Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: The Seven Years' War in Europe

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to take a look at the most recent monograph on the Seven Years' War: Franz A. J. Szabo's The Seven Years' War in Europe. This book covers the European theatre of the pivotal conflict in the Kabinettskriege era.

Sadly, for the reader, Szabo does not begin his story in the Kabinettskriege era. Instead, he takes us to 1945, and the last days in the Fuhrer bunker, where Adolf Hitler sat and stared at a portrait of King Frederick II of Prussia. Throughout the book, Szabo attempts to lay the crimes of German militarism, and Nazi Germany, squarely on the shoulders of Frederick II. Szabo pulls no punches in his attacks on Frederick, and assaults range from his abilities as a monarch, and his skill as a general all the way down to his proficiency as a flute composer and poet. Even his dental hygiene is addressed. The fact of the matter is, Frederick was an eighteenth century monarch, with plans to expand his realm. In this way, he was more like Louis XIV than Hitler. Laying the crimes of Nazi Germany at Frederick's feet show that Szabo has failed to understand the context of eighteenth century society and warfare. Frederick II of Prussia was not a nice man, historian Christopher Duffy best describes him as "spiky." This does not mean he was a Nazi forerunner.

However, despite these crippling biases, Szabo creates a readable narrative of the events of the Seven Years' War. He clearly favors the Austrians, and this book might be seen as an attempt at apologetics from the Austrian standpoint.  His narrative is primarily political and economic, he falls in trouble when discussing social and military affairs. An excellent example of this is his discussion of the Battle of Sandershausen in 1758, where he misunderstands other secondary sources, and fails to give an accurate depiction of the battle.

The book clearly outlines the causes of war, moves on to the war itself, and ends with the conclusion of peace in 1763. According to Szabo, the allies failure to dismantle Prussia was a tragedy for European civilization, and led Germany in an inexorable path to 1945. However, he fails to clearly show how the legend of Frederick the Great was used in order to cause the rise of twentieth century Germany, as that would show that a variety of factors, not merely Frederick, caused the rise of Nazi Germany.

Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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  1. Thanks for the review. I've been thinking of buying this book, I think I will move it down my (mental) wants list.

  2. I quite enjoyed it, it's a useful corrective to the "Godlike Frederick" school, even if it could use a ration of salt.


  3. firemonkeyboy- Yes, I quite agree that those who worship Frederick need to be taken down a peg. However, abusing historical context is not the way to do it. Christopher Duffy presents a very realistic (and rather unlikable) Frederick in his "Military Life of Frederick the Great." Szabo seems to have a personal grudge, when, which taken with the other factual errors, make the book hard to like.