Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century is a nonfiction book by Mark Mazower. The central theme of the book is struggle for unity in the continent of Europe during the 20th century, an era which saw two world wars initiated there. The book traces the path to precarious unity across a history of wars, revolutions, and political tensions. Mazower examines multiple cases of non-unifying events, such as wars and also explores the complex geopolitical tensions between various European countries. The title of the book itself evokes images of the Black Plague and the Dark Ages, and depicts Europe as a tribalistic—which is the basis of modern Europe's constant nationalist uprisings—and violent continent.

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This is in direct contradiction to romantic images and notions of Europe, such as those depicted in travel photography today. Beneath the beautiful castles, charming cities, and luxurious architecture are primitive violence and political tensions. The feudal Europe of the past was seemingly still alive in the 20th century, and the book attempts to explore these deep-seated tensions, which led to historical atrocities such as the Holocaust, the massacres of Polish peoples, the Cold War, both world wars, and the internal conflicts that split up the Balkan states.

Another theme is the "battle" of political and economic ideologies within Europe. For instance, Mazower shows the effects of communism, fascism, socialism, and capitalism within specific countries of Europe, and how it affected the continent as a whole. It was these bitter conflicts between ideologies that contributed substantially to violence, oppression, and the detriment of European unity.

The book also examines the influence of outside forces in European affairs, such as world powers like the United States, a country that gained its current power ranking during the 20th century. In fact, nations such as the United States benefited greatly from the conflicts in Europe, the primary examples being World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. The most recent major conflict in Europe, the Bosnian War, illustrated the fragility of European unity. The book is relevant even in the present-day, as Brexit and questions about the organizational structure of the European Union come to the surface.

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