This is a close look at about fifteen years that changed much of the structures of Europe in a popular history format. In a way, it is “Here I Stand the book”, though it only covers a fraction of the period that game did. But they both show just how many things that we hear about in disjointed fashion in histories were all happening at the same time.

Technically, the primary focus is meant to be the clash between Charles V and Suleiman, featuring the fall of Hungary, Rhodes, and the first siege of Vienna. However, even with the siege of Vienna near the end, this thread feels less than well-served. And of course, there’s plenty else to keep track of, and the real success of this book is that it juggles all these balls without dropping any, and presenting a clear narrative.

This includes western European power politics (the book starts with Charles V’s visits to England as part of an effort to keep Henry VIII from playing nice with France), and the start of the Reformation (with a good look at Luther’s evolving thinking, and his efforts to stay at the center of what he had started). There’s plenty of side notes as part of all these, with wars between European powers, fighting in North Africa, and in Persia. One of the threads that Reston tries to follow (fairly well, if at a thankfully very high level) are the various efforts for religious uniformity, and the compromises forced on various leaders.

Overall, the book is well-written and put together. There are complaints about a lack of footnotes, which is justified, though this is enough on the popular history side that it is not a major concern. There is a selected bibliography at the end that runs ~10 pages, but is just the normal bare bones format, when a ‘further reading’ list would have helped make up for the lack of footnoting.