“The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.” Aldous Huxley
Do not be confused by this book about the Congress of Vienna in 1814. It reads like a novel, but it is serious history as the almost 90 pages of “Notes & Sources” can testify. The style is easy: perhaps a little simplistic in places, but none-the-less an excellent read.
If your politics lean ever so slightly to the left, David King’s book will drive you to distraction. It describes in detail how the privileged few, carved up Europe after Napoleon’s abdication. It demonstrates the blatant greed and narcissism of Kings, Emperors and their Ministers.
We learn about the rich man’s wars, but not too much about the poor man’s fight. King takes us deeply into the chess game that was European politics, and we can see the mind-set that set Europe ablaze in 1914.
Well-behaved women rarely make history. Vienna 1814 confirms that in spades. I never cease to be amazed by man’s inability to keep his level of concentration above his navel for more that limited periods. The future of Europe was never allowed to interfere with the latest sexual conquest. A 100 years later, nothing had changed. During cabinet meetings discussing the war in France, H.H.Asquith (Prime Minister), wrote love letters to Venitia Stanley. They were not very effective.She got engaged to one of his staff – but omitted to mention it.
There were however two notable exceptions to this broad condemnation of the ‘Powers that be’; and they were both English. The first was Robert Stewart – Lord Castlereagh, foreign secretary under Lord Liverpool, and the Duke of Wellington. Castlereagh did his best to get some sense out of the Congress, and was fired for his trouble. The Iron Duke took over and was fortunate that Napoleon skipped Elba and he was able to charge off to Waterloo and win the ultimate battle.
The frightening thing about this book is that nothing has changed. The Congress of Vienna was dominated by an aggressive Russia hell-bent on expansion. Replace Tsar Alexander with Mr Putin, and it is apparent that we have not progressed very far in the last 194 years. Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight – ‘twas ever thus.