Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

Keith Lowe

Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

The Second World War might have officially ended in May 1945, but in reality it rumbled on for another 10 years ... Across Europe, landscapes had been ravaged, entire cities razed and more than 35 million people had been killed in the war. The institutions that we now take for granted - such as the police, the media, transport, local and national government - were either entirely absent or hopelessly compromised. Crime rates were soaring, economies collapsing, and the European population was hovering on the brink of starvation. In this book, Keith Lowe describes a continent still racked by violence, where large sections of the population had yet to accept that the war was over. He outlines the warped morality and the insatiable urge for vengeance that were the legacy of the conflict. He describes the ethnic cleansing and civil wars that tore apart the lives of ordinary people from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean, and the establishment of a new world order that finally brought stability to a shattered generation. 4.4 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History
Format Hardback
Pages 480
RRP
Date of Publication April 2012
ISBN 978-0670917464
Publisher Viking
 

The Second World War might have officially ended in May 1945, but in reality it rumbled on for another 10 years ... Across Europe, landscapes had been ravaged, entire cities razed and more than 35 million people had been killed in the war. The institutions that we now take for granted - such as the police, the media, transport, local and national government - were either entirely absent or hopelessly compromised. Crime rates were soaring, economies collapsing, and the European population was hovering on the brink of starvation. In this book, Keith Lowe describes a continent still racked by violence, where large sections of the population had yet to accept that the war was over. He outlines the warped morality and the insatiable urge for vengeance that were the legacy of the conflict. He describes the ethnic cleansing and civil wars that tore apart the lives of ordinary people from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean, and the establishment of a new world order that finally brought stability to a shattered generation.

Reviews

The Daily Express

Christopher Silvester

This is a grim but powerful book. The fact that much of the vengeance was understandable does not reduce the horror of it. Lowe marshals all the elements of the story with cool even-handedness, especially where statistics are concerned, and explains how subsequent generations have manipulated the historical record to suit their own purposes, either to diminish their guilt or demonise others.

13/04/2012

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The Financial Times

Peggy Hollinger

Lowe recounts this story of chaos with a grinding relentlessness. He is meticulous in putting events in context. But by far his greatest achievement is to remind those who did not live through that maelstrom of violence and lawlessness of the miraculous nature of today’s Europe. Whatever their flaws, the institutions of the European Union have been a remarkable force for peace and stability. Doubters need only pick up Savage Continent.

30/03/2012

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The Scotsman

Michael Pye

Keith Lowe’s book is unbearable, but it’s essential: a serious account of things we never knew and our fathers would rather forget. He thinks clearly, researches assiduously and his transparent prose makes it difficult to look away from a whole catalogue of horrors; but he’s careful to establish what we can be sure did happen which keeps the horror well away from pornography. The result is appalling and cool all at once and you won’t sleep afterwards.

07/04/2012

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The Sunday Times

Dominic Sandbrook

All of this makes for deeply harrowing reading, not simply because almost every page contains some new atrocity, but because we have been conditioned to see the second world war as a uniquely virtuous crusade against the evil Germans … To his credit, Lowe never indulges in cheap moral judgments; as he points out, the desire for revenge was both instinctive and understandable, however disturbing we might find it today.

18/03/2012

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The Spectator

Paul Johnson

It is a complex story and he tells it, on the whole, very well.

24/03/2012

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The Independent

Brendan Simms

Excellent ... Lowe's vivid descriptions of Europeans scrambling for scraps of food, rampant theft and "destruction of morals" are a timely reminder that a certain humility is in order when we look at less fortunate continents today. The author is also right to remind us, with respect to current travails in Iraq and Afghanistan, just how long it took to rebuild Europe and for democracy to take root — or to return. That said, Lowe could perhaps have said more about the Europeans who emerged from the war with a new and uplifting vision: that the only way for the continent to prevent this from happening again, and to realise its full potential, was to chart a course towards greater unity.

13/04/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Ian Thomson

Remarkable … Savage Continent, grimly absorbing, conveys the pity of war and its sorry aftermath with integrity and proper sympathy.

04/04/2012

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The Literary Review

Alan Allport

Lowe’s claim that his story ‘has never properly been written’ is not altogether convincing. Much that he has to say — about the physical destruction of the continent’s cities and infrastructure, the liberation of Jewish prisoners from the death camps, and the plight of former slave labourers and prisoners of war — has been said before. All the same, Lowe has an arresting narrative voice, and his account of some of the lesser-known horrors of the period makes Savage Continent a powerful and worthy addition to the literature on Europe’s harrowing postwar rebirth. Lowe is particularly strong on the episodes of revenge meted out to the defeated Germans across the liberated territories of central and eastern Europe.

01/04/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Michael Burleigh

Germans as victims recur many times in Lowe’s vivid account. He mostly avoids the fashionably relativist approach in which Germans are as much sinned against as sinning ... The chapter on Hope is brief. We needed to learn more about the efforts of relief agencies and a remarkable generation of American and European leaders who gave Giuseppe at Fiat and Jürgen at BMW something worth living for.

16/04/2012

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The New Statesman

Richard Overy

Lowe says that this is a story that needs to be told and he hopes it will generate debate. But this is perhaps appropriate only for a British readership, which is more likely to take the end of the war as a real caesura ... in the end, it has to be asked: what purpose is served by a depressingly graphic narrative of the Hobbesian world inhabited by millions of Europeans in 1945? ... What matters is not the knowledge of the full and terrible reality but the use to which that knowledge has been put and continues to be put.

03/04/2012

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