The World and Its People
The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the 1700s. New inventions and machinery revolutionized the way people worked and lived. Towns and cities grew, and the countries of western Europe developed strong economies. Industrialization also led to rivalries among countries for control of world markets and resources. In 1914 World War I broke out in Europe and quickly spread to other areas of the world. It was more violent than previous wars because techniques learned during the Industrial Revolution allowed weapons and machines to be mass-produced. World War I's end did not settle many of the problems that had started it, and by 1939 the world was at war again. During World War II, Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, carried out the Holocaust, the mass murder of over 6 million Jews and about 6 million other people.
Following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the world's superpowers. The global competition between the democratic United States and its allies and the Communist Soviet Union and its supporters came to be called the Cold War. By the 1980s, the economies of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations were struggling as the Soviet Union continued to spend more than it could afford on military and space ventures. By 1991 all of the Soviet satellite nations had thrown off communist rule in favor of democracy, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Freed from Russian control, ethnic fighting broke out among various peoples in many of the former Soviet republics.
Europe as a whole is moving toward greater unity today. Many countries are members of the European Union, and most began using a common currency—the euro—in 2002. Europeans are focusing attention on closing the income gap between their rich and poor nations and on protecting the environment. They are realizing that international cooperation and increased contact between peoples hold the key to overcoming the region's most pressing challenges.