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Review Vanished Kingdoms The History of Half Forgotten Europe

'The past is a foreign country' has become a truism yet we often forget that the past is different from the present in many unfamiliar ways and historical memory is extraordinarily imperfect We habitually think of the European past as the history of countries which exist today France Germany Britain Russia and so on but often. So this turned out to be waaaay WTF than expected While also being really fucking boringNow i m the escapee graduate of a Marxist cult that hasn t incorporated a new idea since Warsaw Ghetto fell I am perfectly at home with the notion that all accounts of history are an ideological construct including the ones you yes you hold dear Since history can never be known but only abused you might as well shrug and move on with the brainwashing So the uestion then becomes what is this book arguing for since we know what it s arguing against Oh yes what is it arguing against Why other people s historical memory This includes but is by no means limited to library catalogues school curricula folk music festivals museum exhibits the official websites of French villages German towns Italian cities Spanish provinces and Belarus Wikipedia Google s search algoriths and hobbyist geneaologists lets just say the whole of the internet Video games random maudlin memoirists tours brochures guidebooks tourist information in fifteen countries Orhan Pamuk Voltaire Isaac Asimov and possibly the Irish So what does the book have in it Each chapter detailing a poorly remembered or at least dead European polity has three parts One is a sort of travelogue of the modern region looking for signs of the past The second bit most of the book by volume is an account of the history of said polity and the third part is a kind of historical reckoning Part one is interesting as geography than as history and is moderately tolerable if you re into that sort of thing Part three is rants at everyone in the universe for failing to remember the exact nomenclature of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Part two is unreadable I know becuase I mostly didn t It a dust dry super old school dynastic history thing All about who married who and when she died It gets slightly livelier as move on from dimly chronicled Medieval Angevins or Burgundians or someone and on to solidly accounted for Habsburgs Bonapartes and Brabant s Then we get a better account of their amusingly inbred degeneracies idiotic deaths and general inevitable fuckupedness There s lots of maps excerpts lots and lots and lots of family trees andoh yes theres songs Oh god not the songs Provided typically in two or three different languages we get the nostalgic nationalist nuttery of every anthen in central Europe since the Vikings invaded I thought I had seen it allbut then we got to the chapter about Irish republicanism complete with Danny Boy and Tipperary Wait You may be saying yet are probably not Ireland The Republic of Ireland What is a lengthy chapter about a country that appears to be alive and well as of this writing doing in a book about the obscurely departed A chapter that covers no less that fog shrouded and distant period from 1916 to2011 I ll tell you what it s doing there It s allowing us all to witness a truly glorious feverish morbidly gleeful sweaty rant on the inevitable fall of the United Kingdom The Irish y see were just the start Davies cacklingly fantasizes about Scotland taking off and the Northern Ireland uniting with them which i ve never heard before but think is a delightful notion and then theres a whole new level of pain reserved for the Welsh who s latent burning nationalism will inevitably arise due to being left alone with the English under a single roof It s great I might have thought that bit was a bit odd but it was after the chapter about Saxe Coburg Gotha Or to follow it s main trajectory which only skims central Germany in passing it s a soliloy on the wholly un English un Englishness of those totally un English tossers who call themselves the Windsors but are really the Saxe Coburg Gotha Schleswig Holstein Sonderburg Glukburg s Not content with pointing this out we then get an entire page or so of a list of all the German aristos the not Windsors are closely related to than they are to the Plantagenets or Alfred the Great or possibly Arthur Pendragon or something Reading it is rather like trying to read a Berlin yellow pages which is upside down and someone is whacking you hard on the head with it So what can we learn from this book except that school children need to think about death for a well rounded education and to avoid the fall of western civilization again Monarchies are swell but only the right sorts of monarchies The Irish are not to be trusted Small kindgoms are funny I have no idea but I know Norman Davies is no free from history than the rest of us The best single bit is a vintage WW1 Galician jokeA German officer on the Eastern Front The situation is serious but it is not hopeless His Austro Hungarian comrade No it is hopeless But it is not serious

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Vanished Kingdoms The History of Half Forgotten Europe

This actually obstructs our view of the past and blunts our sensitivity to the ever changing political landscape Europe's history is littered with kingdoms duchies empires and republics which have now disappeared but which were once fixtures on the map of their age 'the Empire of Aragon' which once dominated the western Medite. The best histories are always slightly eccentric and this one certainly is eccentric Its range is great both in time and space ancient modern and trans European it deals with failed or vanished states but in reality reminds us that everything is transient Things only feel permanent and fixed when we stand in the centreI suppose what I like about this book is its serendipity the fact that you can dive in virtually anywhere and find something interesting and informative It has variety because it is not the history of any one place but of many places and it is exotic because none of these nations on the whole exist any These could almost be fabled lands lost in the mists and dusts of ancient librariesOne of the great weaknesses of many histories is the long lists of rulers and their offspring who begat who in our Judaeo Christian culture we know where that failing first arose As the son of a labourer and the grandson of a peasant I m not really interested in the true blooded lineage of these so called lords and rulers yet I suppose it is a necessary evil for we are looking at the creation growth and eventual decline of nations and to be fair Davies does a lovely job of explaining this just at the moment one is thinking lists in a derogatory way Davies actually compares these states to great corporations and famous brands and their rulers to CEOs a lovely analogyThe chapter on Litva makes me feel like a refugee in some Tolkinesue world with individuals tribes and places that have a halo of myth about them It serves to remind one how exotic sounding Varangians Trabki and Mir are as much a part of the history of Europe as the Normans Paris and Windsor The chapter soon enters familiar ground for students of Polish Lithuanian history along with the tragedies of partition and submission to the brutality of the Russian states both Tsarist and SovietThe chapter on Burgundy is both amusing and confusing I think it shows Davies at his very best trying to untangle a highly complex Gordian knot as patiently and simply as possible He even advises weaker readers when to take a break The chapter on Byzantium on the other hand is a very strange one to say the least It reads like an introduction to some larger book rather than a history in the context of this weighty tome readers with weak wrists beware It is almost like a rushed essay given up in the end because the topic is either too vague or too great Davies deals with the abuses of historians rather than the decay of the state One feels he could almost be on uncomfortable ground here a strange chapter indeedI have always had a high regard for Norman Davies for he is in my opinion the first historian of Europe to try to rebalance the focus of history and correct the western bias which mistakenly ignores everything between Germanic Europe and Russia or treats it as unimportant even insignificant and humorous Thus it is inevitable that Davies is at his best when dealing with his particular area of interest Eastern Europe I have already mentioned his chapter on Litva but his chapter on Borussia or Prussia is excellent He looks at the emergence of this state from an eastern perspective and thus gives it a freshness one hasn t come across beforeSometimes it seems as if Prof Davies has chosen his topics in order to discuss something of particular interest to him so that his chapter on Etruria is an excuse to follow the career of the Buonaparte deliberate choice of spelling here clan and that on Rosenau to talk about Prince Albert ueen Victoria s consort and Carl Eduard the last duke of Saxe Coburg Gotha and the British Royal family s attempt to re brand itself and thus hide its German connectionsAs is inevitable there are many injustices brought to our attention perhaps the most haunting being the fixed plebiscite which handed Savoy to France and the post Great War treatment of Montenegro which disturbingly mirrors that of the treatment of Poland after World War 2 No one comes out of it with clean hands except perhaps for the victimsHistory is full of such injustices carried out by ambitious deluded or power hungry individuals and their supporters or as Davies points out in his chapter on the mayfly state of the Carpatho Russyns by historians who look at Eastern Europe as some backwater whose nationalistic hopes and dreams are inferior and lack the educated cultural strengths of the West I never forget the attitudes of my English colleagues during the Balkan upheavals that led to the collapse of Yugoslavia They patronisingly asked why such far off people should even think they were entitled to having their own states in this day and ageI have to admit that I read the chapter on Eire with a degree of bafflement as I couldn t see how that state could fall into Davis brief of vanished or half forgotten I remained in this state of confusion until it became apparent near the end that Davis has used his discussion of Ireland as an excuse to discuss the manner in which the United Kingdom may fall apart I have to say that this discussion left me feeling that historians should really stick to studying the past It is a trend for historians to try to analyse the present through the mirror of the past it reminds me of Hitler sitting in the bunker during the Nazi Gotterdammerung waiting for the beat of destiny s wings to save him just as they had saved Frederick of Prussia thus placing his faith in German History and forgetting that the future just like the past is a different country and will unfold in very different waysWith the penultimate chapter we are back on safe ground Davis looks at the death of the Soviet Union and balances that with the birth demise and rebirth of Estonia He reminds us that the history of modern Eastern Europe is one where individuals faced two great evils and often had to make choices that were not and still are not understood in a West that saw only one evil Nazi Germany and ignored the other arguably greater evil Stalinist Soviet Russia I once read a short Science Fiction story in which the Earth was liberated again and again so that in the end we see the dire plight of the surviving liberated humans eking out a pitiful existence on the fragmented ruins of their planet this was liberation in Eastern Europe The collapse of the Soviet Union and the flowering of a free Estonia are a wonderful point on which to end the bookThis is a good read The failure and collapse of nation states is a topic that merits study Like the Romans men walked the streets of Moscow unaware that they were on the brink of a change none of them could ever have imagined When it came none of them could understand how it had happened such creatures can be pitied they should also be feared

Norman Davies ↠ 2 Summary

Rranean; the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for a time the largest country in Europe; the successive kingdoms and one duchy of Prussia much of whose history is now half remembered at best This book shows the reader how to peer through the cracks of mainstream history writing and listen to the echoes of lost realms across the centuri. It is slightly fraudulent to mark this book as read but given that there is no option to mark as skipped some chapters after persisting far longer than the material justifies this will have to doI cannot recall the last time I didn t read a book all the way through even a long one like this Alas the addition of some truly objectionable showing off has pushed me over the edge There is no doubt that Professor Davies has researched all his subjects meticulously But do we really need to be treated to long passages of poetry in arcane tongues coupled his even longer explanations of how much research he has done to appreciate thisThen there is the tone Who on earth would make a statement such as The English who are now a dominant majority have often taken the triumph of their forebears for granted at least in popular history They admire the imperialist Romans and identify with the Anglo Saxons but despise the Celts and expect to continue to be taken as a serious objective historian You can t say things like that no matter how long in the tooth you are nor how much you may have cultivated a reputation as irascible But ultimately despite being a fascinating concept this book has nothing to say beyond the bald observation that states come and go for a variety of reasons The fact that Prof Davies attempts to make this absence of analysis a virtue in his foreword does not mean that it isn t half baked writing Professor Davies has succeeded in unearthing and bringing to a wider audience some interesting descriptions of long dead empires That was a good thing to attempt but was a better book in here that if not seeking to link those forgotten entities at least embarked on some meditation about historical memory As it is his epilogue an all too brief attempt at something thematic bears all the hallmarks of something insisted upon by an editor What a pity as it is by far the best bit of the book


10 thoughts on “Vanished Kingdoms The History of Half Forgotten Europe

  1. says:

    Some books stay on your shelves so long they get suatters’ rights and you get the idea they’re part of the décor rathe

  2. says:

    So this turned out to be waaaay WTF than expected While also being really fucking boringNow i’m the escapee graduate of a Marxist cult that hasn’t incorporated a new idea since Warsaw Ghetto fell I am perfectly at home with the notion tha

  3. says:

    Norman Davies says right at the beginning of this book that he has chosen to write about things that interest him and I have found it one of the most interesting histories I have read in years It both opens new doors who ever knew of Tolosa Alt Clud Aragon or Rosenau and fills in threadbare parts of my tapestry

  4. says:

    This is a book about countries that have died Many I had heard about before such as Burgundy Borussia and Byzantine some were new to me like Alt Clud and Rusyn I have always been fascinated by the rise and fall of empires so this book was written for meEach country is given a chapter and Davies draws us a sketch of the countries rise and fall I liked the snippets of obscure information and some off piste analysis and co

  5. says:

    Vanished Kingdoms is a bit of an uneven book On the one hand it delves into some really fascinating corners of European history and reminds the reader that there is no intrinsic reason the current borders are where they ar

  6. says:

    The best histories are always slightly eccentric and this one certainly is eccentric Its range is great both in time and space ancient modern and trans European it deals with failed or vanished states but in reality remind

  7. says:

    Norman Davies surprised me than 20 years ago with his phenomenal Europe A History a thick peat that had the great merit of treating Eastern European history on an eual footing with that of the well known Western

  8. says:

    It is slightly fraudulent to mark this book as read but given that there is no option to mark as skipped some chapters after persisting far lon

  9. says:

    A really interesting subject made almost unbearably boring

  10. says:

    When I was a child in the 1970's the map of the Europe seemed immutable Ongoing decolonialisation granted statehood to pre existing territories of the major European powers and new states had sprung forth from violent confl