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The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy, by Peter H. Wilson

Cambridge, Ma: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011. Pp. xxii, 997. Illus., maps. notes, index. $22.50 paper. ISBN: 0674062310.

Prof. Wilson (Hull), author of German Armies: War and German Society, 1648-1806, The Holy Roman Empire 1495-1806, and other works on the history of Central Europe, gives us the first comprehensive account of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in many years. 

Wilson’s look at the war, which may to have inflicted greater devastation on Germany than that of 1939-1945, differs from most earlier treatments in several ways.  He spends more than a third of his account looking at the political, cultural, religious, and military background of the war.  He then plunges into the struggle, shifting easily from diplomacy and high politics to battlefield and siege, while giving hard looks at the economic, cultural, and, of course, human costs of the war, with millions perishing, primarily from plague or hunger.  In a revisionist treatment, Wilson notes that it was not primarily a religious war, nor did it destroy the Holy Roman Empire as a political force, and points out that, though fought primarily in the Empire, directly or indirectly it involved nearly every country in Europe, and that it helped set the stage for the rise of France as the major player in European affairs. 

There is much more, and Wilson’s work is a significant contribution to the literature on the war and will certainly be the standard work on the subject for decades to come.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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