The first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent serve as a well-written history of the changing bureaucracy, nationalism, economic and political shifts in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. Within the book he critically examines the cultural roots leading to the political outcomes and ravaging effects seen throughout the changing countryside. He argues that the First World War and Treaty of Versailles lead to a new Europe of revolutions, reform and public uprisings that eventually lead to economic disaster. This change to the political system precipitated Hitler and Stalin’s Europe. Specifically, his analysis focuses on the weak political systems inability to adequately supervise and institute control over the populations.
Mazower’s work does a fantastic job in the analysis, and does not simply dwell on the hard facts on what lead up to the first and second World War. It is always tempting to write a simple chronology of events. The focus on the connection between social and political events largely bypasses the large section of World War One and instead examines the developing relationship between people and government.
Dark Continent’s writing uses very complex and specific logical arguments. Often they are long thematically and multifaceted including many points. However his connections build on one another culminating in an interesting perspective that helps one understand turn-of-the-century Europe. While the complex argument usually makes logical sense, it requires a slow and thoughtful time while reading in order to not lose the overall theme. Too often he becomes long winded, and his breaking down the specifics and evidence becomes slightly redundant at times.
The sources Mazower uses in his writing are a great benefit towards his argument. The research put into his work shows a significant amount of both primary and secondary sources. He does grace the more visual learners with maps, but fails to utilize photos and images of evidence providing less well-rounded evidence. Dark Continent is written post Cold War so the benefits of an open Soviet and Eastern European archives allow a more complete picture of tensions and events. This probably led to his focus on Eastern Europe and the USSR, since in previous works Western Europe social and political relations have been examined more significantly.
Overall Mazower develops an interesting focal point from which to see the development of Europe through the twentieth century. He examines the history in a different way, finding new informed connections. His structure is inherently dissimilar than most, with a broader and overarching aspect for the cause and effect of war and other major events. Well sourced and thought out, the book gives a fresh spin to early European social political relationships.