European history audio books
This is the second in a series of recommended audiobooks. This one focuses on the history of continental Europe.
Recommended for everyone
The World’s Weirdest People: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. By Joseph Henrich. Reported by Korey Jackson. Although this book is global in scope, much of the action takes place in Europe. “WEIRD” stands for “western, educated, industrialized, wealthy and democratic”. If you are reading this article, you are probably WEIRD, and compared to most humans past and present, you are therefore weird.
As the author explains, the social sciences have long worked with the misunderstanding that almost all of human psychology can be generalized. So, studies of the most available subjects for psychology experiments – namely American undergraduates, a very WEIRD group – we thought were instructive about human psychology in general. On the contrary, modern Westerners are very different psychologically from most humans throughout history. They are much more individualistic, open to new experiences and ready to trust strangers. While most of the world operates on a culture of shame (your actions dishonor your clan), the West operates on guilt (an internal sense of wrongdoing). So an average person, no one in Pakistan, would feel ashamed to eat a tub of ice cream in private, while the same act creates intense guilt in some Westerners. Is accidentally taking a stranger’s briefcase on a train morally different from intentionally taking someone else’s briefcase? Westerners think the answer is absolutely yes, but most other humans, past and present, don’t.
Tracing the strange development of the West through centuries of history and a mountain of social science research, Henrich traces the origins of WEIRD psychology to the Catholic Church’s ban on cousin marriages. We now know that cousin prohibition is not science-based, in the sense of reducing birth defects. But the Church’s ban on marriage, even between very distant cousins, forced people to marry outside the extended clan, and thus begin to build trusted social networks with outsiders. This laid the foundation for many other psychological changes.
In the audiobook you can’t see the author’s many graphs and charts, but I was okay with only the narrative descriptions of those. This book reminded me a lot of Jonah Goldberg. The Suicide of the Westwhich examines the decline of civilizational values and the regression to tribalism in contemporary Western politics, particularly in the United States.
Berlin Diary: The Diary of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941. By William Shirer. Narrated by Tom Weiner. In the mid-twentieth century, radio journalist William Shirer brought an in-depth analysis of current affairs to the American public. His first great book, Berlin newspaperpresented his first-hand accounts of Germany’s descent into Nazi madness.
End of a Berlin Diary: The Berlin Diary Series, Volume 2. By William Shirer. Reported by Grover Gardner. After the war ended in Europe, Shirer covered the San Francisco conference that created the United Nations. He then returned to Germany. Shirer found that the German people fully accepted their defeat but not their responsibility. Instead, they blamed Hitler for not listening to his generals. Based on the earliest troves of captured Nazi documents, Shirer discovered that Hitler had been planning the war all along; he had rejected Mussolini’s idea of starting the war five years later. In Hitler’s eyes, he was the indispensable personality for German military aggression.
The Collapse of the Third Republic: Investigating the Fall of France in 1940. By William Shirer. Reported by Grover Gardner. The history of the collapse of the great republics is not one that modern Americans can afford to ignore. Shirer begins his story with the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870, and the reader learns much about the worsening problems of the Republic long before Hitler took control of Germany in 1933. Shirer details the madness of much of the French political class, the evil of some of them (like Pierre Laval, who worked hard to kill the ailing Republic), and the blatant military incompetence and failure of government leadership Frenchmen during Hitler’s six-week blitzkrieg that conquered France in the spring of 1940. , Shirer blames the downfall of France on the French people, who had been so exhausted by World War I and then political war that he lacked the will to fight to save himself.
Learn more about World War II
Hitler’s American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany’s March to World War. By Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman. Narrated by Damian Lynch. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11. Many historians have argued that Hitler would have been wiser to let Japan and the United States fight in the Pacific, while Hitler focused on the British and Soviets in Europe. Hitler’s American Bet intensively covers events in Berlin, London, Moscow, Tokyo and Washington in the crucial days between Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor and the US counter-declaration of war on Germany on December 11. Despite Winston Churchill’s later bravado, the British were terrified that Lend-Lease aid would be reduced as America devoted its military resources to stopping Imperial Japan.
Hitler’s decision to go to war against America was far from impulsive. The United States and Germany were already engaged in a de facto limited naval war in the Atlantic, as Hitler attempted to sink ships heading for Britain. In his view, defeating the British required cutting their naval lifeline, which meant unrestricted submarine warfare against transatlantic shipping. Moreover, he considered a second Japanese front against the Western allies a great boon, and he let the Japanese know that if they attacked the Western powers, including European colonies in Asia, he would join them.
A bridge too far. By Cornelius Ryan. Reported by Clive Chafer. In August 1944, the German army on the Western Front was on the verge of collapse. The Allies hatched a daring plan to end the war before Christmas: British paratroopers would seize the Rhine crossing at Arnhem, the Netherlands. British tanks and infantry fight their way north to join them at Arnhem. The bridges on the way to Arnhem would be captured and held by American paratroopers. If the Allies could cross Arnhem and penetrate the northern German plain, they would have a clear path to Berlin. But the Germans were able to replenish their forces just in time. They slowed the advance of the British Army long enough to wipe out the paratroopers near Arnhem. The failure of the Allies’ Operation Market-Garden, from September 17 to 25, 1944, is still debated today by military historians. Cornelius Ryan’s 1974 epic book, later turned into a beautiful epic movie, is still as enjoyable as ever.
The Battle of Arnhem: the deadliest airborne operation of World War II. By Anthony Beevor. Narrated by Sean Barrett. Beevor’s 2018 bookmines previously overlooked military records to provide new Market-Garden information, including the experiences of the Dutch.
Although the Ryan and Beevor print books have maps, the audiobooks do not and you will need a map to follow the story. Maps are available, among other places, at War history site.
How to ruin it all
Six Months That Changed the World: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919. By Margaret MacMillan. Reported by Margaret MacMillan. The Versailles peace conference after World War I is widely blamed for helping to bring about World War II, and its ill effects are still present today. How did conference leaders end up making such catastrophic decisions? Read this deeply researched book and find out.
The Russian Revolution. By Richard Pipes. Narrated by Michael Page. As bad as the Versailles conference was, nothing in the 20th century would lead to as much death and misery as the Bolshevik coup in Russia in November 1917. In this massive work of more than 41 hours, Richard Pipes, the one of Russia’s foremost Western scholars, describes the decades of failed government that paved the way for the Bolsheviks, including the reformers’ failure to establish a functioning constitutional monarchy.
The Bolsheviks could not have taken power without the resolute and ruthless leadership of Lenin, one of the most evil and successful men of the century. The Democratic Socialists who had overthrown the Tsar in March 1917 were fully aware that the Bolsheviks intended to seize power and exterminate democracy and the democrats. But the Russian Democratic Socialists were incompetent, misguided, and too timid to face mortal peril. The Bolsheviks were always a small militant minority, lacking popular support even among the workers’ councils (“soviets”) on whose behalf they claimed to act.
The advent of the Terror in the French Revolution. By Timothy Tackett. Narrated by Michael Page. An in-depth examination of how a revolution that began on the basis of human rights escalated into totalitarian state terrorism. Short answer: the revolution really had a lot of internal enemies who wanted a restoration of the monarchy, and the revolutionaries became so engrossed in factional fighting that they confused disagreement with disloyalty.
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. By Serhii Plokhy. Reported by Ralph Lister. An excellent one-volume investigation into the history of this long-troubled region, beginning with the Black Sea colonies of the ancient Greeks, through to the 2014 Ukrainian Maidan revolution against the Russian-controlled oligarchy. You will learn how what we today call “Russian” culture actually started in Kyiv; the complexities of the many ethnic groups in Ukraine; the history of the Russian, Polish and Austrian Empire’s efforts to exploit ethnic divisions to govern parts of Ukraine; the nation’s brief independence after World War I; the horrors of Tsarist, Nazi and Soviet domination; and stories of Ukrainians who collaborated and those who resisted.