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The Normans were here

THE TIMES ATLAS OF EUROPEAN HISTORY. Times Books Pounds 25. 0 7230 0601 6. Michael Duffy charts the course of European history

In one respect, this latest atlas from The Times imprint is refreshingly old-fashioned. Unashamedly, it is a work of political history. It sets out to map the frontiers of the dynasties, empires and kingdoms that for 3,000 years have fought in Europe for supremacy or survival, and in doing so to trace the origins of the state system which has been, the editors say, Europe's unique and pernicious gift to the remainder of the world. It is more, they say, than an atlas: it is the harsh reality of our Europe des Patries. And it is impressively done: 46 double page spreads, drawn onto identical base maps which stretch to the collapse of communism.

Each is accompanied by a 600 word commentary and by a second double spread containing enlarged overlays, so that "The Age of the Normans" (for example) gives us particular detail on Norman Britain, Spain under the Caliphate of Cordova, and Norman and Byzantine rule in Southern Italy. Each overlay comes with its own short essay of explanation. The full colour maps, given the limitations as to scale, are accurate and consistent, and include all locations specified in the text. Occasionally, they are perhaps too clear: they tend to give to frontiers a clarity of definition which, as we know from the Scottish border, was often far from real. Individually, in this freeze-frame technique, they create the illusion of stability. Together, however - as you see if you trace back the story of "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans and elsewhere - they provide chilling testimony to the insidious power of the past. If you teach history, or read it for pleasure, or merely want to find out who ruled where and when, you will want to use this volume.

Michael Duffy is head of King Edward VI School, Morpeth.

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