The 9 Best Books About European History

Explore the highlights of the continent's history.

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While many history books focus on a limited area, such as the Vietnam War, other texts examine far broader subjects, and there are plenty of volumes narrating Europe's past from prehistory until today. While lacking in detail, these books provide valuable insights into long-term development while avoiding the often nation-centric interpretations of shorter studies.

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Europe: A History by Norman Davies

Book cover for "Europe: A History"


This massive tome, which registers well over a thousand pages, explains the history of Europe from the ice age until the late 1990s, in an easily read and wholly entertaining style. An extensive appendix, containing maps and charts of information, creates a useful reference source. This best-selling work has been criticized for a bias towards Poland, but this corrects merely a deficiency in the genre.

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The Penguin History of Europe by J. M. Roberts

The shorter alternative to Davies' work (at half the size, but not half the price), this Penguin history stretches from the first peoples in Europe to the late nineteen-nineties. A selection of maps and chronologies are liberally scattered throughout the text, which is erudite and balanced.

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The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism by Longworth

With one eye on explaining the current conflicts and complications in Eastern Europe, Longworth examines the region through, well, prehistory to post-communism! Necessarily sweeping in tone, but very illuminating, this is a marvelous example of why too narrow a focus can damage real understanding. Note: aim for the revised and updated edition that includes a new chapter.

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The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst

This extended version of The Shortest History (it adds the world wars amongst other things), is an investment you can’t lose on. It takes only an afternoon to read the sub two hundred pages, so no real loss if you don’t like it. But if you do, you’ll find broad themes and an impressive view that can be either a starting point or a comparison.

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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies

 Courtesy of Amazon

Norman Davies specializes in the history of Eastern Europe, a fascinating region often absent in Anglocentric texts. In Vanished Kingdoms, he roams across the European continent to pick out states that don’t exist on modern maps and are often missing in the popular consciousness: Burgundy for example. He’s also a thrilling companion.

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A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present by John Merriman

The period of the Renaissance to the present is the bulk of many European history courses in the English language world. It’s big, packs in a lot, and the single author ties things together better than many multi-author works.

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Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present by Brendan Simms

If you’ve studied the ‘Renaissance to today’ timescale of much modern teaching, perhaps with Merriman’s book that’s on this list, Simms offers a themed look at the same era, only the theme is conquest, domination, struggle, and faction. You don’t have to agree with it all, but there’s plenty to think about, and it’s a strong work.

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Revolution and the Revolutionary Tradition in the West 1560–1991

A compilation of eight essays, each discussing a different incident of revolution within Europe, including the British and French uprisings, the collapse of the USSR, and, as an example of events born from Europe, the American Revolution. Exploring ideologies alongside political developments, this is suitable for students and experts.

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Monarchy, Aristocracy and State in Europe 1300–1800 by Hillary Zamora

Focusing mainly on the changing relationships between monarchy, government, and elites in Western and Central Europe, this book covers, not just five hundred years of history, but a crucial subject in the creation of our modern day world.

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Editors, ThoughtCo. "The 9 Best Books About European History." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2022, Editors, ThoughtCo. (2022, August 25). The 9 Best Books About European History. Retrieved from Editors, ThoughtCo. "The 9 Best Books About European History." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 29, 2023).