Top Books: Europe 1500 - 1700

Just as some books examine a country or a region, others discuss the continent (or at least very large parts of it) as a whole. In such instances dates play a crucial factor in limiting the material; accordingly, these are my tops ten picks for pan-European books covering the years c.1500 - 1700.

Part of 'The Short Oxford History of the Modern World', Bonney's fresh and eloquent text contains narrative and thematic sections which include political, economic, religious and social discussion. The books geographical spread is excellent, including Russia and the Scandinavian countries, and when you add in a quality reading list, you have a superb volume.

Now in a second edition, this is a great textbook that can be bought cheaply second hand (assuming there isn’t a run on them two weeks after I post this.) Material is presented in several ways and the whole thing is accessible.


An excellent textbook whose material covers most, but not all, of Europe, Years of Renewal would be a perfect introduction for any reader. Definitions, timelines, maps, diagrams and reminders of the key issues accompany a simplified, but clear, text, while thought-provoking questions and documents are included. Some readers may find the suggested essay questions a little disturbing though!

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Sixteenth Century Europe 1500-1600 by Richard Mackenney

Sixteenth Century Europe 1500-1600 by Richard Mackenney
Sixteenth Century Europe 1500-1600 by Richard Mackenney. Fair Use
This is a quality pan-European survey of the region during one of its most revolutionary periods. While the usual topics of reformation and renaissance are covered, equally important factors such as population growth, the slowly transforming 'states' and overseas conquests are also included.
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Seventeenth Century Europe 1598-1700 by Thomas Munck

Seventeenth Century Europe 1598-1700 by Thomas Munck
Seventeenth Century Europe 1598-1700 by Thomas Munck. Fair Use
Subtitled 'State, Conflict and the Social Order in Europe', Munck's book is a sound, and largely thematic, survey of Europe in the seventeenth century. The structure of society, types of economy, cultures and beliefs are all covered. This book, along with pick 3, would make an excellent all-round introduction to the period.
'Handbook' may usually imply something slightly more practical than the study of history, but it's an apt description for this book. A glossary, detailed reading lists and timelines - covering histories of individual countries and certain large events - accompany a range of lists and charts. Essential ready reference for anyone dealing with European History (or going on a quiz show).

This book covers the whole period of this listing and demands inclusion. It's a superb history of the Reformation and religion during the period which spreads a very wide net and fills the 800+ pages with great detail. If you have the time, this is the one to go for when it comes to the Reformation, or just a different angle to the period.


This book, a historical classic, is now being republished under Longman's 'silver' series of famous texts. Unlike other volumes in the series, this work is still a valid and comprehensive introduction to the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mixing analysis and narrative on a broad range of subjects.
The three hundred years of 1300 - 1600 are traditionally understood as the transition between 'medieval' and 'early modern'. Nicholas discusses the changes that took place across Europe in this period, examining continuity and new developments alike. A large range of themes and topics are discussed, while material is arranged for readers who wish to use the usual c.1450 division.
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Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy, 1000 - 1700

This concise mixture of economics and social history, which examines the developing social structure and financial/mercantile structures of Europe, is useful either as a history of the period or a vital primer to the effects of the Industrial Revolution. Technological, medical and ideological developments are also discussed.

On a list of books about the Early Modern period you have to include one about the foundations, right? Well, this is a brief book which provides a good introduction to a complicated era, but it’s not a book without criticism (such as economic factors). But when you have less than 250 pages to inspire a study of this era, you can’t do much better.


Henry Kamen has written some great books on Spain, and in this he roams across Europe looking at many aspects of society. Crucially, there’s coverage of Eastern Europe too, even Russia, which you might not be expecting. The writing is at university level.

Did you know there was a general crisis in the seventeenth century? Well, a historical debate has emerged over the past twenty-five years suggesting that the multitude and range of troubles between 1600 and 1700 deserves to be called a 'general crisis'. This book collects ten essays exploring various aspects of the debate, and the crises in question.
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The Parliaments of Early Modern Europe by M.A.R. Graves

The era of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was crucial in the formation and development of modern government and parliamentary institutions. Graves' text provides a broad history of the constitutional assembly in early modern Europe, as well as informative case-studies, which includes some systems that didn't survive.