In the first four chapters of Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent, Mazower brings the reader through an enlightening perspective of how fascism, communism, and liberalism molded the progression of twentieth century Europe. Mazower carefully crafts his explanation of the successes and failures of different Nations attempts to organize and modernize in an era with a newly found sense of nationalism and social hierarchy. Dark Continent extrapolates upon which economic policies and government types seemed ideal and which ones were effective for their time and place, and why.
Mazower puts a strong emphasis on the importance of fascist, socialist, and communist ideologies that were crucial for European development in the first half of the twentieth century. He explains why libertarianism, parliaments, and newfound constitutions, which seemed to be the right step forward, failed at the time. Mazower also illustrates why more seemingly primitive governmental structures prevailed. Dark Continent is the first book I have read which highlights the importance of fascism while simultaneously explaining the failures of libertarianism and capitalism.
Despite its stubborn density, the book keeps the reader entertained through a selection of commentary which ranges from legal theorists to poets which helps encapsulate the zeitgeist. The book’s sources are plentiful and legitimate. Mazower brilliantly blends primary and secondary sources in order to lay a strong historical foundation and brings it to life with outside anecdotes and remarks. For example, Mazower uses an amusing sarcastic comment from a critic of the French socialist leadership who wrote, “It was necessary to be prudent…We were not to advance towards power because that would be too dangerous; we would be crushed by the resistance of capitalism itself…We are to advance nowhere!” (p. 134). This quote enabled me to properly imagine the frustration that the French were feeling at the time. Mazower’s ability to consistently intertwine cultural emotions in a historical context is incredible.
The chapters are divided into subsections and occasional space breaks which helps enable the reader to switch tracks while maintaining focus. This is helpful because although it is well written, the rapid pace at which Mazower presents critical information can be daunting. The writing itself is very clear and concise, the organization of his ideas allow for a smooth read. I have yet to re-read anything under the impression that I missed something. Dark Continent is geared towards highly educated readers, and I would not recommend it to be applied to a pre-collegiate level audience. This is not a book which can be read passively.