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The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War Hardcover – 4 Oct 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (4 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846143543
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846143540
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 346,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


An extraordinary achievement ... a brilliant exercise in historiography ... Kochanski neither debunks nor sensationalises. She has no ideological axe to grind, and makes balanced use of family experience and interview material as against the official record and a handed-down sentimental consensus. The truth is far more powerful than the legend. It's great history writing (Herald)

A superb account of Poland during the second world war ... The Eagle Unbowed serves to illuminate the political sickness that caused a nation to vanish from the map of Europe ... The pain and loss ... is poignantly evoked by Kochanski ... The Eagle Unbowed, a model history, conveys with harrowing immediacy the plight of the Polish people in the conflict (Ian Thomson Spectator)

[A] remarkable book ... Kochanski succeeds in drawing together all the disparate strands of this terrible story into a coherent account of what happened to Poland and her citizens between 1939 and 1945. She brings to the subject not only an impressive grasp of the military and political context, but also a balance, neutrality and honesty few could manage, combined with the intelligence, imagination and empathy necessary to grasp the true depth of the experience she recounts ... This book is history at its best. It tells the whole story, and tells it well, with just the right mixture of detachment and empathy, in crisp, readable prose. But it also speaks to the imagination and makes the reader think - and not just about the subject in hand (Standpoint)

Until Halik Kochanski's "The Eagle Unbowed" nobody had written a comprehensive English-language history of Poland at war. A British-born historian whose own family's experiences dot her pages, she weaves together the political, military, diplomatic and human strands of the story ... Ms Kochanski gives admirably clear accounts of the battlefield. She unpicks other tangles too: the tense relationship between the impatient, ill-informed underground leadership in Poland and the divided, ill-led exiled government in London, sidelined and then dumped by the allies as the Soviet armies marched west.

She has a keen eye for the striking quote ... She uncovers details that will surprise even history geeks ... Ms Kochanski marshals an impressive and comprehensive array of English and Polish material


An informative, authoritative and wide-ranging account of the tragedy that befell Poland and its inhabitants, Gentiles and Jews, during the war and its aftermath. The less well-known story of the Poles deported to the Soviet Union is particularly vivid and moving. An engaging and important book (Hubert Zawadzki (Author Of A Concise History Of Poland))

Poland's war was so terrible as to almost defy summary ... this book is opinionated, fluid and forceful (Oliver Bullough New Statesman)

About the Author

Halik Kochanski read Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford and then completed a PhD at King's College London. She has taught at both King's College London and University College London and presented papers to a number of military history conferences. She has written a number of articles and is the author of Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (1999). She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She has been a member of the councils of the Army Records Society and Society for Army Historical Research and remains a member of both societies. She is also a member of the British Commission for Military History and the Institute for Historical Research. She is currently a judge for the Templer Medal book prize.

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Alan Pavelin VINE VOICE on 10 Dec. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The hundreds of books and films about WWII which the British have read or seen present that war as one between the "goodies" (Britain and her allies, including the Soviet Union) and the "baddies" (Nazi Germany and its allies). This outstanding and brilliantly-researched book shows that, from the Polish perspective, the "baddies" were both Germany and the Soviet Union, each of whom brutally invaded and occupied the country during the 6 years. Britain and the USA were seen as fair-weather friends only; Roosevelt is presented as more interested in winning the 1944 election than in acting justly towards the Poles, while the British foreign secretary Eden, and even Churchill, were keener on cosying up to Stalin than on helping the country which had more casualties than any other during the conflict. In particular, they were prepared to keep quiet about what they knew of the notorious Katyn massacre, wrongly blamed by Stalin on the Nazis.

Much of the book, whose author is a British-born historian of Polish parentage, consists of reminiscencies by Poles, mostly children at the time, about the unspeakable sufferings their people, and not just the Jews, went through. The mind grows numb at the innumerable accounts of massacres of thousands in a day, at the hands of both Nazis and Soviets. I knew a little of these things, but this book is a real eye-opener and should be read by anyone with the simplistic "Stalin good because he helped us beat Hitler" perspective. The last two chapters describe the post-war developments, ending with the free and democratic Poland we have today, albeit with some lost land to the east. My only small complaint is that the index is not full enough; I came across several people and places mentioned in the text but omitted from the index.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By atticusfinch1048 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Recently published here in the UK and soon to be followed in the USA. This is a big mighty tome and worth its weight in gold. This is a very comprehensive history of Poland and her people during the WW2. She pulls no punches when she brings in the September Campaign and then how the Soviet joined the war in support of Nazi Germany and how they divided the country between them. This book examines all parts of Polish history and shines lights in to the darker parts some people would prefer not to mention.

I recently used it as part of a source for reference while writing an overview on aspects of Polish war events and this was a valuable source of information. The book is not for the faint hearted as it is delves into the past.

If you want to know why those of Poles do not really consider that the war ended in 1945 but 1989 then read this book. If you are interested in all aspects of Eastern Europe and WW2 this book is a must buy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Claretta VINE VOICE on 24 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a big book (591 pages plus notes and bibliography) on a subject with potential to be thoroughly depressing. As Kochanski notes, Poland was unique in being occupied by foreign armies from the first to the last day of the Second World War. Millions of Poles died or suffered almost unimaginable hardships. So in some ways this is far from an easy read. However, Kochanski's scholarship and her skill in weaving the narrative strands together make this ultimately a very rewarding book.
Kochanski vividly describes the experiences of ordinary people, often drawing on the experiences of her own family, but she is equally adept at covering the negotiations and the machinations of politicians and generals. Poland emerges as doomed by internal disunity before 1939 and by her exposed geographic position between two utterly ruthless powers. For cruelty and cynicism in their policy towards Poland and the Poles there seems little to choose between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. And France and Great Britain were allies whose own unpreparedness for war made them almost impotent to offer effective help, despite their diplomatic undertakings. A consistent theme is how Polish interests were - perhaps necessarily - subordinated to the need to keep the Soviets on side in order to achieve the ultimate defeat of Hitler.
Some of the book therefore makes uncomfortable reading for the British. Even after the war was over, some Poles who had fought alongside other Allied forces felt unwelcome in Britain because of a perceived pro-communist bias. Kochanski rightly draws attention to the disgraceful exclusion of the Poles from the 1946 Victory parade by the Labour government.
This is just one aspect of the many fascinating insights in the book. For anyone who wants to understand Polish history or to have a full appreciation of the history of World War II I thoroughly recommend it.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 29 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
By the Spring of 1939 Hitler's attempts to recruit Poland for an Eastern war had failed. On 25 March Hitler told the Wehrmacht to prepare for an invasion of Poland.Without warning,at 4.20am on 1 September Germany bombed the city of Wielun killing hundreds of people, mostly women and children. In all, over 150 places were bombed. Warsaw was hit 17 times on that day alone. By 25 September 25000 civilians plus some 6ooo military personnel had been killed in an undeclared war. During the fighting that ensued the Germans committed appalling atrocities against Polish soldiers who Hitler regarded as not real soldiers because, according to Hitler, Poland was not a 'real country'. From the outset the intention was to destroy and eliminate the Polish people.

By 1945 Poland had lost 20% of its population and its freedom. There are numerous books about, for example, the Holocaust, the Warsaw Uprising and the Soviet massacre of 20000 Polish officers but until now no one has written in English an account of Poland at war.

Kochanski's book is the masterly account we have been waiting for. She is a British-born historian whose own family experienced some of the horrors she describes in her book. In this book she exposes not only the horrors that the Polish people suffered in the war but also scandals such as the Poles not being invited to a British victory parade in 1946-Fijians and Mexicans were. She also details the fact that we and the Americans were as duplicitous as the Nazis and the Russians in their behaviour towards the Poles. The Allies and the Soviets behaved in a shameful way that sullies the reputation of Churchill and Roosevelt.

Kochanski also describes key battles very clearly.
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