August 10th, 2012Exploring European Historyby Joseph Pearce

Continuing my occasional practice of publishing my private correspondence with those who have written to me requesitng advice, I'm publishing an e-mail from a lady that I met at last week's Chesterton Conference. She is interested in specific periods of German, French and Italian history. Although I am certainly not an expert in the study of these periods, I  list some books from my own personal library that might be of help. I'm also forwarding her e-mail to three historians who specialize in these periods. If any visitors to the Ink Desk have other suggestions, please feel free to add them in the combox.


Here's the relevant part of the e-mail (my reply follows):  


I enjoyed meeting you and hearing you talk at the American Chesterton convention.I’m just writing to remind you of our talk about tracking down general interest Catholic histories, particularly those that deal with the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and Latin America.


I found an extraordinarily good author—E. E. Y. Hales, a fellow Englishman— who covers the topics I’m most interested in: It was in reading some of his books that I realized the degree to which important conflicts within the Church are airbrushed from secular histories.Some of his book titles include: The Catholic Church in the Modern World (1789 to 1970), Revolution and Papacy, 1769-1846, and Napoleon and Pius VII, plus biographies of Pius IX and Mazzini.


These are excellent books, but I’m having problems finding similar books that cover the same period.Nineteenth century history is so complicated that survey texts tend to breeze over the periods that I’m most concerned with—I need to find books that focus on particular historical periods or individuals. In particular, I’m looking for details about the following topics:


The Kulturkampf, and the German during WWI.

Italian History from 1870 to Mussolini (especially as it correlates to Italian Immigration)

The Church and the Third French Republic, 1870 to WWI.

A summary of important 19th century Encyclicals.

The Mexican Revolution from the Church’s point of view.


As I said before, I’d much prefer histories written for a general audience, but would be interested in scholarly works as well. If you can make recommendations of title or authors, I am very good at tracking down affordable versions.


There is one more thing I mentioned when we talked at the Chesterton conference.I recently discovered and digitized an amazing book, written by one of the first prisoners to escape from the Soviet forced-labor camps.It is called I Speak for the Silent Prisoners of the Soviets, and it was the book that caused Whittaker Chambers to turn away from Communism.It is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read—much like the Gulag Archipelago, but more accessible.I thought that, being a Solzhenitsyn admirer, you might enjoy it. I strongly recommend it to all my high school history students.—It gives a more vivid representation of what life was like in the early years of the Soviet Union than any book I know.


The complete book can be read online here,


My search for good Catholic histories of the 18th and 19th century is an on-going project. Please let me know if you have any inspirational suggestions, or if there are other Catholic historians that you would recommend contacting.


And here's my somewhat inadequate response:


I enjoyed our conversation at the Chesterton Conference and will do what I can to help you in your quest for good books about the periods of history in which you are particularly interested. I'm going to list some of the book from my own library that might be of interest and will then forward your e-mail to three history professors who specialize in the periods in question. Here are some suggestions from my own library:


The French Revolution by Hilaire Belloc (too sympathetic to the Revolution)

Danton by Hilaire Belloc

The Campaign of 1812 and the Retreat from Moscow by Hialire Belloc

Donoso Cortes: Readings in Political Theory by R. A. Herrera (Spanish politics 1837-1853 from a Catholic perspective)

The True and Only Wealth of Nations: Essays on Family, Economy and Society by Louis de Bonald (French politics from 1802-1829 from a Catholic perspective)

Recollections of Four Popes by Cardinal Wiseman (Pius VII, Leo XII, Pius VIII & Gregory XVI)

Imperial City: Rome, Romans and Napoleon, 1796-1815 by Susan Vandiver Nicassio (I know the author. She's good and solid.)

Napoleon: The Path to Power by Philip Dwyer

Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy by Jay P. Corrin (spoiled by the author's theological modernism but full of interesting facts. The first three chapters focus on the period in which you are interested but the remainder is about the twentieth century)

Critics of the Enlightenment: Readings in the French Counter-Revolutionary Tradition by Christopher Olaf Blum (ed.) (French politics from 1798-1883)


I have nothing on the kulturkampf apart from Hopkins' superb poem, "The Wreck of the Deutschland", which I thoroughly recommend.


I have nothing on France between 1870 and WWI but your study of this period should include the Fench Decadent movement, especially the Catholic converts Paul Verlaine and Joris Karl Huysmans, and also the rise of Action Française and the ideas of Charles Maurras, which were influential on T. S. Eliot amongst others.


Happy hunting!


God bless,




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