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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

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'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 this actually obstructs our view of t '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 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 Mediterranean; 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 centuries.


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'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 this actually obstructs our view of t '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 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 Mediterranean; 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 centuries.

30 review for Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Some books stay on your shelves so long they get squatters’ rights and you get the idea they’re part of the décor rather than something to read. This was one of those. I took a look at it this week. I had a go. And one of those things I like to geek out on, occasionally, is obscure history. The Empire of Trebizond. The Khanate of the Golden Horde. Timbuctoo. Faraway places with strange sounding names. (I have to recognise that to the 54,450 inhabitants of Timbuctoo, it's actually Nottingham Engla Some books stay on your shelves so long they get squatters’ rights and you get the idea they’re part of the décor rather than something to read. This was one of those. I took a look at it this week. I had a go. And one of those things I like to geek out on, occasionally, is obscure history. The Empire of Trebizond. The Khanate of the Golden Horde. Timbuctoo. Faraway places with strange sounding names. (I have to recognise that to the 54,450 inhabitants of Timbuctoo, it's actually Nottingham England that’s faraway and strange sounding, so it’s all relative. But I digress.) This Norman Davies is some giant history professor and what not, but I think he had too much time on his hands with this tome, it’s like something he looked forward to getting round to when he retired, and now here he is retired, and here’s his huge project. And he must have coshed his editor and tied him up and stashed him in the broom cupboard unless his editor was the kind of person who kept saying “put more irrelevant stuff in, Norman”. As a handy implement to batter a home intruder, Vanished Kingdoms is just the thing. As a good read, not so much. He rambles. He brags about his research. He throws in all kinds of crap – poems, lineages, long descriptions of medieval cities which sound like all other medieval cities. And these chapters are not what I consider histories, they’re essays on a particular place (Sabaudia, Alt Clud, Tolosa and 12 more). So I was skipping like a young lamb in spring but without so light a heart because of many sentences like this – and truly – I opened this book at random The Casa Savoia was not alone in its dissatisfaction with its gains from Utrecht, and during the territorial redistribution that took place during preparations for the Treaty of The Hague (1720), it proved possible to do business with the Austrians, specifically to swap Sicily for Sardinia. Or (again at random) Despite the political tensions and the social unrest, Princess-Duchess-Grand Duchess Elisa Bacciochi thrived. Separated from her husband, she applied herself to the administration and adornment of her extended realms, showing signs of her brother’s flare and energy. Her pet project was the complete refurbishment of the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens which she raised to the condition which has distinguished them ever since. (Please note – Duchess is used twice, don’t know why, and flare should be flair!) Still awake? There is a serious point to be made also. Until the English Revolution and French revolutions, states in Europe were made and unmade by dynasties, either by force of arms or by negotiation. Poking and chipping and fiddling with the borders of the duchies of France, Germany and Poland, which is what most of Vanished Kingdoms is concerned with, must have been a delightful pastime akin to petanque or boules but it was of no great import to the vast swathe of the people. No ideology was involved. It was the revolutions from below – after the English and French came the American and Russian – which made the making and unmaking of states meaningful, and made the onrush of history into a powerful, moving, and essential study.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tamara

    So this turned out to be waaaay more WTF than expected. While also being really fucking boring. Now, 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 question then becomes, what is th So this turned out to be waaaay more WTF than expected. While also being really fucking boring. Now, 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 question 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 more 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 more 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 and...oh, 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 all...but 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 to...2011. 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 soliloqy 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 more 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 more more 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 more free from history than the rest of us. The best single bit is a vintage WW1 Galician joke: A 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.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    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 of knowledge about European history (Burgundy and Galicia, for instance). I have sticky notes all the way through it and suspect that it will be a book I press upon anybody remotely 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 of knowledge about European history (Burgundy and Galicia, for instance). I have sticky notes all the way through it and suspect that it will be a book I press upon anybody remotely interested in the history of Europe as a whole. Although all his chosen kingdoms, states or empires have ceased to exist in the forms at which they had their greatest identity or power, their stories are all affected by the wide shifts of power within and across parts of Europe, as empires rise and fall, ebb and flow, always with terrible consequences for the weaker parties. Ethnicity, seen here as deriving principally from language and religion, is one of the great recurring divides. In some places at some times, various ethnicities can live together in relative harmony, with reasonable balance between communities. Davies gives example after example of how the rise of nationalisms, based on ethnic divides, arose during the 19th century and played out their rivalries in wars from then until now (the Slavic states and USSR in particular). In the last chapter, Davies outlines his thoughts on why states die. One, of course, is annihilation in war. Another is the dying out of political dynasties, where a dynasty has held territories together, such as the Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire, then Austrian empire. Some states 'liquidate', he says, often under external pressure as with the Irish Republic under the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921. And then there's the category of 'infant mortality' where a young country never gains enough strength to survive the predations of neighbours. Successful statehood, he concludes, 'is a rare blessing. It requires health and vigor, good fortune, benevolent neighbours and a sense of purpose to aid growth and reach maturity.' This is a book full of information and ideas, written in Davies' characteristically lively prose. I'm not sufficiently well read in European history to recognise whether errors flow from wide generalizations, as they often do. Davies cruises over such huge territory that it would be surprising if there weren't some twitchy moments. But I've loved reading it and will go back to it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    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 me. Each 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 commentary. My favourite chapters featured the one day wonder that was Ru 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 me. Each 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 commentary. My favourite chapters featured the one day wonder that was Rusyn, a new born in a dangerous neighbourhood snuffed out before it had a chance, and the story of Eire - the first country to escape the English empire. In England not much is taught on the demise of empire and it was enlightening to read a brief history of the independence struggle. If I have a criticism of this book it is that the chapters on Byzantium and the Soviet union are weak and rushed, almost as if Davies felt that he had to include them but knew that he could not possibly do them justice in thirty or so pages. Best to leave them out then.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    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 are. On the other hand Davies sometimes ends up on some inconsequential tangents and has a thing for discussing a vanished kingdom's songs and poetry (not my cup of tea). Even as a lover of history I grew tired of some of the paths he led me down. This was clearly a special proj 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 are. On the other hand Davies sometimes ends up on some inconsequential tangents and has a thing for discussing a vanished kingdom's songs and poetry (not my cup of tea). Even as a lover of history I grew tired of some of the paths he led me down. This was clearly a special project to him and I think he may have let it run a little wild. Sections were also a bit unbalanced with some states getting a very deep dive while others, like Byzantium, barely getting much attention at all. This book read more like a collection of essays than a cohesive history book, with the last chapter, which discussed why states die, not doing a very good job linking the previous parts together. All in all I would not recommend buying this book, but if it is in your local library it is worth checking out, even if you only read a few of the vanished kingdoms that most interest you.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk

    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 centre. I 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 vari 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 centre. I 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 more. These could almost be fabled lands lost in the mists and dusts of ancient libraries. One 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 analogy. The chapter on Litva makes me feel like a refugee in some Tolkinesque 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 Soviet). The 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 more 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 more 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 indeed. I 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 before. Sometimes 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 (Queen 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 connections. As 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 victims. History 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-age. I 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 ways. With 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 book. This 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Norman Davies surprised me more 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 equal footing with that of the well-known Western European. Davies then continued to produce thick volumes, and this "Vanished Kingdoms" also is a quite voluminous. His focus in this book is on the kingdoms and states that have come to an end in the course of European history. Some were very well known to me, such as the Burg Norman Davies surprised me more 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 equal footing with that of the well-known Western European. Davies then continued to produce thick volumes, and this "Vanished Kingdoms" also is a quite voluminous. His focus in this book is on the kingdoms and states that have come to an end in the course of European history. Some were very well known to me, such as the Burgundian countries, the Byzantine empire, Prussia or the USSR, but others were much lesser known, such as the shadowy Alt Clud empire in present-day Scotland, the kingdom of Aragon in Northern Spain and the great Polish-Lithuanian Union; it was nice to learn more about them. Once again, the book is full of facts and adjustments of the common historiographical views, for which Davies obviously draws from his enormous erudition and his acute critical sense. Also his predilection for Eastern European history shows again: as many as 7 of the 15 treated countries come from that region and Davies is doing his best to correct our (Western European colored) vision on Eastern Europe in a positive sense (striking is his relativization of the militarism of Prussia and the anti-semitism of the Poles). All those inexhaustible stories with constantly changing fortunes certainly are very interesting. But inevitably, at times Davies' story becomes somewhat tedious, for example in the jumble of dynastic quarrels. This certainly isn’t a quick read. There’s also some more conceptual criticism you can give on this book, especially about the selection Davies has made. For that I refer to my History account on Goodreas: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show.... But let's not diminish the value of this work too much: again Davies certainly has succeeded in presenting a very filled but still reasonably readable and extremely interesting book, in which especially one message is central: "nothing is forever, no state has the eternal life". This seems obvious, but the historical reality clearly shows that most politicians are not really aware of that.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Adam Higgitt

    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 do. I 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 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 do. I 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 this? Then 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    A really interesting subject made almost unbearably boring.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    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 conflict in far-flung corners of the globe, but Europe's boundaries, fixed in the aftermath of the Second World War, were constant. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovia. Europe's states suddenly became fragile entities, as ce 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 conflict in far-flung corners of the globe, but Europe's boundaries, fixed in the aftermath of the Second World War, were constant. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovia. Europe's states suddenly became fragile entities, as centrifugal forces started to impinge on even long-established Western states like Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. The old certainties had vanished, history had not ended. Yet this is no new phenomenon - thirty years of post-war stability is the exception in European history, not the rule. The map of Europe has been like a kaleidoscope, borders shifting as the wheel of time turns. Yet when we analyse these patterns, so often our perspective is shaped through the prism of contemporary states, so when we look at Prussia, it is through the context of modern Germany, or Burgundy through that of modern France. What Norman Davies has done in this brilliantly conceived and executed book is to look at snapshots of European history from the perspective of those states which have failed to survive the test of time. The result is a startling series of cameos.What is the relationship between medieval Aragon and modern Catalonia? How did a remote region of what is now Poland and Russia give its name to the State from which modern Germany sprang (and why does its name no longer exist)? Why are there two separate Galicias in Europe, and are they linked? (No, they aren't). Why did the mayfly state of Carpatho-Ukraine exist for just one day? The fortunes of states ebb and flow. Who in the early 1980s could have envisaged that by 1991 the Soviet Union would have imploded? Yet its demise is no more surprising than that of medieval Byzantium, or of the mighty Dukedom of Burgundy. We are left with faint traces, palimpsests of what went before - Byzantine complexity, Prussian blue (which would have been Brandenburg Blue if it had been synthesised in Berlin five years earlier). Fifteen vanished kingdoms are analysed, each in three parts. The first gives a contemporary context in the form of a short travelogue (necessary for some of the more obscure parts of Eastern Europe). Then the rise and fall of the state in historical terms is described, followed by the memory sites, the cultural traces of the vanished kingdoms which resonate to this day. We progress according to a rough chronology, and in the earlier chapters there is a slight tendency for the historical sections to resolve down to unfamiliar names of kings, places and battles, but the broader contexts largely offset this. By the time we come to more familiar historical territory (for me anyway) this is no longer an issue. Davies attempts to analyse the reasons why kingdoms vanish. Some are absorbed or destroyed by bigger neighbours, some disintegrate from within. Others merge together to make a greater whole. Looking at the examples of Piedmont-Savoy, Aragon and the Soviet Union, he puts forward the case that Kingdoms which come together from distinct constituent parts have a greater tendency to split apart over time. Small nations such as Estonia can exist successfully under the umbrellas of Nato and the European Union, so he believes that the separatist forces acting on the United Kingdom will one day win through, forcing Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales down the path trodden early last century by Ireland. Whether you agree with this analysis or not, this compelling, beautifully written book is vital reading for all with an interest in European history or contemporary politics alike. Taken from my blog http://roderick-random.blogspot.com/2...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    I suppose there are a couple of underlying messages to this book. One is that we shouldn't get too attached to our present day sovereign states, since they are by nature transient entities. The other is that we are too focused on histories as defined by our modern day sovereign states, whereas there are any number of ways to draw the political map of Europe, and many different ways in which it has been drawn. Prof. Davies illustrates these points with short histories of 15 former European states I suppose there are a couple of underlying messages to this book. One is that we shouldn't get too attached to our present day sovereign states, since they are by nature transient entities. The other is that we are too focused on histories as defined by our modern day sovereign states, whereas there are any number of ways to draw the political map of Europe, and many different ways in which it has been drawn. Prof. Davies illustrates these points with short histories of 15 former European states, each of which is given a self-contained chapter in the book. It's therefore possible to pick and choose which chapters you want to read, and that might not be a bad tactic since I found them very variable in quality. There is a chapter called "Byzantion" which covers the thousand year history of the Byzantine Empire in about 10 pages, and which seems to have been included solely to make the point that Gibbon was too harsh on the Byzantines. There is another short chapter on the collapse of the USSR, which focuses almost entirely on Estonia. Moreover, I can only say that I found the first 3 chapters excruciatingly boring. I'm not entirely sure why, except that these chapters covered obscure Dark Ages Kingdoms where the author was forced into a great deal of speculation. The rest of the book is more interesting, and I would say that I am now much more knowledgeable about some of the places and peoples featured. I had no idea for example, of the power and influence of Aragon during the Middle Ages. For me the best chapters were those on Aragon; "Litva" (Poland/Lithuania); "Borussia" (Prussia); "Sabaudia" (Savoy/Piedmont/Nice); and "Rusyn", which features in a chapter with the sub-heading "The Republic of One Day". Throughout the book Prof. Davies spends a lot of time on royal genealogy, perhaps a little too much for my taste. At the risk of contradicting myself, I would make an exception for the chapter entitled "Rosenau", which features the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and which is largely concerned with Prince Albert and his descendants. I did enjoy that chapter, and I suspect that is because of the close connection with the British Royals. For better or worse I am more familiar with them than with the medieval Counts of Barcelona or with the Dukes of Lithuania. Three stars for the level of the author's research and for the amount that I learned. I think though this is a book that is best as segments. I'm not sure I would recommend the whole thing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    As a non-Polish Canadian I owe a great debt to Davies. He has managed in his career to make Polish history comprehensible to me. This is no mean feat given the fact that Polish History differs from the familiar Western European history in so many fundamental ways. I wish that Davies had not applied his considerable talents to this questionable project and instead stuck to Poland where he always finds important things to say to North Americans and Western Europeans. Davies tells the story of kingdo As a non-Polish Canadian I owe a great debt to Davies. He has managed in his career to make Polish history comprehensible to me. This is no mean feat given the fact that Polish History differs from the familiar Western European history in so many fundamental ways. I wish that Davies had not applied his considerable talents to this questionable project and instead stuck to Poland where he always finds important things to say to North Americans and Western Europeans. Davies tells the story of kingdoms and states that existed for a time in Europe and then vanished. Some of these political entities were major players in European Politics during their heydays (e.g. Burgundy). Thus it is very hard for someone in the twentieth century and doubly hard for a North American to understand European history as one inevitably reads about the past with a contemporary map imprinted in one's brain. For someone beginning to study European history, Davies book is potentially of great help like a program at the ballpark. It lets you know who is on the field and who is on the bench. For someone who has been reading history for a number of years, it is of little value. True history readers want books based on archival work not secondary research. Opinions matter little while documented facts are of the prime importance. Vanishing Kingdoms is not history it is an opinion piece. Even as such it is not very good. Davies seems ignore that kingdoms (some are republics)have changed in nature over time. As transportation technology evolved, large territories can be governed from a central point. As literacy has extended from the clergy to the aristocracy and finally to the masses, the need for linguistic uniformity within countries has increased. Similarly Davies fails to consider that over the course of our history the role of government has expanded continually from the pre-historical era when tribes simply defended their territories to our present era when our welfare states are responsible for our healthcare, education, retirement security, culture and general well-being. Davies the historian writes about states will ignoring expanding role of the state and the evolution of state infrastructures. It is disappointing to see that one of the greatest historians of our time would produce such a dreadful book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim Puskas

    What a piece of work this is! How could one resist an account of the "Kingdom of the naked and starving" or "The Republic of one day"? At well over 800 pages, this book might be seen as a collection of 15 short books, each of which almost stands on its own, so they can be read in any sequence. Davies begins each of the 15 tales with a visit to the locale as it exists today and then proceeds to describe in wonderful (and sometimes fanciful) style the origins and denouement of the long vanished re What a piece of work this is! How could one resist an account of the "Kingdom of the naked and starving" or "The Republic of one day"? At well over 800 pages, this book might be seen as a collection of 15 short books, each of which almost stands on its own, so they can be read in any sequence. Davies begins each of the 15 tales with a visit to the locale as it exists today and then proceeds to describe in wonderful (and sometimes fanciful) style the origins and denouement of the long vanished regime that once existed there. Most of the kingdoms described arose during or following the collapse of a major empire (e.g.Rome, Ottoman etc.). In some cases, barely a trace of the kingdom's existence remains. I found it impossible to read this tome without being distracted into byways of arcane research into the languages, power structures and cultures of related entities, so I cannot honestly say that I'm truly "finished" with it and will undoubtedly return to it again, leafing forward and backward and running off in other directions. Apart from the kingdoms themselves, an overview of the origins and relationships among their various languages could alone easily grow into another book the size of this one. A footnote: I found it handy to have available a copy of Cassell's Chronology of World History: Dates, Events and Ideas That Made History to place some of the more obscure events in context with what was taking place elsewhere at the time.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This was a disappointing book. Ostensibly telling the story of European history somewhat indirectly through fifteen case studies of States that had ultimately ceased to exist, this very long book ultimately collapses on the self-indulgent approach of the author. Let us start with the positive aspects of the book. The meat of each case study is solid and offers presumably reliable basic narrative history of the old school that will give any reader with a general education important and probably n This was a disappointing book. Ostensibly telling the story of European history somewhat indirectly through fifteen case studies of States that had ultimately ceased to exist, this very long book ultimately collapses on the self-indulgent approach of the author. Let us start with the positive aspects of the book. The meat of each case study is solid and offers presumably reliable basic narrative history of the old school that will give any reader with a general education important and probably new insights into bits of history too often neglected. Davies rightly points out that a history that reads back from the winners is no history at all since it does not give you the full picture. He aims to correct this and does us a service in doing so. In essence, he fills in some of the gaps and give these lost States their due as a part of history. From Visigothic Tolosa in the fifth century AD to Litva and Borussia and thence to Eire under the British Crown after the Free State was formed, the stories are broadly well told and most of it will be new material to most readers. The maps and dynastic charts throughout are excellent. So what is wrong with the book? First, it is too long for the material. Each chapter is padded out with an introductory 'travelogue' that is mostly redundant while a closing mini-essay often seems to be pot-boiling to meet a deadline. In the end, you wonder what precisely you are learning here beyond 'one damned fact after another'. Anecdotes abound. There is plenty of detail. There are 'ah-ha' moments of real insight. But interpretation seems to be reserved for the business of meeting private prejudices. And these self-indulgent prejudices are worn on the sleeve. Davies is clearly an old style European conservative, romantic about small nations, with an inherent gut dislike of Russia and of the Soviet system that makes some sections read like the worst sort of Cold War propaganda. While his points are often fair, there is a lack of sophistication here. Some of the thinking seems muddled with personal moral judgements running through the text sotto voce like thin streams of ore in the rock of the narrative. Almost every case study in the book can reasonably be considered to be a 'vanished kingdom' insofar as some dynastic family business was involved but he stretches the point on Rusyn in 1939 while Byzantion seems stuck in there with little new to say just to permit space for an empire. But the final case study is little more than extended riff on the iniquities of Sovietism in relation to Estonia and other small nations. This East European specialist strikes me as just getting something off his chest. His account of the Soviet Union is unsubtle and grossly simplistic. The book seems to be little more at times that the dumping on the reader of extensive notes made for his earlier history of Europe (another very big book) to which he has then added some local colour and some of his regional small nation and romantic-dynastic prejudices. The book was thus a lot less enjoyable than it should have been. The very short theoretical chapter at the end, on the death of States, seemed to offer yet more potboiling with its rather unnecessary listing of the opinions of dead white luminaries from Aristotle to Rousseau. It stays in the library because the meat in the case studies remains valuable and some of the potboiling stuff, the bread surrounding the meat sandwich, could be entertaining on occasions but the overall experience was disheartening. One was left with a sense of intellectual laziness. What I wish had happened was a tough Editor cutting out the guff at the beginning and end of each case study, dropping the self-indulgent chapter on the Soviet Union and Rusyn (and the unnecessary discursion on Byzantion) and giving us 13 solid narrative case studies. If there had then been a more thoughtful review of the failure of these warlord and dynastic states in a final chapter (perhaps pulling together some of the material in the final sections of each chapter), he might have cut 120 pages and walked away with something more impressive.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Liviu

    While seemingly impressive and erudite, I was a little disappointed with this book for two reasons; the narrative is on the clunky side and i remember (maybe wrongly though) that I liked the narrative in Europe and The Isles and thought it flowed. On the content side, the lesser known states have some interesting tidbits but i found the story of the ones I know about (Duchy of Lithuania, Byzantium or CCCP) on the sketchy "for Martians" side; Byzantium is truly ridiculous and I have no idea why it While seemingly impressive and erudite, I was a little disappointed with this book for two reasons; the narrative is on the clunky side and i remember (maybe wrongly though) that I liked the narrative in Europe and The Isles and thought it flowed. On the content side, the lesser known states have some interesting tidbits but i found the story of the ones I know about (Duchy of Lithuania, Byzantium or CCCP) on the sketchy "for Martians" side; Byzantium is truly ridiculous and I have no idea why it was included, CCCP is on the silly side, while the Duchy of Lithuania is mostly a dynastic sequence that illuminates little; so while other chapters seemed more interesting, I am curious if someone who knows about them from other sources would find it so. I also know a little about Burgundy and again I was not that impressed with that chapter, but it read better than the 3 other mentioned. Overall I expected much more and I think that Wikipedia and Google will give a fairly large percentage of this book content for free so to speak

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jason Goodwin

    A book after my own heart. Vanished Kingdoms details the stories of several significant European polities which no longer exist, including the Kingdoms, Duchies and Counties of Burgundy, the Polish-Lithianian Commonwealth, and Saxe-Coburg. The biggest recent Boojum is, of course, the Soviet Union, which vanished overnight without anyone – least of all Gorbachev – intending it to do so; nor the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, strategists, politicians or secret policemen devoted to its preserva A book after my own heart. Vanished Kingdoms details the stories of several significant European polities which no longer exist, including the Kingdoms, Duchies and Counties of Burgundy, the Polish-Lithianian Commonwealth, and Saxe-Coburg. The biggest recent Boojum is, of course, the Soviet Union, which vanished overnight without anyone – least of all Gorbachev – intending it to do so; nor the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, strategists, politicians or secret policemen devoted to its preservation, being able to do anything about it. We tend to look at the history of existing things, rather than vanished ones; and the more eagerly when they are powerful existing things. And that brands us not only as creeps, but as fools: because the most interesting lessons of history, when you think about it, teach you how things fail and disappear. I've posted some thoughts about this on my website at www.jasongoodwin.info

  17. 5 out of 5

    fourtriplezed

    I rather enjoyed this book. One of those that could be delved into as the mood took. Each chapter more an essay on the specific subject and no doubt some would not be happy with that. But for a bit of less than dry reading it more than hits the spot as entertainment. Some would not be happy with the book title. Hardly kingdoms at times that should not detract from the book. Some may not like the songs and poems interspersed but again it is more a book aimed at entertaining history. I like the st I rather enjoyed this book. One of those that could be delved into as the mood took. Each chapter more an essay on the specific subject and no doubt some would not be happy with that. But for a bit of less than dry reading it more than hits the spot as entertainment. Some would not be happy with the book title. Hardly kingdoms at times that should not detract from the book. Some may not like the songs and poems interspersed but again it is more a book aimed at entertaining history. I like the style that Davies writes in as well. As much as I enjoy the dry academic tomes there is nothing wrong with writing for the layman. A nice read and I will delve further into the authors work one day.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Nichols

    A rather old-fashioned collection of essays on defunct European monarchies, focusing on the military conquests and marital alliances of those kingdoms' ruling families. Davies pads the narrative with block quotes, genealogical charts, and song lyrics, and pauses periodically to indulge in interpretive quarrels that will probably bore most readers (unless they are deeply interested in how many political entities bore the name 'Burgundy'). Still, there are a few interesting chapters here on the Ar A rather old-fashioned collection of essays on defunct European monarchies, focusing on the military conquests and marital alliances of those kingdoms' ruling families. Davies pads the narrative with block quotes, genealogical charts, and song lyrics, and pauses periodically to indulge in interpretive quarrels that will probably bore most readers (unless they are deeply interested in how many political entities bore the name 'Burgundy'). Still, there are a few interesting chapters here on the Aragonese empire, medieval Lithuania, and the Irish Free State.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    tl;dr: Extremely interesting, at times long-winded, history of some of European vanished countries, most forgotten Each chapter is split into three parts, which usually follow the same pattern: the first part is the country's location in modern times. Sometimes it's a travelogue, sometimes it's a summary of politics, sometimes an Internet-based walk in the country. The second part is the actual history, sometimes it skims, sometimes it's as detailed as possible, followed by the last part, which i tl;dr: Extremely interesting, at times long-winded, history of some of European vanished countries, most forgotten Each chapter is split into three parts, which usually follow the same pattern: the first part is the country's location in modern times. Sometimes it's a travelogue, sometimes it's a summary of politics, sometimes an Internet-based walk in the country. The second part is the actual history, sometimes it skims, sometimes it's as detailed as possible, followed by the last part, which is the relevant country's place in modern historiography, which often takes place as a lament on how forgotten the country is, or how wrong and incomplete various encyclopedia's entries are. Sometimes this pattern is broken to hilarious effect - the chapter on Byzantium starts with a lament on what a bad rep Byzantium got from Renaissance individuals, a critique of Orham Pamuk in that he seems to have forgotten his city's history past his grandfather's generation, and when you expect the history to start it just says "how do you expect me to summarize 1300 years of history in so few pages?" and ends. The book is at best when I got so immersed details of forgotten places, in places where Davies' humor really came out, that I thought I was reading a love-child of Borges and Calvino, a contest of trying to come up with the most ludicrous history possible: At this juncture, a clear head is necessary to disentangle the multiple coincidences of names. [...] In order to perpetuate the intimate relations of the courts of Toledo and Barcelona, the sister of Juan II of Castile was married off to Alfonso of Aragon, while the sister of Juan II of Aragon married Juan II of Castile. Both of these brides were called Maria; they were first cousins, and each of them married a first cousin. After their marriages, Princess Maria of Castile became Queen Maria of Aragon, and Maria of Aragon became Maria of Castile. The phrase "keeping it within the family" gains new significance. On the other hand, the book is at its worst when it suffers from information overload. I think Davies often had to decide between "pop-history" and "reference work", and when in doubt, went for the reference (this fits to the laments in many chapters' third parts - better to get it right for future historians than to sacrifice "endangered" information on the altar of reading flow, I'd say). One minor example: [...] a broad band of territory was annexed stretching from Podolia and Volhynian Lutsk on the Polish border to Chernigov and Bryansk on the confines of Muscovy. Brest on the River Bug was captured, together with the district of Polesie beyond the Bug. What? Where??? I typed it down and immediately forgot everything. So what makes this book important? In my view it has a lesson to teach, even if you quickly forget all about the minor details of the long-lost lives of monarchs in backwater kingdoms. Nowadays with more refugees coming in while a tone-deaf elite cuts social systems all around the world, the nationalistic voice gets louder and louder. However, (at least in Germany), these parties just reference the latest "layer" of history, while forgetting, ignoring, or simply not knowing about all the previous layers. I come from here - what "people" am I supposed to feel connected to? Let's see: Various Celtic people used to run the place - then came the Romans and we became Germania Minor/Major (as featured in De Bello Gallico), just half an hour from the Limes protecting us from the unwashed Barbarians of the rest of what is now Germany, and we still have many Roman structures standing around; then Völkerwanderung happened and another bunch of Germans took over the place and we became part of Francia; then came the Holy Roman Empire and the Nine Years' War; then Napoleon's armies took over for a few decades (it's still culturally so close to France that much of my childhood's dialect consists of loanwords from French, like "Juppen" from jupon, or "Merzisch" from merci, plus snails are delicious); then came the Kingdom of Prussia (somewhere in this time-area Bernkastel was joined to Kues, like Buda was joined with Pest); The Deutscher Bund; most of the fighting of World War I happened not too far away; then came the Nazis (we used to have a Synagogue - only a small path with the name of Synagogue remains, it was burned down during the Reichskristallnacht), then American troops, followed by French troops (the market place still has one house with bullet holes - not to show how terrible war is, but because the owner is too stingy to fix it, just as his father was) and under the Allied-occupied regions it belonged to France, then to the BRD again, which is where we're at now, for now. What am i now? French? German? Roman? Celtic? Francian? Do I have to care? Germany is a complex place with complex history (as this book shows for Prussia's history alone - did you know there were several Prussias? And one of them was closer to Poland than to Germany?), all countries are complex places, with borders that are there for historical reasons ("let's just use this river here") than because of a shared culture, or a perfectly shared history, or a shared language. Divisions happened almost randomly, and then disappeared again. Two generations ago people of Bernkastel used to hate people of Kues; children used to meet on the bridge for stone fights. Whoever got knocked out was taken and kept for 24 hours by the children of the other side. That this dividing hatred has existed is completely forgotten, but "luckily" we're coming up with new divisions. P.S.: At one point Davies collects confusion about the different names for early Slavic groups as "nomenclatural cacophony". I'm stealing it, biology needs this.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sense Of History

    For the sake of clarity: I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the small aspects of European history, although because of its density it's not a light read. Yet I have some conceptual criticism on Davies’s approach. For example: what is a "Vanished kingdom"? In the 15 cases that Davies discusses, there are many that certainly do not deserve that title: some did not go beyond the duchy or county level (Burgundy for example), others were straigh For the sake of clarity: I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the small aspects of European history, although because of its density it's not a light read. Yet I have some conceptual criticism on Davies’s approach. For example: what is a "Vanished kingdom"? In the 15 cases that Davies discusses, there are many that certainly do not deserve that title: some did not go beyond the duchy or county level (Burgundy for example), others were straight out republics (Rusyn and the USSR) and others something in between. You may also wonder whether all those states have effectively "vanished" and what that means. Davies himself was aware of this, as is apparent from the subtitle: "the history of half-forgotten Europe". Indeed they were only half-forgotten, because in most cases the political entities didn't really vanish, but went up in larger or different units, and their legacy lived on for decades, sometimes even centuries; in some cases even their name was preserved (Burgundy, Poland, Lithuania). In addition, Davies' approach is inevitably very political: self declared statehood is his criterium, and that results in a certain randomness in the selection he made. For instance, it is very strange to put the "kingdom of 1 day", namely Rusyn, better known as Ruthenia or Carpathian Ukraine, next to the 1,000-year Byzantine empire (which covers in only 20 pages) . In the same vein, it also seems strange that Davies left some influential areas like Moorish Andalusia or the Venetian empire completely out of the picture. And then we must also express our surprise that still existing countries such as 'Eire' Ireland or Montenegro appear in the list of 'half-forgotten' states (although in the course of his story Davies makes it clear why this is so, I’m not really convinced). In all of this of course the larger, meta-historical picture is essential: why do states appear and disappear? With Davies you will not find speculative models such as the rise and fall theories of Spengler and Toynbee, or the somewhat more rationally based 'overstretch' theory by Paul Kennedy. For Davies, history is a contingent story of never-ending clashes between ambitions, impulses and drifts, and between political-military-social-economic and cultural forces that sometimes go in one direction and then in another; and this dynamic, both internally as externally. can lead to unforeseeable consequences. Unpredictability is the ever-recurring mantra in this book. For that reason I was much suprised that Davies in the chapter on Ireland uses much pages to predict the very probable disintegration of the United Kingdom. So, in the end, I can endorse Davies' accent on contingency; in this book it leads to the only law that cannot be refuted in history: everything has its time, nothing has eternal life and certainly not a political unit. As Davies writes in his introduction: “In reality, life is far more complex; it consists of failures, near misses and brave tries as well as triumphs and successes. Mediocrity, ungrasped opportunities and false starts, though unsensational, are commonplace. The panorama of the past is indeed studded with greatness, but it is filled in the main with lesser powers, lesser people, lesser lives and lesser emotions. Most importantly, students of history need to be constantly reminded of the transience of power, for transience is one of the fundamental characteristics both of the human condition and of the political order. Sooner or later, all things come to an end. Sooner or later, the centre cannot hold. All states and nations, however great, bloom for a season and are replaced”. I can’t imagine what to add to that!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Loring Wirbel

    Readers familiar with Davies' two historical monster-works of the 1990s, 'Europe: A History' and 'The Isles,' recognize that Davies combines a desire to be comprehensive on a broad scope with a unique style of information presentation that is exciting and quite unlike most historians. At the same time, he is dismissive of over-specialization in historical studies and of post-modernist concerns with "narrative," critiques that I share with Davies. But the very nature of this book suggested it wo Readers familiar with Davies' two historical monster-works of the 1990s, 'Europe: A History' and 'The Isles,' recognize that Davies combines a desire to be comprehensive on a broad scope with a unique style of information presentation that is exciting and quite unlike most historians. At the same time, he is dismissive of over-specialization in historical studies and of post-modernist concerns with "narrative," critiques that I share with Davies. But the very nature of this book suggested it would be an informal chance for stretching out, a bit of improvisational jazz over the European continent, compared to the structured symphonies of his two previous works. And that is pretty much what we are given. Where the two mega-works deserve instant five-star rankings, this one merits four stars due to its eclectic arrangement of material - but that doesn't distract from the fact that it is an utter joy to read. In his introduction, Davies would have us believe that he wants to follow up popular analyses of failure such as 'Guns, Germs and Steel' and 'War and Peace and War' with a book that dissects reasons states disappear. At the end of the book he gives us categories like merger, implosion, and infant mortality as reasons for the death of states, but in reality, he's just taking us on an idiosyncratic vacation to some very interesting locales. The structure of each section is a little confusing. He begins with a modern description of a very specific location that has a tenuous relation to the state being described, a tie so loose that occasionally it's confusing where Davies is going. This is followed by a long middle section providing a conventional history of the region, followed by a brief conclusion that talks about the modern implications of the state's disappearance. Parts 2 and 3 of each chapter seem worth retaining, but that first part often is difficult to decipher. But you will be taken to interesting realms on this trip - the Kingdom of Strathclyde, centered on Glasgow but populated by older Britons (the "Old North") related to the Welsh; the Kingdom of Burgundy in all its convolutions; the Visigoth kingdom of Tolosa centered on the modern city of Toulouse. It's obvious we should know the name of Vouille as well as we know Tours, but what is not so obvious is why Davies chose some vanished kingdoms and not others. If we get Tolosa, why not Merovingian France, almost as little-known as the Visigoth realms? If Aragon, why not Navarre - or why not the Gothic kingdoms of south Spain that first fought off the Islamic invasions? If Etruria, why not other Napoleonic republics? If Estonia, why not other Baltic states? The simple answer is that Davies is allowed to randomly pick and choose, and to keep a book like this less than a thousand pages, arbitrary choices must be made. And that is at once the book's strength and weakness. 'Vanished Kingdoms' is like listening to free jazz. You go with the improvisations chosen by the author, and you know you will end up in unexpected and fascinating places. But this is not a detailed list of all of Europe's vanished kingdoms - it's a collection of fascinating stories that may or may not leave us with lessons of larger truths in organizing coherent nation-states.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    For anyone aspiring to an education in European history Norman Davies book is a "must read." The crannies of history that have remained obscure are made painstakingly clear, from the Visigoths to the Kingdom of Poland and its Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Not only is this book essential for an understanding of Europe's chaotic history, but it clarifies, through the author's own travel experiences, what's happening now and why. Davies' approach is unique in my experience in his vivid accounts of the For anyone aspiring to an education in European history Norman Davies book is a "must read." The crannies of history that have remained obscure are made painstakingly clear, from the Visigoths to the Kingdom of Poland and its Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Not only is this book essential for an understanding of Europe's chaotic history, but it clarifies, through the author's own travel experiences, what's happening now and why. Davies' approach is unique in my experience in his vivid accounts of the present conditions of the lands whose pasts he delves. Most harrowing: the effects of the soviet era, depopulating cities and regions that were centers of culture and prosperity not so very long ago. The text is littered with maps, as borders and the identity of nations change and change. One would do well to have such maps printed on clear plastic to be able to overlay them to see the lengthy passage of time, as anatomy books overlay a view into the body inch by inch. Vanished Kingdom is not easy reading, it can be head-spinning in its complexity. My advice is to take it slowly, reading a section, absorbing it, perhaps reading something else for a while (I'm taking a break with the Countess of Carnarvon's Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey), but forge on with Davies, for there lies wisdom, compassion and a true sense of our past.

  23. 5 out of 5

    D

    This substantial (828pp) book describes 15 countries that once were (number 13, Rusyn, was independent for exactly one day) but are no longer. The exception is Eire (Chapter 14) and Estonia (Chapter 15, although the title of that chapter mentions the CCCP). The Eire chapter predicts the ultimate inclusion of Northern Ireland into the republic, unless the latter joins an independent Scotland. I found it very interesting material and well written. E.g. the Visigoth kingdom of Tolosa (Toulouse), if This substantial (828pp) book describes 15 countries that once were (number 13, Rusyn, was independent for exactly one day) but are no longer. The exception is Eire (Chapter 14) and Estonia (Chapter 15, although the title of that chapter mentions the CCCP). The Eire chapter predicts the ultimate inclusion of Northern Ireland into the republic, unless the latter joins an independent Scotland. I found it very interesting material and well written. E.g. the Visigoth kingdom of Tolosa (Toulouse), if it had not lost a battle with the Franks in 507 around Poitiers, would have prevented the Franks (under Clovis) from settling in France. There are also some juicy bits about the Coburg family, who supplied royalty to the UK and Belgium, see the Chapter on Rosenau. A very enjoyable read if you're interested in history.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Filip

    "This too shal pass". Impressive history of states, some insignificant, some most powerful, some small, some covering a huge area - but all of them extinct. From an almost forgotten Celtic kingdom in the early Middle Ages to the demise of the USSR, Davies describes their apogee and end with clarity and insight. States may implode, explode, be conquered or meet another end (Davies seems quite convinced that the days of the United Kingdom are numbered, too). There is a slight emphasis on Eastern E "This too shal pass". Impressive history of states, some insignificant, some most powerful, some small, some covering a huge area - but all of them extinct. From an almost forgotten Celtic kingdom in the early Middle Ages to the demise of the USSR, Davies describes their apogee and end with clarity and insight. States may implode, explode, be conquered or meet another end (Davies seems quite convinced that the days of the United Kingdom are numbered, too). There is a slight emphasis on Eastern Europe (Prussia, Galicia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Estonia) since that is Davies' specialisation, but that makes this history only more interesting. Recommended for anyone interested in European history.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    This is a wonderful book for history nerds. It's almost certain to contain something that you didn't know yet, and the commentary on the demise of the different European Kingdoms is thoughtful as well as thought provoking. I'm tempted, now that I'm finished, to start right back again at the beginning. Which brings me to the only thing I didn't like about this book. It's not easy to read and to keep reading. The Kingdoms are treated separately in essay form, and it took me a year to finally get t This is a wonderful book for history nerds. It's almost certain to contain something that you didn't know yet, and the commentary on the demise of the different European Kingdoms is thoughtful as well as thought provoking. I'm tempted, now that I'm finished, to start right back again at the beginning. Which brings me to the only thing I didn't like about this book. It's not easy to read and to keep reading. The Kingdoms are treated separately in essay form, and it took me a year to finally get through all the essays. Though the author is a competent writer, it's not easy stuff, and there's no device to pull the reader through the book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tony Gualtieri

    An excellent history devoted to the places that lie between the places that other histories cover. Besides the wealth of detail and the opening up of unknown worlds, the books explores how countries disappear. What goes away and what remains. I wouldn't try it without a good grounding in European history, but if you have that, you'll find it fascinating.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    I’ve got to admire Norman Davies for his chutzpah; not only has he produced thousand page general histories of Europe and Britain (well, almost 1000 pages for Britain), he has also given us this 800 page history of Europe told via states that no longer exist. However (the idea marvellously contrarian as it is) turns out to be better than the finished product. Starting with the great strength: much of what we get as historical writing is stuck within a national frame – histories of phenome I’ve got to admire Norman Davies for his chutzpah; not only has he produced thousand page general histories of Europe and Britain (well, almost 1000 pages for Britain), he has also given us this 800 page history of Europe told via states that no longer exist. However (the idea marvellously contrarian as it is) turns out to be better than the finished product. Starting with the great strength: much of what we get as historical writing is stuck within a national frame – histories of phenomenon X in country A: France, Britain, Brazil, Madagascar, whatever….. Even imperial histories which appear to be international in form finish up being, much more often than not, histories of the British, French, Spanish, German, whatever empire. So, to get a history of Europe told in a way that explicitly sets out to disrupt the taken for granted lines on the map that distinguish state or ethnic group boundaries (histories of the Hungarian people, for instance, could quite legitimately include large groups of people in modern-day Slovakia and Romania) exposes the constructed banality of much of what we as historians do, the way in which our contemporary situation defines the geographical and analytical scope of our work and an all too often teleological mode of reasoning. This approach gives Davies the opportunity to explore these selected regions of Europe as they were, not as they became, and in doing so comply with the historical conventions many now would call reconstructionist to deal with the past on its own terms. Except, his goal seems to be not to reconstruct the past but to draw on the histories of these states to explore a typology of the ‘death of states’. The range of states covered is impressive, from the 5th century Visigoth kingdom of Tolosa (in what would now be western France) to the Soviet Union. Along the way he takes in, using his names for them, Alt Culd (roughly coterminous with Strathclyde), Burgundia (in the vicinity, and more, of what we now call Burgundy), Aragon (now in Spain), Litva (around the areas we now know as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus), Byzantion (the huge eastern empire), Borussia (also in the vicintity of present day Belarus), Sabaudia (which gave us the House of Savoy), Galicia (taking in part of contemporary Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Belarus), Etruria (the Napoleonic occupation of Tuscany), Rosenau (in what is now south-west Germany), Ternagora (in effect Montenegro), Rusyn (a state for one day in the Hungarian, Slovakian, Ukranian border area) and Éire (now the Republic of Ireland). Given the breadth of this coverage, there is much here to annoy specialists – but with the exception of his national histories of Poland (he specialist topic) Davies has shown himself to be a lumper, not a splitter as they used to be known in British historiography. He is clearly well within his comfort zone in his discussions of Litva, Borussia, Galicia and Rusyn, and his discussion of the USSR is really an exploration of the Soviet Union/Estonia relations. This Estonian focus works heuristically (dealing with the USSR itself would be a volume of this size) but also allows him to tell the story from a non-Soviet perspective, unlike the rest of the case studies where he assiduously attempts to make them insider accounts; this anti-Soviet account is closer to the story of the birth and death of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic than it is a convincing exploration of the USSR itself. Some other chapters also work very well. His exploration of Etruria is wonderfully sympathetic to the 19 year old widowed ‘queen’ Maria-Luisa di Borbone, installed by the Bonapartist régime and ousted after the collapse of the 1st empire. It is also hard not to feel sympathy for the Montenegrans, the only allied state to cease to exist after World War One. Other chapters are less convincing, and the fewer than 20 pages turned over to Byzantium leaves me puzzled why it was even included unless to shore up the typology of how states die. He is also clearly more comfortable with political and social than cultural history, with for instance the discussion of the nationalising culture of Galicia being little more than a list of authors/painters/composers and some of their key works with little or no thematic integration. His conclusion points to five ways in which states die: implosion, conquest, merger, liquidation and what he calls ‘infant mortality’. At times this might be self-inflicted, but more often than not it is a response to internal or external pressures in some form of combination but each needs to be told and explored separately, which is in part what he does here in broad but inclusive terms. These five categories, however, seem light, coming as they do after over 700 pages of discussion. So, I find myself disappointed (while still admiring chutzpah) but moderating that disappointment with the ‘what would I have done differently?’ question. I think, if it were me, I would have tried to do a little more model building to explore the five means of state-death – but then I’m a different kind of historian than Davies, having come to the discipline through anthropology where theory building is much more explicit and intentional, rather than implicit and consequential as it is in Davies’ school of history. There’s lots of snippets of juicy information, some great case studies of now non-existent states, and a fairly good chance that as readers we’ll have our understandings of what Europe is, how it has been and how it became unsettled by this book. For the most part Davies also has a conversational writing voice I find quite engaging – and now that it is out in paperback other readers will not be lugging a kilogram of book from place to place. Three stars seems harsh, four a bit generous.... I've erred on the side of generous.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    An infuriating, fascinating survey of countries that aren't there anymore. Davies is quite right to suggest that a teleological bias sets in if we learn Europe's history through component histories of France, Germany, Spain et al, and discount erstwhile fixtures such as Burgundy and Livonia. He has the wide learning and seriousness more often found in earlier generations of historians, and occasionally their wonderful turn of phrase too: "Ramon Berenguer ruled in uneasy tandem with his brother, An infuriating, fascinating survey of countries that aren't there anymore. Davies is quite right to suggest that a teleological bias sets in if we learn Europe's history through component histories of France, Germany, Spain et al, and discount erstwhile fixtures such as Burgundy and Livonia. He has the wide learning and seriousness more often found in earlier generations of historians, and occasionally their wonderful turn of phrase too: "Ramon Berenguer ruled in uneasy tandem with his brother, Berenguer Ramon II El Fratricida". There is much to treasure here, both in terms of the broad sweep of the continent's history and simply as a collection of fascinatingly obscure and wonderfully useless knowledge. And yet (and this is a perfect example of why I so seldom award star ratings on Goodreads), it is also one of the most maddening slogs I've had with a book in years. I have less problem than many with the kings-and-battles school of history, but that wonderful cover, with the casement opening on a perfect mediaeval town - I wanted more of that. Too often we get only the monarchs and the borders, no sense of the strange and magical details of what life was like in Alt Clud, what the streets of Burgundy felt like, what it meant to be a Ruthenian. Possibly even more galling is the way that Davies can so frequently come across as awfully pettish, occasionally lapsing into bullying. The introduction offers a vision of the historian as "a beachcomber and treasure-seeker, a collector of flotsam and jetsam, a raiser of wrecks, a diver of the deep, scouring the seabed to recover what was lost". A noble goal, but too many chapters begin with Davies sounding more like a hectoring dick of a teacher, belabouring Wikipedia or a local tourist information site for not knowing about one of his forgotten lands. The worst example is Burgundy, where he literally scores various sources on how many of the entities of that name they include - despite himself having admitted that the boundaries of that list are never going to be entirely firm or agreed. The paucity of factors which link them all, the subtle shifts between them - there is a wise essay to be written about these. It will make reference to Wittgenstein's theories of family resemblance, and will certainly use Davies' chapter as a source, but by heavens it will be kinder than that unseemly tirade. A similar dickishness can be found even in the chapter titles, which sometimes seem to be obscure for obscurity's sake: 'Sabaudia' not Savoy, 'Rosenau' not Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Though this does also help obscure the sleight of hand towards the end of the book, when Davies is simply cheating by including 'Tsernagora' despite Montenegro now existing as an independent state once more. Hobby-horses start being ridden more blatantly as the end draws near; the chapter on the single day in 1939 for which Ruthenia was independent is largely a fight with the argument that big countries are awesome and small countries are silly and to blame for their own misfortunes - an argument which if it does exist, is marginal at the best of times and certainly not one I've seen applied to, of all the bloody years, 1939. Another maddening moment comes when he blithely asserts that the causes of the War of the Two Peters, between countries both now part of Spain, "have long since been forgotten". Have they really? I had a quick look at Davies' favourite, Wikipedia, and they all seemed standard and solid enough for a minor mediaeval barney. They may not interest him, but that is hardly the same thing. And then we have the chapter 'Eire'. Which, as you may have noticed, is another distinctly non-vanished country; if anything, its gradual emergence is a story for a sequel about how states arise. While certainly not without interest, this proves largely to be here as prelude to a daydream Davies clearly cherishes about the apparently inevitable break-up of the United Kingdom. He does quote "An exhaustive study of the many pillars on which British power and prestige were built...[which] indicated that all without exception were in decline" - but only if you follow the footnote do you learn that it's one of his own previous books. His suggestion as to how the nation might fracture is certainly not implausible; as the background to a science fiction novel, it would be perfectly acceptable (if still arguable). Here, it can't help but feel like he's had a sneaky wank on someone else's time.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Austin Burbridge

    On the whole, I liked the book; not, however, as much as I liked the idea of the book. It really does want an editor to look out for the reader. Although I like the conclusions to which the author eventually arrives, I would have been much happier reading, had he let me know where he was headed at the beginning of each chapter. The surprise-twist ending works for O. Henry, but O. Henry's stories were more compact than the chapters of this book. Neither a failure of history, nor of wit; but some On the whole, I liked the book; not, however, as much as I liked the idea of the book. It really does want an editor to look out for the reader. Although I like the conclusions to which the author eventually arrives, I would have been much happier reading, had he let me know where he was headed at the beginning of each chapter. The surprise-twist ending works for O. Henry, but O. Henry's stories were more compact than the chapters of this book. Neither a failure of history, nor of wit; but some discipline in the rhetoric — the craft of storytelling — would have made reading this more fun than it was, and more fun than the premise had promised. The design of the book is superb: Highly legible — in the grand manner of old-fashioned printing and bindery — with generous leading, liberal margins; and set in what may be the best typeface ever for books: Monotype Bembo. A big volume, but easy on the eyes, and kind to the reader.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Cunningham

    Holy crap, I finished it! It took me two months, but I did it. (To be fair, I had a 'few' things going on, and finished a few other books over the same period.) This book is dense. It really is. But it is also really interesting. I didn't think I could enjoy this level of detail about states, family lines, successions, etc.; and in a sense it was as boring as it might sound (depending on your tastes/interests.) But the thing is... it actually was well worth the read, and maintained my interest th Holy crap, I finished it! It took me two months, but I did it. (To be fair, I had a 'few' things going on, and finished a few other books over the same period.) This book is dense. It really is. But it is also really interesting. I didn't think I could enjoy this level of detail about states, family lines, successions, etc.; and in a sense it was as boring as it might sound (depending on your tastes/interests.) But the thing is... it actually was well worth the read, and maintained my interest throughout. As an American, even one who reads a lot, the rise and fall of political units/states seems distant. Somehow, drowning in detail, this book manages to give a sense of the complexity and enormity of political changes that --even having read some previous history-- I was simply lacking. And not just the human suffering and cost (though there is plenty of that.) The sense of shifting identity, lost identity, just the vagaries of time, etc.... Yeah, this was a good book :)

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