The Distorted Past: Re-interpretation of Europe

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This book turns the received wisdom of European history inside out. From discussions of the Gothic, Hun and Vandal invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire, through other great events and issues of European history, Josep Fontana re-examines the traditional acceptance of such ideas as classical heritage, medieval Christendom, reformation and counter-reformation, absolutism and the idea of progress. At the same time he draws attention to the existence and validity of dissidence, rebellion and variety which are, for him, identifying marks of Europe.From the time of the Ancient Greeks, the European peoples have defined themselves with a sense of superiority by comparing their societies, cultures and traditions with those of their neighbors and with communities encountered further afield. These others were (and sometimes still are) described by Europeans as less civilized, primitive or barbaric. Yet Europe was in reality very far from possessing the distinct and elevated identity of its self-image: indeed the author goes further, for he contends that the persistence of the illusion, enshrined in standard European history, has wide-ranging implications for how European societies both perceive their present and understand their past.Throughout the book, the author takes into account recent historical trends and debates. This is a remarkable blend of synthesis and scholarship vividly brought to life by constant incident and exemplification. The result is an inspired reassessment of Europe's history.