Book Review: Where Are…Prussia, Gaul, and the Holy Roman Empire: A Brief Political And Geographic History of Europe

Where Are…Prussia, Gaul, and the Holy Roman Empire: A Brief Political And Geographic History of Europe, by Frances E. Davy

If one could sum up my thoughts on this book in one word, the word I picked would be something along the lines of disappointing or misleading. To be sure, the book had its moments of humor. For example, the about the author section states: “Frances E. Davey is a historian working on her Ph.D in American History at the University of Delaware. She also finds European history fascinating, particularly because so much of American History is European in origin (112).” Likewise, when discussing the French and Indian war, she states, “Europe settled into a period of relative peace, though it didn’t last very long. In 1756, the temperamental Frederick [the Great of Prussia] started the Seven Years’ War. It quickly spilled over into North America with the French and Indian War, which pitted England against France (43).” Too bad the French and Indian War had started in the backwoods of Western Pennsylvania two years earlier [1] thanks to the efforts of Virginians led by young George Washington. Likewise, when discussing the battle of Trafalgar, the author states as the caption to a photo: “The British Royal Navy in the Battle of Trafalgar. The battle pitted the British against the French and Spanish. It was a largely naval battle.” It would be, one would think.

The fact that the author appears to lack a firm grasp of military history and chronology is a bit disappointing, especially as a professional historian on the graduate level, even more so as this book is designed to be written to a preteen or teen audience as an introduction to political and geographical history. The book succeeds far better in terms of political history, being full of discussion of rulers and leaders, treaties and high politics, besides the occasional and often unsuccessful foray into military history, which does not appear to be an area of particular expertise of the author, who is far more comfortable talking about the European Union than she is about the League of Augsburg. The book’s ten chapters focus largely on England, France, and Germany, which combine to take up about 80% of the book’s material, leaving very little material about Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, which are largely ignored.

What is particularly disappointing about this book as a geographical history is that it has so few maps in it, and many of the maps are of a poor quality. This is a good book to read if one wants to see paintings of Napoleon or Julius Caesar or Marie Antoinette, to give a few examples, but is not a good book to read if one wants to read maps, of which this book has only about a dozen or so throughout its pages. Many of the maps included are static and rather thin on information. A map of Napoleon’s Empire in 1810, for example, does not show any lines of armies marching and countermarching in Russia or Spain or Germany, and shows a few battles and Napoleon’s unwilling alliances with other nations at the apex of his career, after Wagram in 1809, when only England and a few allies opposed him. Likewise, a map of the French & Indian War/Seven Years War in North America shows the sites of two battles and two additional sieges, with no lines showing the marches of Braddock or Forbes or Wolfe or Amherst showing the progressive conquest of New France by British and American troops. For a geographic history, this book is extremely weak in terms of geography, and shaky in key aspects of history. One wonders who exactly the author is writing the book for, because having prose that is easy to understand matters little when one has an unsure grasp of what one is talking about.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/today-in-history-on-july-8-and-9-two-legends-were-born/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Book Review: Where Are…Prussia, Gaul, and the Holy Roman Empire: A Brief Political And Geographic History of Europe

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