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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 18 May 2017
Good research and some surprising stories.
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on 4 March 2017
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on 14 April 2015
Hard work, a blistering pace of every imaginable country and regime. So unknown are most of the countries that it is difficult to put them in a contemporary context.
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on 4 June 2012
A good collection of writing by Norman Davies. I say collection as it does not have quite the flow and cohesion of 'Europe' and 'The Isles'. The title is also somewhat a misnomer - I don't recall the Soviet Union being a kingdom!

It is fascinating - particularly the accounts of Tolosa, Burgundy, Aragon and Poland-Lithuania. A slight disappointment with a (very)short chapter on Byzantium ...... maybe something on the current impasse in Belgium? Surely the state in Europe closest to splitting at present as the Flemish and Walloon parts seem so reluctant to cooperate?

It still sparkles with Davies' customary erudition and was a pleasure (for the most part) to read.
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on 6 March 2014
Fascinating background into some of the lesser known past states or nearly states such as Litwa, Thurungia and Byzantium with much added historical background. Well worth a read for anyone wishing to look into European history.
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on 19 October 2016
an increasingly prescient book considering it is about states that no longer exist
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on 28 October 2011
This is really 15 detailed European history books in one. I doubt if there's anyone on the planet qualified to critique such a diverse collection of histories, some of them rather obscure. Certainly not me. So I'll just do my part by describing what's in the book (at the moment there's no "look inside" feature above).

The chapters describe the history of: the Visigoths in France and Spain; southwestern Scotland in the 5th-12th centuries, but really addressing British history in general at that time; Burgundy in France; Aragon in northern Spain; the area that is now Belarus and Lithuania; Byzantium; Prussia; northern Italy; Galicia (the one that was in what is now southern Poland and Ukraine); Italy around Florence in the 19th century; Saxe-Coburg in Germany; Montenegro, which used to be part of Yugoslavia; the short-lived (one day!) Rusyn republic in what is now Ukraine, 1939; Ireland since 1916; and the Soviet Union.

Each chapter has three parts: a description of the area today; the history which Prof. Davies wants to cover; and an assessment of how well the "vanished kingdom" is remembered.

To include Ireland in a book on "vanished kingdoms" is a bit of a stretch, and part 3 of that chapter ranges far beyond what is remembered about Ireland. Part 3 is actually an essay on the future of the United Kingdom which I hope the author will extract and get published in one of the quality newspapers for wider appreciation.

Lots of end notes, many of them website URLs for instant gratification. The notes at the back of the book are listed by the page number of the text, rather than just the chapter number, which makes the notes much easier to find.

This book will probably never be listed anywhere under the rubric of "genealogy," but if your ancestry is from any of those places, I think your will definitely learn things you didn't know. I'm sending a copy to my brother-in-law, whose ancestry is Prussian.
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on 15 May 2013
Not quite perfect - sometimes the start of each topic was a bit 'elliptical', is that the word I mean? But overall, certainly gave information which I wish I had had before. E.g., the superiority of Katherine of Aragon to Henry VIII - England only a small, upstart sort of place, while Aragon an international and powerful presence (in novels Aragon is always referred to as if it was a county like Hertfordshire!).

I had a quick read but shall certainly dip into it again in the future.
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on 26 April 2012
On the whole, this is fascinating. But the introductory sections of each chapter (on the modern areas which were formerly part of the "vanished kingdoms") often read like the sort of thing anyone could cobble together given a couple of tourist guides and access to Wikipedia: "The journey [Paris to Perpignan] takes 4 hours 45 minutes. Passengers arriving in the daytime are usually greeted by the strong southern sun, which bathes the city on average for 300 days each year." He goes on to list a random selection of European cities with direct flights to the regional airport (in another chapter, he even lists a defunct airline in case the reader wants to travel to Bornholm before 2010). There are pages and pages of that sort of stuff, and some of the historical writing is rather like reading those lists of people who begat each other in the Bible - lists of which dukes reigned over which areas, for how long, with no further information given about what they did or why the reader should care what their names were. As someone else wrote in a review, the book could have done with a heavy-handed editor. It's a shame, because the central theme - that current nations and borders are contingent, and that rich cultures have risen and fallen and may well rise again in Europe outside and within the nation-states we know today - is tremendously interesting, and when Davies sticks to that the book is tremendously interesting too. Should have been about half the current length, though.
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on 7 January 2012
This 'history of half-forgotten Europe' seems to be cobbled together from various scholarly articles that Professor Davies has assembled over the years; in the Introduction he immodestly lists other examples he would have included had he more space. This gives the book a slightly rag-bag feel with chapters of significantly different lengths. It also means that there are moments when the professor is unable to restrain academia. The word 'Amalfings' which apparently refers to the Visigoths post-Alaric is not explained (and does not appear in my dictionary); does it refer to people from Amalfi on the Italian coast? He often quotes in Latin (although he almost always provides a translation). He insists on calling the British Isles the 'Isles' explaining in a footnote that "The 'Isles' became British by monarchical criteria in 1603 and constitutionally in 1801. They ceased to be British in 1949.' His conceit is often to call the vanished kingdom by a name that almost no-one else ever uses: Sabaudia for Savoy, Rosenau for Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Byzantion for Byzantium or Constantinople etc. And to say "Studying the Burgundian succession of the 1360s, one can easily develop 'Palis-Rondon' - as the Japanese call a squint" serves no purpose other than to tell the reader that the author can show off in Japanese as well. He also indulges in historian bashing: reproving Gibbon for rushing through the history of Constantinople was ironic since Davies spends more space doing this than on the four dynasties who receive a single sentence. Furthermore, he rattles through history at such a speed that the procession of names, places and titles leave one dizzy.

There is a slightly contrived structure. Each chapter has a first part which is a sort of tourist guide to the place where the vanished kingdom originated followed by part two, a lengthy history of the kingdom and part three, which explores the kingdom's heritage.

Nevertheless this is a fascinating book.

This is a massive rambling book, full of delightful anecdotes but equally full of rambling dynastic discourses and historiographical rants. It is bizarrely uneven in its treatment: some episodes being scrutinised in detail whilst centuries can pass unnoticed. Even in its state selection it seems eclectic. Eastern Europe has a number of chapters; Scandinavia has none. And I was a little confused as to why Eire was included (has it vanished and I failed to notice?) and Montenegro which has returned from the dead.

Overall I think that it needed firm editing.
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