Review: "Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II"
Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II
Throughout Keith Lowe’s book Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, the author examines the effects of World War Two and its tremendous impact on European society in the years following the cessation of hostilities. Whereas many historians on this subject often portray the postwar era “as a time when Europe rose like a phoenix from the ashes of destruction,” Lowe argues against this “decidedly rosy view of postwar history” (Lowe, xiv). Why is this the case? As he argues, the cessation of hostilities between the Allied and Axis powers did not end conflict across Europe in May of 1945. Rather, Lowe makes the point that the capitulation of Germany “only brought an end to one aspect of the fighting” while “related conflicts over race, nationality, and politics continued for weeks, months, and sometimes years afterwards” throughout the European continent (Lowe, 367).
Lowe's Main Points
With the collapse of the Nazi regime (and the vast destruction this defeat entailed in regard to political, civil, and economic stability), Lowe points out that the war created a collapse in morality, law, and social order across the European continent. This, in turn, created an environment conducive to violence and chaos within Europe during the postwar years. Similar to the “dark ages” following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Lowe argues that the postwar years were a time of crime, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, genocide, murder, and civil unrest. Moreover, he points out that the postwar years also gave rise to an unparalleled sense of political and economic instability, as countries and societies attempted to rebuild their culture and way of life following the vast destruction and death resulting from the years of warfare. With all of these problems, Lowe points out that all of present-day Europe’s “hopes, aspirations, prejudices, and resentments” formed in these turbulent years following World War Two (Lowe, 376). As he concludes, “anyone who truly wants to understand Europe as it is today must first have an understanding of what occurred here during this crucial formative period” (Lowe, 376).
Lowe’s book is highly informative, and his argument is quite compelling. Lowe’s chapter by chapter analysis of the postwar years is nicely laid out, and his division of the book into four separate sections is very helpful in keeping the different themes discernible. This is very important since his book covers quite a bit of information in a relatively short amount of pages. In addition to these positive points, Lowe’s extensive reliance on primary source materials gives his argument a greater sense of validity and legitimacy as well. The pictures included within his book are also very interesting, as they help illustrate the violence and chaos that ensued during the postwar years. Additional photos, however, would have been a welcome addition to this book since there are only two sections dedicated to this aspect.
All in all, I give this book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to both scholars and general readers, alike. Anyone interested in a postwar history of Europe will find this to be a superb and well-researched book that is engaging from beginning to end.
Questions for Discussion
1.) What was the author's main argument/thesis? Did you find his argument to be persuasive? Why or why not?
2.) Who was Lowe's intended audience for this book? Can both scholars and a general audience appreciate the contents of this book?
3.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work? Could this work be improved in any way? If so, then how?
4.) Did you find this book to be engaging and easy to read?
5.) What did you learn from reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts described by Lowe?
6.) Were modern-Europe's "prejudices and resentments" truly formed in the postwar years as Lowe asserts?
Suggestions for Further Reading
Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Anchor Books, 2012.
Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
MacDonogh, Giles. After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation. New York: Basic Books, 2007.
Lowe, Keith. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (St. Martin’s Press: New York: 2012).