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God's Playground A History of Poland: Volume 1: The Origins to 1795: Origins to 1795 Vol 1 Paperback – 24 Feb 2005
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Review from previous edition Anyone who wants to understand what has happened in Poland must dig into Norman Davies's great opencast mine of Polish History...it is very accessible, strewn with vivid quotations from original sources, good anecdotes, and much verse... (Sunday Times)
The magnificence of God's Playground is that Norman Davies has given ust the music as well as the libretto, the passion, poetry, myth, and ancedote as well as the facts...Davies writes with spirit, and his enjoyment is infectious. (Observer)
A yawning gap in Anglophone historical literature has now been filled...Dr Davies writes interestingly and well. His moods vary between cool detachment, passionate involvement, and ironic comment. His range of sources is wide and imaginative...a very substantial achievement. (Times Literary Supplement)
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I tought I already knew enough about the history op Poland and Europe. Apparently not! This volume I tells about the origin, the birth, the rise and the fall of the Republic of Poland-Lithunia. It's not a dry tale, starting in the year 1 and ending in the year of 1795. No, different points of view are used in this very well written history book. The people, the aristocracy, the trade, the humanism, the religion, the monarchie, the Liberum Veto, the expending kingdom, etc.: many different points of view are used, while Davies keeps the chronological time as a main thread in the story that links them all.
What I also liked, it's not only an history about Poland. Davies also looks at Poland and their long important role in Europa. Then suddenly you realise how less this country was in war on the 'European Scene'. Western European are full of pride of their own history. That's good. I'm one of them. But it would do many people good to read some more about a country like Poland. Because how many people will realise the endurance/long period of Polish Power at the European scene compared to the very short, most bloody reign by someone like Napoleon? Most people will have the tendancy to look down at the Polish period, only because of their vague idea about the famous 'Liberum Veto'. They should know better, this book provides the insight.
The book is so well that in the end it reads almost like a thriller. As a reader you know the Three Partitions of Poland are heading, but you want to scream"Look out! Don't you see what's comming?"
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.
To summarise very briefly, the book focuses on the history of Poland before the Partitions of the late 18th century brought Polish political existence to a conclusion for a period of 123 years. The first few chapters present a chronological development of Polish history, and later chapters focus more on particular strands of the development of the Polish state: trade, diplomacy, nobility, culture and religion (to name a few).
Most importantly, Davies demythologises a lot of Polish history, especially of the origin of the Polish state, and attempts to, with great success, distance himself from any particular interpretation of various elements of Polish history.
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