Kershaw...again demonstrates his enviable capacity for lucid analysis and does not waste words. This is the book to go to if you want an authoritative and concise account of the playing out of the Cold War, Europe’s “economic miracle” in the 1950s and 1960s, social democracy in Western Europe, the growth of resistance to Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe, cultural shocks such as the arrival of rock’n’roll, the student rebellions of the 1960s and much more. This is a remarkable pan-European survey, and one can only admire the vast range of scholarship lightly worn.
At times, Kershaw seems to take the primacy of politics too far: more culture and more voices would have been welcome, but his ability to bring together complex stories from Portugal to Ukraine to create a coherent history of transformation is impressive. As in his previous work, he emphasises Germany as the continent’s fulcrum, now the “vital pillar of stable liberal democracy”... Kershaw is too wise to predict the future, noting that “the only certainty is uncertainty”: disruptive technology and the environmental cost of earlier growth already present clear challenges. In writing this book, he reflects: “I have learnt immeasurably more than I knew before about the events and changes that have shaped my life.” There are few greater tasks for our confusing and myopic age than to understand how and why we have come to be where we are now.
Kershaw’s canvas is vast, for his Europe includes the former Soviet Union. Although his main themes are political and economic, he tries to cover social, scientific and cultural history too, and I fear that he has bitten off rather more than he or his readers can chew. His desire to include absolutely everything means we are given just enough detail to whet the appetite for more, but more is not delivered.
this cannot have been an easy book to write, given its scope, and most readers will learn something from it... For the most part, Kershaw is reasonable and the values in his analysis sensible. If anyone already wants to relive the often depressing events of our lifetime, his book has all one needs to do so, but the reader should not forget that jury is still, as the cliché has it, out.
There is very little thrilling or surprising in Kershaw’s bland, split-screen account of the evolution of Western and Eastern Europe (until the fall of the Berlin Wall reunited the continent), partly because Sir Ian, a leading member of the Anglo-German Left Establishment, has too omniscient a view to convey the grubby realities of business, the media and politics after a lifetime in the academy. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm gets four times as many mentions as The Sun, the most widely read newspaper in Britain.
Roller-Coaster brings a perspective to bear that deftly weaves national histories into an all-European tapestry stretching from Portugal to Poland, and into Russia. This is the book’s most impressive achievement — a far cry from the encapsulated histories we learnt in school... So teachers of contemporary European history should rejoice. Roller-Coaster will help to close a gaping lacuna in their syllabuses.