Book Review: 'Fractured Continent'

Apr 2, 2018

There’s an old proverb popularized by Mel Brooks that sums up “Fractured Continent,” William Drozdiak’s fine, eminently readable analysis of European politics that made The New York Times Most Notable 100 Books list for 2017. The proverb is: “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” But even if the “crises” explored by Drozdiak in 14 Western capitals, don’t constitute the worst in the continent’s 70-year-old attempt to achieve unity after World War II, they do exemplify a deepening division within and between European nations that seems to be moving inexorably to what the last chapter of Drozdiak’s book fatefully calls “Post-American Europe.”

This is a book about Europe for Americans that is based on extensive travel, personal interviews and research. In different but related ways, Western democracies in the Euro zone are turning away from American concepts of leadership, feeling that America is turning away from them. And they’re finding that key ideas of European union – particularly open borders and a common currency – are causing or aggravating major economic and societal problems. Even if President Donald Trump goes away, Drozdiak suggests, American credibility and influence are waning, and nationalist, if not violent, fascist and xenophobic agendas, are on the rise. These are seen particularly in Poland, Austria and Hungary. And Drozdiak argues, it’s all happening against a background, now a foreground, of an increasingly aggressive and paranoid Russia, whose power the West has underestimated. In fact, the “fractured continent,” Drozdiak’s title, may already be undergoing a shattering beyond repair, though Drozdiak keeps doom at bay by asking challenging questions, rather than asserting what evidence might suggest. He cautions. Be warned, he advises, and keep an eye on Berlin, where probably “the fate of Europe will be decided.” Will Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s new young president, Emmanuel Macron, be able to prevent what seems like “the slow death” of the Atlantic alliance?  

There have been – and are – many accounts of “Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West,” as the subtitle to “Fractured Continent” puts it, but what sets Drozdiak’s inquiry apart are the ease of his prose, including lively anecdotes that put flesh on the major players, and his narrative skill at creating scenes at the start of each chapter that invite the reader into the critique by way of local color and dialogue. It’s unlikely that readers will forget his description of Rome, so corrupt and mired in garbage real and metaphoric that, not even ISIS could get through, he jokes. The 6-foot-5 Drozdiak, senior fellow in Foreign Affairs at the Brookings Institution, former editor and chief European correspondent for The Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, started off his career as a professional basketball player. But it’s obvious that he’s a pro at moving around the international court of political play. “Fractured Continent.” This is a sobering look at an urgent problem.