So this turned out to be waaaayWTF 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 waaaayWTF 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 isinteresting 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 tosolidly 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 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 areclosely 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 nofree 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 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 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 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 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 anyThese 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 readslike 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 dealswith 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 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 readlike 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 Norman Davies surprised methan 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 methan 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 learnabout 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 someconceptual criticism you can give on this book, especially about the selection Davies has made For that I refer to my History account on Goodreas 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 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 A really interesting subject made almost unbearably boring. 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 nosurprising 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 theobscure 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 tofamiliar 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