Geert Mak's In Europe is a masterpiece. It's not a complete and exhaustive account of the 20th
century in Europe; instead, it reads in the form of a travelogue as Mak visits some of the significant places
where events took place - for example, Sarajevo and Berlin. Rather than being a dry and dusty recounting of facts, it
is a warm, readable insight into some of the people and events so pivotal in
Europe's history. Mak finds vignettes of events which illustrate the whole, interviewing people who, although unnoticed players in history, have their own insight into events and their own experiences of how things affected them.
a volume of high-quality prose (and translation, too), the author distills complex events into fascinating pieces of writing, and he regularly personalizes situations that otherwise could seem too vague. I was particularly moved by the chapters on the First World War, where he quotes various young men who were part of the fighting on both sides and shows that, for the individuals involved in the war, events were seen very differently from those in charge.
Mak often quotes short untranslated German phrases which could cause some trouble for those who don't speak German.
However, most other languages receive some kind of translation where they occur.
In Europe is a big book and not something that you want to read through continuously. I found myself dipping into it on a regular basis,
three to four chapters at a time, and I always enjoyed it. I was previously
unaware of some of the history chronicled in Mak's book, such as Lenin's return by train to Russia, and I was continually amazed that one man could have put the work together and
weaved the threads of events into coherent wholes. Few illustrations grace this book (mainly maps showing his travels in each section), but his wordsmith craft paints vivid enough pictures to make this book well worth the reading and a genuine triumph.