Europe: A History
"Europe: A History" began in 1988, and came to fruition nearly nine years later in 1996. It resulted from a commission from Oxford University Press to put 'the whole European History between two covers.' The task was manifestly impossible; I was chosen to make the attempt because none of the recognised European historians in Oxford could tackle Eastern as well as Western European history. I remember the experience as a marathon of intense concentration, in which planning for the book's contents and structure took up more time than the actual writing. The twelve main chapters took up two years; the 'snapshots', that provided a charge of magnification at the end of each chapter, were produced at the rate of one a day, and the 300 'capsules' at more or less one a day. Designing the capsules was achieved thanks to a six-month spell in Harvard's Wiener Library, whose digitalised catalogue already permitted searchers to browse the titles of both books and articles and, by perming search words of Time, Place, and Subject, to build up a body of capsules of extraordinary variety. The maps and diagrams of the Appendix swallowed a whole final year.
Delivery of such a complicated monster volume almost brought Oxford University Press to its knees. Standard editorial procedures could not cope and preparation and production was supervised by a brilliant, ex-Oxford University Press printer, Pat Duffy, who was brought out of retirement for the purpose. The experiment of sending it to Pondicherry for digital type-setting nearly proved disastrous; and the desperate editors pondered the possibility that the 1265 pages could only be published in electronic form. It was an act of faith that Oxford University Press decided to press ahead with the 1.8 kilo paper edition, with its superb cover in violet and gold; and no-one, absolutely no-one imagined that we were launching a no.1 best-seller.