Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City Paperback – 6 Feb 2003
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Before the popular success of his two general histories, Europe: A History, and The Isles, Norman Davies was best known as a specialist on the history of Poland. His 1981 two-volume God's Playground remains the best and most searching study in English of the fluctuating fortunes of that country. Microcosm, written in collaboration with his researcher Roger Moorhouse, is an in-depth account of a city now in Poland and presently called Wroclaw. The city has only been Polish since the Second World War. Before that it was the very German city of Breslau. And before that it was, at various times, part of the kingdom of Bohemia, the Hapsburg Empire and the Prussia of Frederick the Great. In different centuries it has been known as Wrotizla, as Wretslaw, as Presslaw and as Bresslau. Its Polish, German and Jewish communities intermingled to produce both a unique city and one that reflected and embodied all the different currents that have flowed together over a millennium to create the story of Central Europe.
Davies and Moorhouse intend their account of what is today Wroclaw to illustrate the history of one particular city but also to illuminate the general history of Central Europe through this one microcosm. They don't always succeed in their aim. At times the task of yoking together the minutiae of the city's life with its place in a broader history seems an impossible one. It is likely that the general reader will not be as interested in, say, lists of great alumni of Breslau's 19th-century university, as he or she will be in the narrative of Breslau in World War II. The book works best for the general reader when it most justifies its title; it works much less well when it seems most like some kind of official city history.--Nick Rennison --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"This big, lucidly written and fact-filled book admirably achieves its purpose... Anyone who enjoyed Norman Davies's...The Isles will recognise the same qualities in this book: a gift for broad exposition, a marvellous eye for quirky but revelatory details, and, above all, a willingness to question the categories of traditional history, wherever they may come from." (Noel Malcolm Sunday Telegraph)
"Absorbing...clear...and persuasive...as even-handed, erudite and enlightening as history can be." (Herald)
"Microcosm tells the story of the city across the centuries. While not neglecting ethnic hatred and folly, the book is a hymn to diversity and cultural achievement." (Economist)
"The city is fortunate to have found such chroniclers as Davies and Roger Moorhouse." (Sunday Times)
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Top Customer Reviews
Davies tells us that he was asked to undertake this history by the current mayor because he, Davies, was neither a "Pole nor a German", thus implying a more balanced perspective. In comparison with other histories of Wroclaw, I think he has succeeded.Read more ›
Occasionally there are logical lapses in the book, such as when the description of a siege of Breslau during Fredericks Silesion campaign apparently culminates in the relief of Schweidnitz! I also wish there had been a detailed map of Silesia provided to accompany the text.
Overall, I think this book fills a huge gap in European history. I find it has helped me to understand the work of Gunter Grass and his Danzig experience better. I hope it leads to an increased interest in things Silesian. Perhaps, then, English translations of Horst Bienek's Gleiwitz Tetralogy, concerning life in Upper Silesia 1939 - 1945 may yet appear!.
This book more than does justice to its incredible history, torn between the ethnic fault lines of Slav and German. In particular how the second largest city in Prussia (today with a population similar in size to Frankfurt) as a result of the most terrible war in human history changed in a matter of three years into the Polish city of Wroclaw. Altogether up to 14 million Germans were "evacuated" from the East and Breslau was along with Stettin, Danzig and Konigsburg were the most spectacular casualties.
Poland's borders also moved 200 miles to the West, involving the loss of Wilno (todays Vilnius in Lithuania) and more significantly to this story Lvov (now Lviv in the Ukraine)- better known to many by the German name of Lemburg when part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Amazingly many of Lvov's institutions including the university simply upped and moved directly to Wroclaw.
A totally fascinating and largely unknown story in the West. Norman Davies is one of my favourite authors, and this is probably his best book. One day I hope he may write an account of the whole movement of peoples in the East at the end of WW2.
The pre-history and medieval periods therefore, indeed up to the period of the Thirty Years war, while no doubt historically accurate have a tendency because of the lists of names and buildings, most of which you have forgotten by the time you finish the paragraph, to read something like a cross between a reference work and a municipal guide book. The authors have not conveyed the deep knowledge of the period specialist that often successfully brings to life periods, that have less of the primary knowledge and personal record (letters, diaries) and gives such a work greater depth and meaning.
Once you enter the late 18th and 19th centuries the narrative the improves and becomes more of a story. The later periods from the inception of the German Imperial period in 1871 and through both wars has considerable punch and this was the most engrossing read.
Breslau/Wroclaw was to all intents and purposes a German city. The Polish elements although constant, sometimes nearly disappeared and It would seem but for Churchill's illness (he opposed its transfer to Poland) and various politial machinations between the US and Stalin might have remained inside Germany.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A great historiy book with a lot of details about militare and artistic life of an important city in the middle of europePublished on 18 Sept. 2013 by Dino Marino
Not an easy read, but Microcosm serves to introduce not only the history of the city but also the nature of scholarly controversies.Published on 9 Sept. 2013 by Mark Coleman
This work is not a work of History but propaganda. As the authors state it was subsidised by the now Polish city of Wroclaw and reflects a particularly blatant version of the... Read morePublished on 23 Feb. 2010 by F. Julius
After a visit to Poland we felt that we had to read a bit of the history of the area and Microcosm was recommended. This book is everything we would want on the subject.Published on 15 Nov. 2009 by Patricia Young
As others have said - at last a thorough exploration and account of this Silesian capital's history in English. And by an eminent writer too. Read morePublished on 25 Mar. 2009 by Singapore Relic
Highly interesting history of one Central European town and how it has been forced to adapt to the fluid European borders. Read morePublished on 13 Feb. 2009 by Paul