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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walk the distance, it is worth it, 11 Jan 2006
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This review is from: God's Playground A History of Poland: Volume 1: The Origins to 1795: Origins to 1795 Vol 1 (Paperback)
Norman Davies’ ‘God’s Playground’ is a rather concise history of Poland from 1795 into the late 1990’s. It should be compulsory reading for everyone, who wants to find out about this part of the world. I don’t think there is any better.
Davies quite rightly anticipates in his preface that the book’s title might raise an eyebrow. When I originally picked it up, I assumed that the title related to the (then Polish) Pope in Rome. The real reason behind the title is explained in the preface of Volume 1 and it does appear to fit the subject of study perfectly.
Part 1 of the book deals with Polish history right up to 1945, starting off with essays on life in the three partitions between 1772 and 1918. Davies follows this up with industrialisation and the changes in population structure before moving onto descriptions of the various state entities on Polish Territory. The re-establishment of Poland as a separate state in 1918 is the result of a ‘fluke’ rather than by design; that’s at least the impression you get from the book. The 1918-45 period is marked by upheaval, partition in 1939, occupation by Nazi Germany and ‘liberation’ by the Soviet Union, which succeeds in hanging onto the bit of Poland it gained in 1939 with Poland in 1945 being compensated with German territory in the West. Davies quite rightly points out that the subsequent evacuation of the German population was decided by the Allied Powers and not by Poland herself. The loss of life involved in the process was indeed regrettable, however, as a result of this ‘move to the West’, Poland for the first time in history found itself in a unique position geographically and with next to no potential minority conflicts.
Part 2 of the book deals with Poland since 1945. Davies show that communism never really gained a firm foothold in Poland, which does not really come as a surprise given that communism never delivered the goodies - not just not in Poland but nowhere else either. The single most important event in recent Polish history was the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, who is often credited as the moral power behind the end of communism in Poland (and indeed all of Eastern Europe). Solidarnosc and General Jaruzelski set the stage for a peaceful end of communism so that Poland emerges into the 1990s as a free state (for the first time in 300 years). These days, Poland is just another ‘normal’ state in Europe. By joining both NATO and the EU, she has insured herself against falling back in history.
Davies meticulously records Poland’s history right up to EU entry and he does an excellent job. What I am missing is a look into the future. I would be surprised indeed, if Davies didn’t have a view on where Poland is heading. But apart from that, this book is excellent.
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God's Playground A History of Poland: Volume 1: The Origins to 1795: Origins to 1795 Vol 1
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