on 1 June 2009
Although I'm not a historian, my ancestors are from the region Snyder writes about, and I think he has written an excellent book. It's not for the faint-hearted, in the sense that the history of the region is very complicated indeed, and yet he takes us clearly, confidently and in a very structured way through four centuries and the intertwined histories of five peoples (for the Jews of the area had no country of their own). He comes across in full command of an enormous amount of material and data, and manages to explain without prejudice or bias, the most horrific events so that they can be seen and understood from the perspectives of all the peoples and nations involved. If you want or need to understand why the map of Europe is the way it is today, I can't imagine anyone doing it more fairly or clearly than Snyder. And if you are connected with Eastern Europe in any way, although you may feel sad about the way things have ended up as a result of twentieth century history, you will probably agree that the situation now is the best that could be achieved, given the past.
on 22 April 2016
I knew very little about the Lithuania/ Poland/ Belarus/ Ukraine region before reading this book, other than general context from the Duchy and Commonwealth periods; and of course the fall of Communism and what has happened since. I learned a great deal by reading this book, I must say I was very surprised to learn what a violent and fluid history the region has had. I especially appreciated the author's emphasis on how the demographic make up of various areas have changed so dramatically over time, almost always by calculation and use of force by one side or the other. In some ways, it is amazing to now see all of these countries living peacefully together - and indeed Poland being one of Ukraine's strongest allies in the face of Russian aggression (although the author explains why this is the case, too). My only complaint is that sometimes the writing is a bit academic and dry, so it doesnt have the oooomph factor one needs sometimes to slog through certain slow points of history. But I would recommend it to anyone interested in the region that has a bit of patience. It is well researched and thoughtful.
on 6 March 2010
Took me a while to read and does occassionaly get very detailed so not for all readers however. However, very well written and given the subject matter it is very readable. The last chapter on the 1990s was a particular highlight - as was the section on WW2 Ukraine, which was harrowing. Highly recommended
As has been noted by another reviewer, the history of this part of mittel europa is of labyrinthine complexity and taking it on requires the command of a huge amount of material. Snyder acquits himself well: this is a clear account if so dense that it is not always easy to follow; it is to Snyder's credit that a clear narrative is managed and the analysis is fair-minded and the points made are invariably interesting. Those coming to him following his book with Tony Judt might fear that he might sometimes miss verbs or write an elided prose sometimes defying easy comprehension. That weakness is not evident here, I am glad to say. I had read Norman Davies' very different histories of Poland, against which this book stacks up favourably. In fact it is a rich account of a period and of places about which I had not known I was so ignorant. Well done indeed; a considerable achievement..