text too often and does not sufficiently develop and expand his arguments.
Mazower does a good job of condensing the people, places, and events from this time period in history into one book considering how difficult of a task this is. The scope and density of the material are a grueling endeavor to tackle. Although people who do not have background knowledge of European history may have difficulty challenging many of the preconceptions that exist, this is not a sufficient deterrant for reading this book. This text offers a fresh perspective on European History and would appeal to green undergraduates and scholars alike.