Inside Europe

by John Gunther
[Harpers, $3.50]
THE present generation is fortunate — or perhaps unfortunate — to have reserved seats at one of the most extraordinary periods of European history. Other ages may have surpassed ours in the collective insanity of political affairs, but (thanks to the ubiquitous camera and radio) in none has this insanity been so publicly exposed, so instantly visible.
For ten years John Gunther has observed the European spectacle at first hand as correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. During this time he has worked in almost all European countries, interviewed their leaders, and meditated upon their problems and policies. He is a close observer, a keen analyst of men and motives, and an indefatigable collector of those small and seemingly irrelevant facts which fit together to make a living portrait. If you are curious to know what the contemporary Men of Destiny wear and eat and earn, if you are interested in their tastes and intelligence and prejudices, their attitude toward women, war, money, and work, you will find it all in this book. For it is the author’s conviction that accidents of personality play a great rôle in history and that personal conflicts in the lives of European politicians may contribute to the collapse of our civilization.
But while Mr. Gunther deals largely with personalities, the political and economic factors are not slighted. Patiently, lucidly, he analyzes and spreads before us such complex and dramatic episodes of contemporary history as the coming of the Nazis to power, the Reichstag fire and trial, the Nazi Blood Purge of 1934, the smashing of the Viennese Socialists by Dolfuss and his assassination by the Nazis, and Russia’s man-made famine of 1933, when millions of peasants lost their lives in an attempt to sabotage collectivization. He understands and elucidates the deeper currents of British politics, the strength of the inner ring of industrialists and bankers who are the real rulers of France, the present unrest in Spain, the virtues as well as the vices of titianhaired Lupescu, the uncrowned queen of Rumania; the reasons for Mustapha Kemal’s restlessness, Mussolini’s vanity, Stalin’s grim humor, and Hitler’s tears.
Starting with Germany, the author successively interprets France, Spain, and Italy, England, Central Europe and the Balkans, Turkey, Poland, Geneva, and the Soviet Union. He is always lucid, always informative, and almost always convincing — the exception being an occasional passage in which he supplements his own direct and acute observation with the theoretical and not always satisfying analyses of Dr. Steckel, the Viennese psychiatrist. The reader, when he has finished, will be able to survey his morning paper with a new understanding of the men and emotions behind the headlines, the imponderables that make the news.
Gunther is more than a passionate collector of facts; he is a master in apt characterization, and revealing quotations and anecdotes. Consider, for example: —
‘Mussolini is a steel spring, Stalin a slab of basalt, Hitler a blob of ectoplasm. Associates worship Hitler, fear Mussolini, and respect Stalin.
‘The Habsburgs are a resplendent fungus long attached to the body politic of Europe. They are as prolific as white mice and as international as counterfeiters.
‘[Of the Ethiopian war] Mussolini, like Hitler, is avenging an earlier degradation, returning to Italy, as on a bloody salver, its self-respect.
‘Mussolini is the most formidable combination of turncoat, ruffian, and man of genius in modern history.
‘Recently a British politician lunched chez Hitler at the Chancellery. Nervous, he bumped a large vase off a pedestal. Instantly from behind each curtain, S. S. men, armed, leaped into the room.’
Observing Europe from across the Atlantic in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, Americans are perplexed at the spectacle of a continent torn by jealousies, devoured by hatreds, split into rival factions, staggering perilously along the brink of war. To the casual observer, the headline reader, the spectacle makes little sense, and he is all too apt to dismiss it, smugly, as a form of collective insanity. It is the chief merit of this admirable and exciting volume that it rearranges the furious jumble of hate and fear into an understandable, if not orderly, pattern.