gentle rereader

. . . rediscovering Jacques Barzun

Review of Europe Since 1914 by F. Lee Benns

Review of Europe Since 1914 by F. Lee Benns, The Historical Outlook, volume XXI [21], number 3 (March 1930), page 132.

Barzun opens this review with a broader consideration in history, one similar to the difficulty his father’s innovation in poetry addresses:

“All written history is forced to a choice of two evils, arising from the necessity of presenting consecutively events that take place simultaneously.  The choice is that between treating events chronologically to cover the given period and treating a single topic within the period, from beginning to end.  Now, in any history of the post-war era, which is from our close vision so full of important factors and incidents, the problem of giving a reasonably clear picture is magnified by multiplicity as much as by inter-relation.”  

Barzun praises the balance Benns achieves between the choices and points out additional merits:

“The treatment of the origins of the World War is ample testimony of the Indiana Professor’s impartiality.  Though clearly not an apostle of war as a purifying force in modern life, the author does not fallaciously advance militarism or any other factor as the single cause of the World struggle.  Likewise, though it is easy to perceive that Mr. Benns is not sympathetic to Socialist Revolutionaries, he concedes a goodly number of their leaders to have ability, and he gives an extremely fair account of their program and achievements.”

Barzun then makes a simple point that later Deconstructionists would blow up into an indeterminacy crisis:

“Mr. Benns’ history is admirably dispassionate, concise, and well-informed.  This is not to say that the author emits no opinions, makes no judgments.  Even the least inspired of writers is incapable of writing without saying something; and as soon as something is said, a judgment has been made or inferred.”

JB finds virtues in the 671-page Europe Since 1914 that he would later demonstrate himself in From Dawn to Decadence:

“Not one of the least merits of this volume is the complete brevity, or rather, brief completeness of many of its chapters.” 

His review next suggests improvements for a revised edition and closes:

“These few blemishes, perhaps the more apparent by reason of the excellence of the whole, should not blind the judicious reader to the outstanding merits of this clear, compact, and correct summary of the chief events and forces of the period from 1914 to the present.”

[Two typographic errors in The Historical Outlook printing of this review have been corrected in the quotations above:  ‘ratter’ to ‘rather’ and ‘bind’ to ‘blind’.]

2 thoughts on “Review of Europe Since 1914 by F. Lee Benns

  1. Zach H. on said:

    Thanks for the edifying posts. I hope this spring keeps active.

Responses welcomed. Courtesy appreciated.

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