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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 22 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (Paperback)
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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