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150 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TO TEACH US ABOUT OURSELVES
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...
Published on 18 Nov 2011 by Stephen Cooper

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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg
On the whole, this is fascinating. But the introductory sections of each chapter (on the modern areas which were formerly part of the "vanished kingdoms") often read like the sort of thing anyone could cobble together given a couple of tourist guides and access to Wikipedia: "The journey [Paris to Perpignan] takes 4 hours 45 minutes. Passengers arriving in the daytime...
Published on 26 April 2012 by Mr. A. J. Norman


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150 of 156 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TO TEACH US ABOUT OURSELVES, 18 Nov 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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. In fact, he works his way from West to East, weaving travelogues into the history as he goes. This worked for me, although others may find it too personal. Overall, the book is a fascinating introduction to the history of many strange lands and peoples, some of them not far so removed from us in space and time, others very remote indeed. The late J.H. Hexter wrote that the purpose and pleasure of history was not that it explained the present, but that it taught us about ourselves. Norman Davies has succeeded brilliantly in doing that.

One warning though. The maps do not reproduce very well in the Kindle edition (2011); and Davies's maps are an essential part of the story.

Stephen Cooper
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224 of 233 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now the rest of the story, 28 Oct 2011
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This review is from: Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Hardcover)
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ashes to ashes ......, 4 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Hardcover)
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent reading, 2 Nov 2012
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Artemisia (Abruzzi, Italy) - See all my reviews
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I have just finished "Vanished Kingdoms" : the book consists of well written, readable histories of forgotten pieces of our past by the pen of a scholar. It is admittedly a little heavy-going as a bedside book at the end of a long, hard day, but then that is all the time I have. Even so, the book is so intriguing, so well-wrought in throwing light on matters one never had the chance to study in depth, or had mostly forgotten anyway, or had otherwise no suspicion of the myriad side-tracks and lost pathways that surround so many circumstances in our common history that fatigue was as if it had never been. To say nothing of the interest aroused by the political and/or behavioural contortions of many a significant historical figure.
Furthermore, considering how, in general, education and culture are being pre-packaged into bland-tasting, plastic-wrapped consumer items so that many young people -our future, in fact- only vaguely realise that they do actually have a past to learn from and build upon, I would say that this great book most certainly deserves a place in suggested reading lists for both older pupils and university students.
Excellent reading for all those interested in who we were, what we did, and where we think we're going.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg, 26 April 2012
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On the whole, this is fascinating. But the introductory sections of each chapter (on the modern areas which were formerly part of the "vanished kingdoms") often read like the sort of thing anyone could cobble together given a couple of tourist guides and access to Wikipedia: "The journey [Paris to Perpignan] takes 4 hours 45 minutes. Passengers arriving in the daytime are usually greeted by the strong southern sun, which bathes the city on average for 300 days each year." He goes on to list a random selection of European cities with direct flights to the regional airport (in another chapter, he even lists a defunct airline in case the reader wants to travel to Bornholm before 2010). There are pages and pages of that sort of stuff, and some of the historical writing is rather like reading those lists of people who begat each other in the Bible - lists of which dukes reigned over which areas, for how long, with no further information given about what they did or why the reader should care what their names were. As someone else wrote in a review, the book could have done with a heavy-handed editor. It's a shame, because the central theme - that current nations and borders are contingent, and that rich cultures have risen and fallen and may well rise again in Europe outside and within the nation-states we know today - is tremendously interesting, and when Davies sticks to that the book is tremendously interesting too. Should have been about half the current length, though.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but needs a firm editor, 7 Jan 2012
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This review is from: Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Hardcover)
This 'history of half-forgotten Europe' seems to be cobbled together from various scholarly articles that Professor Davies has assembled over the years; in the Introduction he immodestly lists other examples he would have included had he more space. This gives the book a slightly rag-bag feel with chapters of significantly different lengths. It also means that there are moments when the professor is unable to restrain academia. The word 'Amalfings' which apparently refers to the Visigoths post-Alaric is not explained (and does not appear in my dictionary); does it refer to people from Amalfi on the Italian coast? He often quotes in Latin (although he almost always provides a translation). He insists on calling the British Isles the 'Isles' explaining in a footnote that "The 'Isles' became British by monarchical criteria in 1603 and constitutionally in 1801. They ceased to be British in 1949.' His conceit is often to call the vanished kingdom by a name that almost no-one else ever uses: Sabaudia for Savoy, Rosenau for Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Byzantion for Byzantium or Constantinople etc. And to say "Studying the Burgundian succession of the 1360s, one can easily develop 'Palis-Rondon' - as the Japanese call a squint" serves no purpose other than to tell the reader that the author can show off in Japanese as well. He also indulges in historian bashing: reproving Gibbon for rushing through the history of Constantinople was ironic since Davies spends more space doing this than on the four dynasties who receive a single sentence. Furthermore, he rattles through history at such a speed that the procession of names, places and titles leave one dizzy.

There is a slightly contrived structure. Each chapter has a first part which is a sort of tourist guide to the place where the vanished kingdom originated followed by part two, a lengthy history of the kingdom and part three, which explores the kingdom's heritage.

Nevertheless this is a fascinating book.

This is a massive rambling book, full of delightful anecdotes but equally full of rambling dynastic discourses and historiographical rants. It is bizarrely uneven in its treatment: some episodes being scrutinised in detail whilst centuries can pass unnoticed. Even in its state selection it seems eclectic. Eastern Europe has a number of chapters; Scandinavia has none. And I was a little confused as to why Eire was included (has it vanished and I failed to notice?) and Montenegro which has returned from the dead.

Overall I think that it needed firm editing.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recalling Forgotten Europe, 17 April 2012
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This review is from: Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Hardcover)
Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies

Norman Davies demonstrates incredible skill and knowledge as he opens up for us whole swathes of history covering vast periods of time. Many historians today have become so specialised that they are rarely able to join the dots between nations and eras; not so with Norman Davies. He has displayed the rare ability to uncover minor, little known details and weave them into the greater narrative. Davies writing style is clear and fluid, and while there are moments when he stalls in lists and sub-lists and some conflicting dates, laying before us the complex nature of historical research. I admire his confidence in demonstrating the limits of his research and the moments where he seems to have stalled somewhat. No matter, for Davies manages to ensure his work is at all times engaging.

This book is not for the faint-hearted, but if you are looking for an access to understanding the great march of the history of Europe, filled with characters who shaped our continent and events that moved our countries into the modern world, then this is very much for you. This book will enrich any student of history and is worth the investment of our time in reading of past times.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 22 Oct 2013
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Entering a critical review here makes me feel a bit like the boy who says "the emperor has no clothes" while fifty-odd other reviewers are cheering this book along. But I think there is justification for a less-than-elated review. First of all, I would certainly not call this book "unputdownable", not only because of its sheer volume, but also because the style of writing, while solid, lacks the lighter touches and telling anecdotes that make other historians like Hibbert an Norwich much more enjoyable to read.

Then there is the subject matter. A considerable number of the vanished kingdoms described have sometimes by the author's own admission failed to make any significant impact on the history of Europe or have been short-lived (with the same result) often having been created for the benefit op people like Napoleon and emperor Franz Joseph II. This insignificance leads in many cases to the author resorting to travelogue texts, describing at lenght how you should turn left and right in some provincial town in the Ukranine, Belarus or the Balkan to finally encounter a grassy hill on top of which used to be a castle of which by now every trace has disappeared.

Then there is the selection of the kingdoms. Of course with a book already 800 pages long you can't describe them all. But I fail to understand a number of choices. The Byzantine Empire is very rightly included, having had a substantial impact on European history for 1,000 years and truly being a 'vanished' nation. But it gets the shortest treatment of almost all the countries included, and the description itself is largely limited to telling us that Gibbon took too negative a view on Byzantium. What the true perspective should be and why we will have to read elsewhere, because Mr. Davies for one is not telling us. Prussia is dealt with in great detail, although by the author's own frank admission, The Iron Kingdom (also available through Amazon) tells the story much better. His justification for inclusion? The fact that the pre-1600 period is not dealt with there. But of course before 1600 Prussia did not exist - there was only Brandenburg - nor was it a kingdom. And while the author deals extensively with this technically 'vanished' but hardly forgotten kingdom, we get not a word on also vanished, but much more unknown kingdoms like Bavaria and Saxony.

Same story in Italy. A long description of Etruria, a kingdom that more or less languished for 6 years as a creation of Napoleon, but not a word on the vanished kingdom of Naples and Sicily, which had a long and varied history for many centuries.

So, personally I found this book a struggle to get through and the near-total insignificance of many of the kingdoms described did not help. The style in which it is written is in itself not bad, but calling it as some professional reviewers have done "a great work of art" or "unlikely ever to be equalled" is way over the top.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vanished Kingdoms: stories not to forget, 25 Nov 2012
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Koos "Koos Reitsma" (Groningen, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
History is written by the victors. So most likely the history about those who lost has been written from point of view of the victors.

The more wonderful it is that Norman Davies wrote `Vanished Kingdoms'. A book written from point of view of those countries that have lost and vanished. Long forgotten countries, areas we had not heard of, rings-a-bell stories, lots of maps, anecdotes, it is all there. Though you knew Burgundia? Think twice, and read the chapter about Burgundia. Taken from that chapter: "The discrepancies in these definitions are easily spotted. But it is distressing to see that their common characteristic lies in their immobility: they are all trying to tie the concept of Burgundy to a single locality. None grasps the key feature, namely that Burgundy was a movable feast."

The chapter or Aragon: the discover-the-world-area was in the hands of the Portuguese and Spain, right? But when the reader speaks about `Spain', the reader pictures the country as the country now is on the map of Europe. How different it was then. "Philip II was the first in history to use the title of `King of Spain.'" He was king from 1556 to 1598. Clear words. Oh, by the way, when were North and South America discovered?

One day republic Rusyn? Also from that chapter there are lessons to learn. "These attitudes about Eastern Europe have surfaced many times in the thinking of Western intellectuals. They are part of a widespread, but often unspoken assumption about Western superiority." I love it when I read lines like that. Some readers could complain about chapters about Eastern Europe. Especially people from the west should not forget that Eastern Europe is a part of Europe. History education in the west had the tendency to focus on the classical Greek & Roman History and on Western Europe.

It is not always an easy read. Forgotten names, places and old languages make it sometimes harder to read. One or two chapters are not too interesting. But in the end it is definitely worth it.
A big Praise for this book, to write about vanished kingdoms.
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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
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