Feast of facts

5th September 1997 at 01:00
THE COMPLETE A-Z 20th CENTURY EUROPEAN HISTORY HANDBOOK. By Edward Townley. Hodder Stoughton Pounds 8.99

This is a dream come true for any student with exams looming. Every fact you could possibly want on 20th-century European history is here, from Abortion Controversy to Z-Plan (Nazi Germany's plans to build a battle fleet, in case you didn't know). It also has lists of key words for revision and a quick guide to the strange language that otherwise normal teachers start spouting when they set A-level examination papers.

Reviewers of this sort of reference volume like to cavil at the omissions, and an agreeable time can always be had trying to catch the compiler out. So we find Chancellor is included as the term for the German prime minister, but Fuehrer is not. Some British prime ministers feature, but not all. Admiral Horthy, the right-wing Hungarian dictator, is cross-referenced, but Bela Kun, the Hungarian communist leader, is not, and so on. But no student is going to use the book in this way. The coverage is comprehensive enough to include any major term students might feel unsure about, and the explanations are generally clear.

The entries are of three main types. Biographical entries summarise the essential details succinctly, although they do not carry birth and death dates, which would have been useful. Then there are entries on major events. Here the dating and the level of explanation is more uneven. Mussolini's Acerbo Law is explained at length, while Stalin's great purge gets two lines and is dated merely to "the late 1930s". For more you have to cross-reference to Yezhovshchina (its Russian translation).

Finally, there are conceptual terms. Again, coverage is mixed. Major terms, such as fascism, are well explained, terms like executive or legislative are more briefly dealt with. But this is a handbook, not a textbook, and students will find it a useful guide to the complexities of their course.

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