God's Playground: a history of Poland, vol.II: 1795 to the present Hardcover – 1 Dec 1981
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"Superbly readable, rich in detail yet never boring or trivial... This is beyond doubt not only the best book on Poland in the English language, it is the best book on Poland." -- "The New York Times Book Review" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Norman Davies is chairman of the history department, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, at the University of London. He has been a visiting professor at Columbia and McGill Universities. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As far as I can tell this book has been written objectively and describes the history of Poland in detail. For me it filled a huge gap in my knowledge of what happened in Poland and in general in Eastern Europe in the last 1000 years. The book is filled with excerpts from poems, ancient documents and first hand accounts of events which make it a very interesting read. The maps and illustrations do an excellent job. I do not know of any other alternatives which will desribe the polish history in such detail.
At times this book flows lucidly and at other times it becomes a rambling of very dry facts and a listing of names etc which reminded of me of school history textbooks that used to drive me crazy. My other beef with the book is that there is no structure to it which allows you to understand what is going on. Imagine a movie which is made by assembling various shots together but has not been edited to ensure a logical progression of events. Only when you have gone thru everything do you really understand the entire movie. This is true of both the volumes. It goes into extreme detail about events without first describing what the event was. To exacerbate this, the book assumes that you have a knowledge of events that happened in Europe in the last 1000 years and frequently draws upon them to explain other things in polish history.
The last problem is that this book claims to have been revised and updated in 2005. Unfortunately this is true for only a couple of chapters in the second volume of the book. The first volume still reads like it was written in 1980s. Also there are at least a hundred minor editorial errors in the volume 2 which take away from a pleasurable reading experience.
Desribe the cons I would still recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about the history of Poland.
For English (Western) readers, it may seem very confusing. Poland's history IS confusing. The second volume describes the period of Poland's "captivity" by three powers, then the struggle to survive Hitler and Stalin, and finally the Soviet period and (in updated form) the EU. I have read another review that Davies' prose confuses because it goes into lists of names, etc. I wonder if that is a problem because Slavic names are so odd to most Western eyes? My mother is Polish, so I was not overwhelmed in that respect.
I expect some readers of these two volumes will find themselves baffled because this is NOT the Poland the West was told about by the very biased Germans and Russians/Soviets. Davies could not respect nor love the country more if he was a native, IMO.
A better, shorter intro to the political history is the Cambridge Concise History, but Adam Zamoyski's The Polish Way is also quite good. If you are up to it, Davies' "Europe" is excellent.
Other interesting facts: The Polish deciphered the Enigma Code and listened to secret German communications even before the initial 1939 invasion (the popular movie Imitation Game is the sequel, so to speak, to this history).
Early Polish history is absolutely fascinating. Freedom of speech and religion in the 1500's. Two houses of congress and an elected "King". Never would have guessed!
The most common version of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 shows the Polish Cavalry getting decimated by German tanks in a humiliating defeat. How about pointing out that the Germans suffered 16,000 casualties and 75,000 wounded in the opening campaign of the war? I didn't know that the Germans took such a licking when they went into Poland, until reading Davies book.