I have great admiration for Jenkins as a journalist; he has an annoying tendency to bring logic to arguments I’m viscerally inclined to oppose. In other words, he’s disturbingly convincing. Unfortunately, his razor-edged logic is not allowed to flourish in this book because it’s too short. He’s in too much of a hurry to pause and reflect. In addition, I’ve always felt that the mark of a really good short survey is if the author still finds room for telling detail — quirky little stories that reveal big truths. Sadly, there’s little of that here. This book fails to surprise.
He has written engagingly about English cathedrals and parish churches, but without much feeling for the faith which inspired their builders...one may choose to take issue with Jenkins on many matters... Never mind; the book is rich in such brief characterisations, usually vivid, quite often apposite. Indeed one of the many charms of Jenkins’ gallop across the centuries is his knack for the good quotation.
Jenkins, the former editor of The Times and chairman of the National Trust, has not written that book. Instead he has produced a whistle-stop tour of the most old-fashioned kind, all emperors, kings, wars and treaties, heavily weighted towards the continent’s west and particularly to England.
...Does Jenkins’s short history have a thesis? Not really. At the end he muses about the tension between the idea of European civilisation and the reality of European diversity, and suggests, plausibly enough, that the EU will only survive in the long run if it evolves into a “multi-tiered confederacy”. But most of his book is simply a gallop from one war to the next, very much along the lines of 1066 and All That’s “103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates”...But although most academics will surely hate it, I found Jenkins’s book impossible to dislike. He is an admirably polished and confident narrator, and even if he did dash it off in a couple of evenings, so what? We often complain that youngsters know little European history and have no sense of overall narrative, and it is unrealistic to expect millions of people to plough through all 1,300 pages of, say, Norman Davies’s Europe: A History. Old-fashioned it may be, but if you are looking for a Christmas present for a teenager who has never heard of Peter the Great, the Borgias or the Crimean War, this is the book for you.