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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent example of how to write a history book.
This is one of the best non-fiction works I have come across in 50 years of reading. It is succinct, coherent and scholarly without ever being boring, and is more comprehensive and compelling than other accounts of Hungary's history. Even a reader starting towards the end of the book, say at 1914, would be amply rewarded and gain an understanding of the catstrophes...
Published on 30 May 2007 by Mr. Thomas A. Burnham

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not history
Reading this work is a massive waste of time. It is certainly not a work of history. Not only is there no research in it of primary sources (the author admits this), but the author relies with naive trust, especially in his presentation of between-the-wars Hungary, on post-communist Hungarian emigrant 'historians' (more correctly polemicists) whose every intention is to...
Published 4 months ago by Sophie Johnson


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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent example of how to write a history book., 30 May 2007
By 
Mr. Thomas A. Burnham "Tom Burnham" (Jedburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This is one of the best non-fiction works I have come across in 50 years of reading. It is succinct, coherent and scholarly without ever being boring, and is more comprehensive and compelling than other accounts of Hungary's history. Even a reader starting towards the end of the book, say at 1914, would be amply rewarded and gain an understanding of the catstrophes endured by this small country, and how it has managed to survive before becoming once again a proud, independent nation.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best English book on Hungary's history., 12 Aug 2012
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This review is from: The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary (Paperback)
As someone new to all things Hungarian, I found Bryan Cartledge's seven-year magnum opus, in which he straightens Hungary's past into history, extremely moving. Little did I know that a country I had hitherto subsumed causally within eastern Europe has had such a tragic history and is the epitome of resilience. (Be warned: an academic reviewer has written that Cartledge reiterates the 'conventional nationalistic narrative' to the neglect of ethnic voices and politics. (Lorman, T. The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 90, No. 3 (July 2012), pp. 532-533: quote from 533). However, writing in the Slavonic and East European Review, this opinion, naturally, wants to emphasize ethnic voices; moreover, it seems unreasonable to have expected Cartledge to master English, Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian et al historiography (although Holly Case, for instance, shows that this can be done!). Instead, Cartledge writes both as a man of both experience and academia, having held academic positions at Oxford, and been an Ambassador to Hungary (in that sense, more of a Polybius than a Livy). He writes for the general audience, not as a pure academic for a purely academic audience, for which such a criticism might have been fairer.
Indeed, as a former ambassador to both Russia and Hungary, Bryan Cartledge brings his own personal encounters with leading political figures into the book and includes dispatches to London (p481). He's masterful at sketching the European context whilst remaining focused on Hungary, more specifically when he focuses on the English viewpoint to a peace settlement post WW1(p327) (about which Cartledge has written a short monograph. Should you go to Hungary or meet a Hungarian elsewhere the outcome of the Treaty of Trianon will be a source of great indignation. Cartledge, however, offers a cool (but not nonjudgmental)appraisal, highlighting Lloyd George's reservations about creating a crippling Peace Treaty - which were ignored - and Beveridge's and Nicolson's at best ambivalent attitude towards Hungary's fate. Too few people had too great a influence and, for example Seton-Watson, a long-standing animus against the Hungarians.
Otherwise, Cartledge can also provide pithy character sketches in the manner of Tacitus. For example, Matyas Rakosi' character, Cartledge writes, 'was as unattractive as his squat, almost dwarfish appearance' (p415) and even moreso Mihaly Farkas, a Slovak communist, who 'had no qualification for power save the love of it.' Of Louis' power in Poland he 'reigned but did not rule'. (p41) Here, one is reminded of Tacitus' acerbic pronouncement on Galba: 'worthy of the empire, until he became emperor'(Tacitus, Histories. 1. 49). It's not all harsh judgments, though, for example Cartledge's sentence 'one of the advantages of German domination of the city's governance was German thoroughness in recording such matters' may raise a wry smile (p50).
I felt safe in Cartledge's judgments (which have a worldly view to them): he frequently draws parallels with other periods of Hungarian history, for example placing Soviet occupation just above the Mongolian invasion in the 13th century in terms of calamity. He is also at pains to stress both Hungary's compliance and defiance of Hitler regarding the Jews. One also understands why Transylvania has such a hold on modern Hungarians since it was a great source of gold and romantically rugged terrain (for anyone wishing to pursue this question read Holly Case's Between States).
That said, at 600 pages, this book is not for the faint-hearted and, despite Cartledge's guidance, the names, locations and events can sweep past the reading eye. One example: 'Elizabeth died in the following year, and recognizing Wladislas in return for the promise of her son; the infant Ladislas V survived, as a ward of Frederick III, to claim the throne some years later'(p54).
The opening chapter on early Hungarian history is drawn from only a handful of secondary sources, even though some primary sources are quoted (usually from secondary literature). I would have liked to have seen more discussion of Simon of Keza and other early chroniclers,whose unreliability Cartledge notes but does not expand upon, as for example Lendvai does in his book 'The Hungarains'. (I would also recommend the translation of Simon Keza's Gesta Hungarorum by Laszlo Veszpremy and Fran Schaer, which has a wonderful introduction - translated from German - by J. Szucs; I'd also recommend Martyn Rady's excellent introduction to and translation of the chronicler Anonymous, which can be found online.)
As for other parts of Cartledge's book,I thought that, while The Mongol invasion is short, sharp and lucidly written, I would have liked more alternative motives, as Cartledge does in fact do most of the time. For example, some scholars (Rossabi) think that the Mongols withdrew, not because the Great Kahn had fallen, and so induced a rush back to Mongolia for legitimacy to be conferred (although this is most likely), but simply for the practical reason of a dearth of grass for their horses.
This book has an excellent index (Bavaria, for example, is indexed). Cartledge's style is crisp, grammatically meticulous, if politically minded and very occasionally turgid.
From a reader's perspective, I think that someone with a broader understanding of 20th century history than I do would be better equipped. Basic knowledge of the Hapsburg Kingdom, too, would be desirable.
Otherwise, the color maps are an excelled aid and are a welcome contrast to most books' rushed and unhelpful maps.
This is a truly excellent history book, showing the continual centrality of Hungary in European history outside of 1956, from which a newcomer to Hungary can absorb Hungary's rich historical colors and a hardened Historian can appreciate and also perceive the deft angle of the author's strokes. As I re-write this review (26/02/2014) this book is out of print: its quality explains why.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Historical account, 20 Oct 2012
This review is from: The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary (Paperback)
This is an excellent book. The author has provided a narrative that is exceptionally accessible, coherent, well researched and a thorough pleasure to read. The history of Hungary and the Magyars is long and complex, and Bryan Cartledge has, in my opinion, produced a superb historical account. I highly recommend this book to all.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not history, 4 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary (Paperback)
Reading this work is a massive waste of time. It is certainly not a work of history. Not only is there no research in it of primary sources (the author admits this), but the author relies with naive trust, especially in his presentation of between-the-wars Hungary, on post-communist Hungarian emigrant 'historians' (more correctly polemicists) whose every intention is to condemn Hungary with every tool that comes to hand, ignoring all need for honest assessment of events or their documentation.

This work is not published by an academic press, as one would expect a work of history to be. The author obviously had trouble placing it, so he went to a literary agent! In that process, how much of the integrity of a work is opened to compromise? (The literary agent must find a market. He will respond to advice about how a work will become more marketable. So also the commercial publisher.)

My frequent impression was that the author's text has been heavily interpolated. For instance, he writes with fulsome sympathy of the very unjust treatment of Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon. But this chapter ends with a spiteful statement to the effect that Hungary deserved what she got. That statement is clearly not the writer's own. Many instances of this sort of thing occur throughout this part of the book. In short, Bryan Cartledge's book has let in the Hungarians-hating communist, although this is not his natural voice.

Bryan Cartledge learned some Hungarian when he was well into his sixties, and during his few years as a British diplomat in Hungary of the 80s. There is a certain hubris in the undertaking to write up the 1,000-year history of a nation when the writer's knowledge of its language is minimal.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book on the history of Hungary, 15 Dec 2013
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Geraldine Bucsis (Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary (Paperback)
This book was ordered for a Hungarian relative who lives in Germany. He was impressed with the writing style and and historical accuracy. He liked the book very much.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 9 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary (Paperback)
This is an excellent history book about Hungary. I would recumbent it to anyone interested in learning the complete history of Hungary.
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The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary
The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary by Bryan Cartledge (Paperback - 23 Feb 2011)
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