Geert Mak possesses the understanding of an historian, the concision of a journalist, the curiosity of a traveller and the concerns of a European. The book tells the tale of twentieth century Europe through the key places which marked the last troubled century: from Vienna to Sarajevo passing through Predappio, Guernica, Auschwitz, Stalingrad, Nuremberg, Gdansk, Chernobyl, Srebrenica and many others.
Each place is inspiration for a reflection on one of the markers which shaped European identity. Vichy, for example, is the point of departure for an analysis of French attitudes towards collaboration, which stands in stark contrast with the imaginary grandeur portrayed through the microphones of BBC by De Gaulle from the other side of the strait. The dockyard of Gdansk tells the tale of today's hopeful Poland, of its painful transition and of Western snobbism. Barcelona reminds of the western experiment of proletarian revolution, the Spanish civil war and the internal sabotage in the Republican front due to the opposition by Stalinists to the activities of POUM anarchists.
The projection of memories in the present leaves a mixed feeling. Although Europe has learnt a number of lessons, and has reached its most important goal - peace - it still seems ill-suited to take on its shoulders greater responsibilities. The reference to Joseph Roth's Hotel Savoy is a polite reminder that the help of Mr Bloomfield - alias the US - might not be so readily available in the future. With the project of the single market now exhausted, the strengthening (or creation) of the European demos is an obliged passage if Europe does not want to end up as the fragmented and irrelevant power of the 21st century.