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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe [Paperback]

Norman Davies
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Oct 2012

From Norman Davies, the acclaimed author of Europe: A History, comes the magical history of Europe's lost realms, selected as a Book of the Year by the Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, Independent, Guardian and Financial Times.

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. What happened to the once-great Mediterranean 'Empire of Aragon'? Where did the half-forgotten kingdoms of Burgundy go? Which current nations will one day become a distant memory too? This original and enthralling book peers through the cracks of history to discover the stories of lost realms across the centuries.

'Dazzling, provocative and brilliant' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times, Books of the Year

'A luminous account ... there are few better ways of understanding the multilayered splendours and horrors of Europe's past than through the pages of this wise, humane and unfailingly engaging book' John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph

'Vanished Kingdoms is great history and also great art. It is written with verve, passion and profound empathy' David Marquand, New Statesman, Books of the Year

'A magnificent achievement. Brocaded with scholarship, the book is unlikely ever to be equalled' Ian Thomson, Independent

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Product details

  • Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141048867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141048864
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Hugely ambitious . . . From the mists, Mr. Davies summons the kingdoms; he records their emergence, their flowering and their demise--whether by 'internall diseases' or 'forraign warre' in Thomas Hobbes's words. And he examines the traces that the kingdoms have left behind, in works of art or a piece of rock or perhaps just a place name."--"The Wall Street Journal"

About the Author

Norman Davies is the author of the No 1 best-seller Europe: a History (1996), Microcosm: Portrait of a European City (with Roger Moorhouse) and Rising '44: the Battle for Warsaw (date). From 1997-2006 he was Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford; he is now Professor at the Jagiellonian University at Cracow, an Honorary Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford and a life member of Clare Hall and Peterhouse, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, and lives in Oxford and Cracow.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
224 of 233 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now the rest of the story 28 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is really 15 detailed European history books in one. I doubt if there's anyone on the planet qualified to critique such a diverse collection of histories, some of them rather obscure. Certainly not me. So I'll just do my part by describing what's in the book (at the moment there's no "look inside" feature above).

The chapters describe the history of: the Visigoths in France and Spain; southwestern Scotland in the 5th-12th centuries, but really addressing British history in general at that time; Burgundy in France; Aragon in northern Spain; the area that is now Belarus and Lithuania; Byzantium; Prussia; northern Italy; Galicia (the one that was in what is now southern Poland and Ukraine); Italy around Florence in the 19th century; Saxe-Coburg in Germany; Montenegro, which used to be part of Yugoslavia; the short-lived (one day!) Rusyn republic in what is now Ukraine, 1939; Ireland since 1916; and the Soviet Union.

Each chapter has three parts: a description of the area today; the history which Prof. Davies wants to cover; and an assessment of how well the "vanished kingdom" is remembered.

To include Ireland in a book on "vanished kingdoms" is a bit of a stretch, and part 3 of that chapter ranges far beyond what is remembered about Ireland. Part 3 is actually an essay on the future of the United Kingdom which I hope the author will extract and get published in one of the quality newspapers for wider appreciation.

Lots of end notes, many of them website URLs for instant gratification. The notes at the back of the book are listed by the page number of the text, rather than just the chapter number, which makes the notes much easier to find.

This book will probably never be listed anywhere under the rubric of "genealogy," but if your ancestry is from any of those places, I think your will definitely learn things you didn't know. I'm sending a copy to my brother-in-law, whose ancestry is Prussian.
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149 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TO TEACH US ABOUT OURSELVES 18 Nov 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Although he was the first critic of `Whig history', the late Herbert Butterfield thought it was more or less inevitable that modern historians should write some version of it. By this he meant history which was written from a modern point of view and showed the growth of some institution or idea which we approve of now (for example, Parliamentary sovereignty, or modern science, or religious toleration). Norman Davies shows that it is possible to write about countries which no longer exist in a way that is entirely lacking in Whiggery.

Davies made his name with a history of Poland, where he is currently professor. He is used to seeing things from a European, and specifically an Eastern European, point of view. He was always going to be less sanguine about the idea of progress than most traditional historians of England and the British Isles. We have been much more fortunate. The tragedies which have afflicted the countries which we now think of as Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Germany make it difficult to be Whiggish, or even optimistic about Mankind as a whole.

Davies has no grand theory as to why states vanish. He is not Marx or Toynbee, nor a determinist of any kind, though he believes that all states have the seeds of decay within them. History is infinitely unpredictable. He does, however, have some prejudices. For example, he thinks that it is almost inevitable that Scotland will vote for independence and that the United Kingdom will vanish as a state; and he is a great fan of the European Union.

Davies has pointed out that there have been as many as 250 `vanished kingdoms'. This book deals with fifteen, drawing examples from various periods and different parts of Europe.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ashes to ashes ...... 4 Jun 2012
By Pensato
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A good collection of writing by Norman Davies. I say collection as it does not have quite the flow and cohesion of 'Europe' and 'The Isles'. The title is also somewhat a misnomer - I don't recall the Soviet Union being a kingdom!

It is fascinating - particularly the accounts of Tolosa, Burgundy, Aragon and Poland-Lithuania. A slight disappointment with a (very)short chapter on Byzantium ...... maybe something on the current impasse in Belgium? Surely the state in Europe closest to splitting at present as the Flemish and Walloon parts seem so reluctant to cooperate?

It still sparkles with Davies' customary erudition and was a pleasure (for the most part) to read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History as it should be written 27 Feb 2013
Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
I can't remember enjoying a book, delving into the more obscure corners of European History, more. This is a stunning read. I found it best not to go from front to back but to wander where the fancy took me - first to Montenegro and its one and only King, thence to Etruria, that 14 year madness when what we now know as Tuscany was in the hands of Napoleon and his placemen / relatives and on to Litva, that epic empire of Baltic power that waxed and waned on a scale I had never imagined. Then to Burgundy or Subaudia or the vicissitudes of Aragon - marvel at the ever-changing landscape that Professor Davies illumines, thereby explaining away many mysteries which the unknowing traveller to these areas might well never penetrate and thus miss so much.

In short I am bowled over by this approachable, powerful, occasionally disturbing journey through the complexities of European history - with cameos of individuals, sometimes vile and sometimes virtuous, that bring the past so vividly to life.

I'll return again and again to its pages. It will be an essential part of planning for touring in every corner of The Continent, ensuring that the context of what one sees and hears in each will be authoritatively to hand in Vanished Kingdoms.

How I wish I had had this superb text to hand when a schoolboy studying Medieval History - A* grade for sure!

Thank you Professor Davies for hours and hours of enjoyable enlightenment.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great on Eastern Europe
I really enjoyed the chapters on Lithuania and Byelorus in this book. It is worth reading just to get a clearer idea of the history of Eastern Europe prior to the... Read more
Published 19 days ago by J. Preater
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
An interesting look at some of the less explored areas of history. I particularly liked the chapter on Montenegro. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Reader George
4.0 out of 5 stars Vanished Kingdoms review
This is the second copy I have purchased. I purchased it new to read myself and then gave it to a friend who I knew would love it too. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ruby Blitzen
5.0 out of 5 stars when may we expect vol. 2?
A compelling read - let us hope the author treats us to a sequel, to include the mediaeval kingdom of Bosnia and its survival under successive empires and other polities to its... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Saba Risaluddin
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating
I love Davies' magisterial style, full of grand, sweeping, and usual spot on judgements of issues, places, and peoples. Read more
Published 2 months ago by johnh
3.0 out of 5 stars Very instructive, but overloaded with information sometimes
I bought this book after I saw a review in the Spanish press. It is a really good book, and you cannot read it without getting a bit wiser. Read more
Published 3 months ago by A.N.R.
5.0 out of 5 stars Countries That Almost Where.
Fascinating background into some of the lesser known past states or nearly states such as Litwa, Thurungia and Byzantium with much added historical background. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Nicodemus
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating compilation
I found, in 'Vanished Kingdoms', facinating background to European history I hadn't encountered elsewhere. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Barry Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth is out there!
What an amazing book! Detailing, as it does, the half-forgotten history of significant parts of Europe. Parts of which, current authority would rather remain forgotten totally. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Andy Powles
5.0 out of 5 stars Gone but not forgotten
A varied and interesting collection. At least I know where Burgundy is/was. Perhaps the former Yugoslavia for a future edition.
Published 7 months ago by Richard Hart
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