PRINT December 1978


La Belle Epoque: Fifteen Euphoric Years of European History

LA BELLE EPOQUE: FIFTEEN Euphoric Years of European History (Morrow) is a different matter entirely, although it covers a lot of the same territory, concerned as it is with European society and culture between 1900 and 1914. This is a rather more old-fashioned sort of book, for artistic purposes at least, than Jean Clay’s, in that art becomes a kind of mood music for the telling of a story that amounts essentially to social history. Things can get too anecdotal as well, in a way that is distracting rather than mnemonically useful. But there is a lot of interesting art here, and the historical discussions—in the form of seven essays on various themes, each by an expert in a different field, plus an introduction and a fascinatingly detailed chronology—also serve up generous quantities of information. The strengths and weaknesses of this approach are little different from the many television documentaries that are well made in that they inspire curiosity in nonexperts, but where all information sifts through our fingers so quickly that any broad comprehension—just what we were after—is out of reach. Still, if this is entertainment, it is entertainment on a high level.

Joseph Masheck