Between Two Fires: A Review Essay, Research Paper
David Clay Large, Between Two Fires: Europe’s Path in the 1930s (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990).
David Clay Large wrote an interesting account of the situation in Europe during the 1930s. His account was interesting for three reasons that will be discussed throughout this review. Firstly, his purpose was clear and he managed to follow it throughout the book. Secondly, his organizational structure was logical, appropriate and well designed. Finally, his innovative approach to a conclusion tied things together for his reader and allowed them to think about the ideas that he presented in the body of the work in a new manner. All in all, this book provides a useful overview of Europe in the 1930s as seen from several different geographical and thematic standpoints.
In the "Introduction" of Between Two Fires: Europe’s Path in the 1930s Large outlines the topics he plans to deal with in the rest of the book. Large introduces his eight topics and then deals with them in the following eight chapters (13-22). An introduction is supposed to do exactly this and so, normally it would be unworthy of a mention. This case, however, is rare because Large actually does in the rest of the book what he said he was going to do in the Introduction.
Between Two Fires was organized, as was mentioned above, into eight chapters that dealt with various aspects of Europe in the 1930s. It does so from both a thematic and a geographical standpoint as was outlined in Large’s "Introduction." Chapter One, entitled "Down with the Robbers!" is about the Stavisky Affair and the last days of the Third Republic in France (23). Chapter Two, "The Death of Red Vienna" deals with the Austrian Civil War (59). Chapter Three is called "The Night of the Long Knives" and discusses Nazi Germany and the Blood Purge of 1934 (101). Chapter Four, "Revenge for Adowa" explores Italy and the beginnings of the Ethiopian conflict (138). Chapter Five concentrates on the Northeast of Britain during the Great Depression and is titled "’Red Ellen’ Wilkinson and the Jarrow Crusade" (180). Chapter Six delivers an account of the Spanish Civil War and of the destruction of Guernica. It is given the rather lackadaisical title of "Death in the Afternoon" (223). Chapter Seven, "The Revolution Eats Its Children" discusses Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937 (267). And finally, Chapter Eight is called "Peace For Our Time" and covers the policy of Appeasement and the Munich Conference (317). He then offers an epilogue discussing the more modern aspects of these events (364). An introduction, eight chapters, eight topics and an epilogue provide a perfectly balanced and well-organized approach that would be an asset to any history book.
A book that had been about 1930s European intrigue, conflict, hatred, imperialism, the Depression, communism or appeasement would not have been as engaging to the reader as Large’s book. The same would be true of a book that was simply about France, Austria, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Spain or the USSR in the 1930s. He discusses all these themes and all these places but does so in such an intriguing way. For example, he explains Stalin-style Communism and the situation in Russia with an example rather than with just a boring theoretical discussion of Stalin’s policies (267-316). This manner of organization and overall approach to history made this book both interesting and readable.
It is the more modern aspects of Europe found in the "Epilogue" which provide the feature that make this book truly outstanding. In this section Large takes another look at all the topics he explored in the earlier chapters and draws some interesting connections. For instance, he discussed the policy of Appeasement in Chapter Eight and he looks at the long-term effects of such a policy in the late Twentieth Century (379-81). He connects it to the hard-line taken against aggressors in the conflicts like that of the Suez Crisis, the Korean War and the war in Vietnam (379). An interesting approach, such as this, is welcome and finishes the book with some intriguing ideas that invite the reader to think about how events are related as opposed to a dry conclusion that tells the reader what to think.
If one gives thought to the manner in which a history book should end, Large’s format is probably what would come to mind. He started with a firm foundation in the past. He clearly communicated that foundation to his readers so that they could move on together thus enabling them to connect that past with their collective present. It is much easier to understand a concept if it is related to something contemporary with which the reader can easily identify. Thus, Large’s "Epilogue" is not only the most interesting part of the book it is perhaps the most vital because of its contribution to the reader’s fuller understanding of the implications of the topic.
Large took a series of events in various European countries and employed them to provide an overall look at the larger themes in Europe during the 1930s. He achieved the goal he set in the "Introduction" and his method of explanation and description was very effective. His logical organizational structure allowed the reader to know where they were going and to recognize their destination when they arrived there. These factors combine to make the book interesting, especially when they are considered along with his inclusion of the much-mentioned "Epilogue." Large took a topic that was potentially very dull and dry and turned it into something more interesting and ultimately more useful than a purely theoretical discussion could ever hope to be.