Reviews on Two New Releases

Discussion in 'Reviews' started by Adam's Apple, Dec 18, 2004.

  1. Adam's Apple

    Adam's Apple Senior Member

    Apr 25, 2004
    Thanks Received:
    Trophy Points:
    Might be of interest to some participants on this board.

    Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West
    • Author: Timothy Garton Ash
    • Publisher: Random House
    • Price: $24.95

    United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy
    • Author: T.R. Reid
    • Publisher: Penguin Press
    • Price: $25.95

    Reviewed by Russell Merryhart for The Indianapolis Star December 18, 2004

    Speaking at Oxford University in November, French President Jacques Chirac said that Europe and the U.S. share a link so strong that it "cannot be challenged by anybody."

    His comments are a testament to the strong historical and economic links between Europe and America. But even if our bonds are strong, our roles are far from settled. What is the European Union, and where is it going? What should the relationship be between the U.S. and the EU?

    Two new books address these questions from different approaches. United States of Europe by T.R. Reid is an engaging, reader-friendly primer to the EU. Free World by Timothy Garton Ash is a more probing analysis of the relationship between the U.S., Britain and the rest of Europe. While Reid argues that the European Union is now a superpower, Garton Ash accepts that it is and asks what will become of the West.

    Reid conveys two basic points:
    1. The EU is special, and we need to understand it better.
    2. The EU is eclipsing the U.S. in everything but defense spending.

    United States of Europe is written for an American audience. The former London bureau chief for The Washington Post maintains a steady flow of informative discourse on history and economics, but also brings the new Europe to life. Although the chapter on the euro, the new European currency, explains why it was developed and how it increases economic efficiency, Reid knows we are equally interested in more human questions: How the heck did a whole continent go from 12 currencies to one?

    Each chapter addresses a different aspect of the EU's development, ranging from how many U.S. brands are now owned by European companies, to its social welfare model, to "Generation E," the youth who consider themselves more European than Swedish or Italian. The development of the EU can be summed up as "more people, more wealth, and more trade." That equals more power and prominence, as is evident in the dollar's recent freefall in value against the euro and the transferral of Bosnian peacekeeping from NATO to EU control.

    One of the difficulties of reading Free World is that it expects some knowledge of European history and culture. Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford, is writing on a different level from Reid. Where Reid reports, Garton Ash speculates. But while Reid achieves exactly what he set out to do, Garton Ash is inchoate and tentative.

    The Madrid bombing and 9/11 became a crisis of the West when nations fell apart over how to fight terrorism. The West, Garton Ash believes, can lead the way to a free world, but time is limited.

    A major focus of Free World is the role of Britain as a bridge between the U.S. and the EU. The focus on Britain, and the West in general, is unconvincing when Garton Ash discusses the future of the free world. He should have spent more time on emerging democracies in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, but treats them merely as peripheral nations to be managed by the West. He claims he is writing for "all humanity" but assumes the EU and U.S. act upon a passive rest of the world. He squeezes in a few concrete ideas near the end, but his suggestions for solving "the unfreedom of poverty," for example, are not very original.

    U.S. foreign policy is a divisive issue in Europe. Reid even created a special index to measure the level of anti-Americanism in each European country. He believes that the EU is defined in part by being "not the United States of America," and that "one clear result of the unification of Europe is that the gap between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean is growing wider every day." Garton Ash is not so eager to jump to that conclusion, although he also has a chapter titled "Europe as Not-America."

    Garton Ash and Reid agree that although the U.S. and the EU are both in turmoil, they face very different debates. As Garton Ash writes, "America is divided by a great argument about itself. Europe is divided by a great argument about America, which is, however, also a symptom of Europe trying to make sense of its own transformation."

    United States of Europe is an excellent guide to understanding Europe, from which one can proceed to the more complex "Free World."

Share This Page