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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 24 December 2012
"History is written by the winners" (attributed to Churchill, quoted by the author).
Norman Davies' purpose, though, is to try to switch our view of European history from this over-worked angle. He points out that "Things are never quite as they seem". Historians, he claims, tend to write history from the perspective of countries still in existence who, by definition, tend to be the winners.
He attributes this in part to his Welsh ancestry and I have to declare my interest here (as if my pen name above is not enough!) as I too get excited by the stories of the forgotten nations, including my own. (We Welsh were never a nation I know but we still have our own history). In fact, the second chapter is about the ancient Welsh/Celtic/British kingdom of Alt Clud which once straddled south-west Scotland and north-west England and, thus, from this close to the beginning, I was hooked.
The author is immmensely knowledgeable and the forty five pages of references at the end are testament to the depth of his research. Don't argue with this guy unless you, too, are a professor in this field! The main criticism from one who does most of his reading at bedtime is that concentration levels have to be maintained at a high level in order to absorb this fascinating but complex group of "lost" histories. There are fifteen chapters which cover European history from the fall of the Roman empire to the fall of the Soviet one. All areas are covered with the lost nations of central and eastern Europe being particularly well represented as the book moves on, allowing the author to comment liberally on the rise and fall of the Muscovite/Russian/Soviet empires.
So much of Europe has been divided almost arbitrarily by the powerful that it is fascinating to see maps and to read about the old nations which were based more perhaps on original ethnic movements and which, beneath the veneer, still exist; how Catalonia-Aragon (Ch.4) with its bullfights for instance, still straddles the eastern borders of France and Spain.
There is a further point to all of this for, as these nations have now disappeared so too, argues the author, will existing nations, even our own. After all, where are the "Big Nations" of Yugoslavia or the USSR now?
Where, in fact, will the United Kingdom be in hundreds of years' time? If you are English you may be perplexed and even unsettled by this prospect. You may even be a little angry; the sun may have set on most of those farflung red areas on the map but surely it will blaze forever over the coast of Pembroke or over the Western Isles? Better read this book through to the very end then. Norman Davies' epilogue, "How states Die", may well be the most intriguing section of the whole work. Read it and re-think the future as well as the past.

Recommended.
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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 3 September 2015
This is a challenging book. The basic premise is sound and interesting, as are some of the historical references taking us well away from the Anglo-centric version we are taught at school.

That said, I almost felt the author tried to be too clever for his own good on occasions. Many details are unnecessary and sometimes there is little real relevance to the modern day.

As much a reference book, after a while, than anything.
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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 4 March 2017
awesome
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on 18 May 2017
Good research and some surprising stories.
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on 17 July 2014
Well, I honestly find it hard to figure out how to start a review of this splendid book, so many and varied are its qualities. For starters, I think the concept of delving into the history of 15 vanished kingdoms (not all of them literally kingdoms) a very original one. Vanished they may be, but as Norman Davies convincingly demonstrates, each of these long-forgotten kingdoms (perhaps not by all of us but definitely by me) is in fact still an influence on today's politics. Unless you're an expert in European history, I guess you probably never heard of Borussia, Sabaudia, Rosenau and Rusyn before (I know I hadn't) which means there's discoveries to be made and things to learn here on every single page.

Davies must have done an unprecedented amount of research (and travel) to amass such a huge amount of information, which means there's all the more praise to be given because he subsequently managed to distill all of it into a (granted: fairly hefty) volume which never becomes heavy-going or can be savoured only be academics. There's plenty of helpful maps and family trees, but above all: a wealth of information and insights. A very exciting book!
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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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