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Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe [Hardcover]

Adam Zamoyski
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Feb 2008

The dramatic and little-known story of how, in the summer of 1920, Lenin came within a hair's breadth of shattering the painstakingly constructed Versailles peace settlement and spreading Bolshevism to western Europe.

In 1920 the new Soviet state was a mess, following a brutal civil war, and the best way of ensuring its survival appeared to be to export the revolution to Germany, itself economically ruined by defeat in World War I and racked by internal political dissension.

Between Russia and Germany lay Poland, a nation that had only just recovered its independence after more than a century of foreign oppression. But it was economically and militarily weak and its misguided offensive to liberate the Ukraine in the spring of 1920 laid it open to attack. Egged on by Trotsky, Lenin launched a massive westward advance under the flamboyant Marshal Tukhachevsky.

All that Great Britain and France had fought for over four years now seemed at risk. By the middle of August the Russians were only a few kilometres from Warsaw, and Berlin was less than a week's march away. Then occurred the 'Miracle of the Vistula': the Polish army led by Jozef Pilsudski regrouped and achieved one of the most decisive victories in military history.

As a result, the Versailles peace settlement survived, and Lenin was forced to settle for Communism in one country. The battle for Warsaw bought Europe nearly two decades of peace, and communism remained a mainly Russian phenomenon, subsuming many of the autocratic and Byzantine characteristics of Russia's tsarist tradition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; First Edition edition (4 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007225520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007225521
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 14.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 254,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Zamoyski was born in New York but has spent most of his life in England. He was educated at Downside and Queen's College, Oxford. A freelance historian with a singular command of languages, he has written a bestselling history of Poland, as well as three books of military history and three biographies. These include the widely acclaimed and bestselling '1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow' its sequel 'Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna', 'Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871', 'Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe' and most recently, 'Chopin' published by HarperCollins in 2010. He is married to the artist Emma Sergeant and lives in London.

Product Description


‘A thorough, beautifully written account of one of the great turning-points in Europe’s hisory. Adam Zamoyski knows Polish, Russian and European archives as few others do, and writes with the dash of a Polish cavalry officer.’ Independent

‘The mark of a great military historian is not only to do the battlefield descriptions and explain the tactics, but to give the political context and bring the characters of the commanders to life. Zamoyski manages it all in this concise and thrilling account of a forgotten war.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Battle history of the best kind. The international setting and the political context are gracefully sketched in and…[the] account of the two armies is highly textured and enlivened by evocative portraits of the most important personalities.’ Sunday Times

‘Zamoyski, as a prolific popular historian, has pretty much single-handedly raised the historical profile of Poland in the West.’ The Times

‘There is no doubt that Warsaw 1920 was a significant event that deserves more attention than it has received from historians. In a brief but compelling book Zamoyski tells the story concisely and clearly, and with his customary colourful detail.’ History Today

Praise for ‘Rites of Peace’:

‘Deeply researched, elegantly written, gleaming with the political and sexual depravity of the Congress that decided the fate of Europe, Zamoyski's “Rites of Peace” is outstanding – a delicious, triumphant feast of a book.’ Daily Mail

About the Author

Adam Zamoyski was born in New York, was educated at Oxford, and lives in London. A full-time writer, he has written biographies of ‘Chopin’ (Collins 1979), ‘Paderewski’, and ‘The Last King of Poland’,‘1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow’, which was a Sunday Times bestseller and ‘Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna’. He is married to the painter Emma Sergeant.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
By Dr. R. Brandon TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a superbly written little book that provides a concise history of the 1920 campaign that resulted in the defeat of Soviet forces by the newly formed Polish Army. Books describing military campaigns can often be tedious but Zamoyski overcomes this by writing with such elan that you find yourself rushing through the book. Thumbnail sketches are provided of the main protagonists including Pilsudski, Sikorski, and the Russians Tukhachevsky and Budionny as well as many other players including a young, and insubordinate political officer, Stalin. Other, more detailed tomes are available, (Norman Davies, 'White Eagle Red Star', 1972) but for the reader who is seeking a brief description of this most important of battles Zamoyski has done an excellent job. A number of good black and white photographs and campaign maps are provided in the text.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short and to the point 4 April 2008
Having recently reread Norman Davies' account of the Polish Soviet war I was pleased to see that this book had been released. It is not the book that Davies' is, and does not really offer anything new, and Zamoyski more or less concedes this point himself. He has set out to offer an accessible and readable account of this overlooked and important conflict, which still echoes through those countries today. This he has achieved. If the book feels unsatifyingly short, it is probably only to Eastern Europe bores such as myself. To people coming fresh to the subject and the region it a quick and informative read which i would recommend.

Zamoyski is to be commended for bringing his status, hard won from fuller tomes on more popular subjects, to bear on this fascinating 'brawl', its origins, myths,conduct and consequences.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read more history books 11 April 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I could not help but become incensed when I read Y. Mann's review of this book above. I suggest Mr. Y. Mann of NY that you go and read some more books on Eastern Europe and Poland from the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries, pre-world war I and WW2. You can start with God's Playground by Norman Davies and amongst others continue to For Your Freedom and Ours by Olson and Cloud. Quote "The idea here, apparently, is that it is OK for the Poles to take lands that belonged to them over a century ago before Poland was partitioned" well then according to you the very creation of a free Polish state was wrong. The Poles had offered the Whites help against the Bolsheviks in an agreement of a free Poland but the Whites refused to acknowledge that a Poland even existed, the same was true of the Bolsheviks, and it would be foolish to think that Communism would just sit by and allow a free state to exist right under their noses, such as 1939 and the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Quote " Bottom line is that the Red Army responded to a Polish threat. If there was no Polish threat there is no evidence one can point to which would undoubtedly show that the Red Army would have been used to spread the Revolution, especially considering the position Russia/Soviet Union found itself in after a bloody civil war.", the Red Army was well lead and organised for that period of time, just having beaten the Whites, what Poland did was pre-empt an attack that would no doubt be coming, the fact is a free Poland was always a threat to Communism I quote Stalin "Poland is about as suitable for communism as trying to put a saddle on a donkey". If you read Polish history Poland prides itself on being a country that never invaded and oppressed its neighbours, only a hardened Communist would believe that Bolshevism was liberation. Read more ›
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55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The shame of our intellectual elite 25 Feb 2008
By T. Burkard VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Few people are aware of the humiliating defeat inflicted on the Red Army in 1920. The Polish Army, with virtually no help from the West, destroyed an army several times its own size. Zamoyski demonstrates that the aim of Red Army--one of its leaders was Stalin--was nothing less than the conquest of Europe. Fresh from crushing the White Russian armies, they marched to the banks of the Vistula, and with Germany in turmoil, it looked as though nothing would stop them short of the Rhine. Even though morale began to crumble in the Polish Army, enough units maintained cohesion for Pilsudski to execute a daring flanking manoeuver which utterly routed the Red Army. Amazingly, Pilsudsky was not even a professional soldier, but his plan is recognised as a masterpiece of military planning.

The Poles got little help from the West, as pro-Soviet intellectuals were gaining the ascendency over Churchill and others who supported the White Russians. At the time, this could be understood--the egregious crimes of Lenin and Stalin were still in the future. There is no such excuse for their subsequent silence, which has virtually airbrushed Pilsudky's remarkable feat from the Western consciousness. Europe owes a huge debt to the Poles, who have fought tyrants three times in the last century--and won twice. Zamoysky's book is superb, drawing on first-hand accounts from both sides, and depicting the chaos and confusion of the times with remarkable clarity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, edifying and enjoyable. 8 Sep 2013
By Sebastian Palmer TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
In this short, well-written and handsome little book Zamoyski reminds us of an intriguing if largely forgotten chapter in European history. With Poland acting as bulwark against the westward spread of Communism, battles that stand as the last 'hurrah' of C19th style cavalry engagements, and a large cast of colourful characters - from the major players like Pilsudski and Tuchachevsky, less well-known to us perhaps, to such giants-in-the-making as a young and insubordinate Stalin and the ever bullish Churchill, who involves Britain in this story, albeit indirectly, by sending troops to support the White Russians - there's plenty of interest in terms of both geopolitical and military manoeuvring.

Like many others I came to this via Zamoyski's splendid 1812, and consequently expectations were high. Unlike some others I was not at all disappointed. This is undoubtedly a much more modest undertaking on the author's part, but he succeeds in his stated aim of introducing a very interesting subject to the general reader admirably. And personally, as much as I enjoy door-stop sized tomes, I think it's excellent to have briefer, pithier alternatives to hand. I took this on a short holiday break and read the whole book whilst away, which was most enjoyable. As Zamoyski proved so well in 1812, he's a superb writer, and his handling of the confusing events of this campaign is a model of clarity and well organised exposition. Several maps and numerous black and white photographs support and enrich Zamoyski's lucid text.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Compact tale about unkown historic event
WO I ended in 1918, but had an unknown aftermath: The fight between the re-established Poland and the Bolshevik Soviet-Union in 1919 en 1920. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Koos
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping History
Gripping history of a forgotten episode when the plucky Polish army stood up to the Soviet Red Army. Read more
Published 1 month ago by John S
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great
Relates the story of a forgotten episode in European history. Paints a comprehensive picture from a military standpoint, but not much space here for the human side - pen portraits... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mr C H Whitehead
5.0 out of 5 stars Flawless
This is the clearest description of a very important early 20th century war - it is written without ambiguity, is extremely well researched, and I found it hard to put down. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Samee Zafar
4.0 out of 5 stars The Battle that Saved Europe from Communism
In the summer of 1920 a battle took place in Poland which changed the course of history. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the recently formed Soviet Federative Socialist Republic... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Lance Grundy
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read
A nice breezy,easy read of an often forgotten episode of post WW 1 history. Maps are ok and it has a nice pace to it and did enjoy this as not too deep and dry.
Published 10 months ago by JOHN D AMANS
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book of a forgotten War
A wonderful and easy to read book about a much forgotten war between the re-emerging Poland and Lenin's Soviet Union. Read more
Published 14 months ago by atticusfinch1048
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm sure this will help !
...to pad out his knowledge for A2 . He is off to uni to study history and this is right up his street.
Published 16 months ago by D Boylan
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of the most important 20th century battle you've...
While Norman davies' work may be more scholarly, this book is written for the wider audience and succeeds at this level. Read more
Published 21 months ago by katyn1940
3.0 out of 5 stars A reasonable introduction but not Zamoyski's best
I read this book for 2 reasons: firstly, because I had always been fascinated by this episode in Europe's fragmentation after WW1, ever since reading the chapter on it in JFC... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Jasper Tamespeke
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