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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Norman Davies

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7211813,038 (3.84)23
Member:lfmartin
Title:Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe
Authors:Norman Davies
Info:Penguin (2012), Paperback, 848 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading
Rating:****
Tags:history

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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies (2011)

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» See also 23 mentions

English (16)  Polish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Holy crap, I finished it! It took me two months, but I did it. (To be fair, I had a 'few' things going on, and finished a few other books over the same period.)

This book is dense. It really is. But it is also really interesting. I didn't think I could enjoy this level of detail about states, family lines, successions, etc.; and in a sense it was as boring as it might sound (depending on your tastes/interests.) But the thing is... it actually was well worth the read, and maintained my interest throughout.

As an American, even one who reads a lot, the rise and fall of political units/states seems distant. Somehow, drowning in detail, this book manages to give a sense of the complexity and enormity of political changes that --even having read some previous history-- I was simply lacking. And not just the human suffering and cost (though there is plenty of that.) The sense of shifting identity, lost identity, just the vagaries of time, etc....

Yeah, this was a good book :) ( )
  dcunning11235 | Jul 27, 2016 |
Subtitled "The History of Half-Forgotten Europe", Norman Davies' book is a triple challenge.

First of all there is its bulk. It is the shape and weight of a substantial print dictionary, so it can't really be held in the hand for any length of time. It has to be read at a desk or table, preferably with a book-rest.

Then there is its breadth. It covers the period from AD418 to 1991, so a time-span of 1,500 years - that's a lot of scope to comprehend if you're not a historian who specialises in these eras.

Lastly, there's that sub-title and the concept of "half-forgotten". I find it difficult to accept because many of the kingdoms described here (there are 15 in total) are totally unknown to me, and so I never even had the chance to forget them....which doesn't mean, of course, that other readers won't have heard of them - perhaps they are those specialist historians I've just mentioned - but maybe test yourself with these three: Alt Clud (5th to 12th century), Sabaudia (1033 to 1946) and Tsernagora (1910 to 1918). Ring any bells?

So, with 3 hurdles to overcome, I decided to read this book as I would a dictionary - I dipped in to it, here using the contents as my guide.

The introduction was promising, since it explained that the opening section of each chapter located that chapter's kingdom in the modern world (so, my three puzzles above become Dumbarton, Rome and Montenegro), and also displayed Davies' passion and commitment to his subject.

I also read the chapters on Eire, which turned out to be a fine exposition on the end of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and CCCP, a clever narrative about the collapse of the USSR from the perspective of the State of Estonia.

Finally, I tackled Davies' end-piece on how states die. I found this less satisfactory and perhaps a bit forced in the way it sought to fit vanished kingdoms into defined groups.

In summary, I found Davies' book mostly well-written, if ambitious in its scope. The discoveries I made in the chapters about Eire and CCCP were genuinely enlightening and I would probably turn to the book as a work of reference if I needed a broader and a deeper understanding of other former European kingdoms.

A revised list of contents, indicating modern geographical reference-points, would be helpful, though. ( )
  SunnyJim | Jan 24, 2016 |
If anybody wonders why this book is spending so long in the limbo of "currently reading", it is because I read the introduction and first chapter and then some reviews on Good Reads and decided that an apparent indigesibility would be best served by reading it a chapter / country at a time between reading other books. So it will be some time before I rate / review. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
I think you shouldn't attempt to read this book in one go. Like most Norman Davies books, this is physically too heavy and your arms will get tired! Also some chapters are too long and some too short. Some chapters will be more interesting depending on where you come from and what period of history you already know about. I found the early
chapter on British history (Alt Clud) fascinating as I had never read anything about it before.

Each chapter is divided into three parts: the kingdom as it is today, which often owes a lot to googling, and so can be rather tongue in cheek or flippant. The history itself is the second part and is solid and always interesting. The third is what is left of the kingdom now. Since the kingdoms are, by definition, vanished and (often) far distant in time, this tends to be sad or nostalgic, though sometimes there is not much to say.

Some chapters are not quite what they seem: the fall of the Soviet Union is actually about the liberation of Estonia, which was a bit of a surprise. Some chapters extend the usual histories eg Prussia. The chapter on Byzantium is one of the shortest, which seems odd as Davies himself writes that most histories of Istanbul itself only deal with Ottoman history. For me the history of Galicia was the most interesting.

I haven't quite finished the book, as my arms ached, but I guess I will try again soon.

( )
  varske | Oct 25, 2015 |
An excellent history devoted to the places that lie between the places that other histories cover. Besides the wealth of detail and the opening up of unknown worlds, the books explores how countries disappear. What goes away and what remains. I wouldn't try it without a good grounding in European history, but if you have that, you'll find it fascinating. ( )
  le.vert.galant | Jan 26, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Norman Daviesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pagano, FrancescoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Payette, MaggieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
I'r anghofiedig
Dla tych, o których historycy przeważnie zapominają
I'r anghofiedig

For those whom historians tend to forget
First words
(from Introduction)

All my life, I have been intrigued by the gap between appearances and reality. Things are never quite what they seem. I was born a subject of the British Empire, abd as a child, read in my Children's Encyclopaedia that 'our empire' was one 'on which the sun never set'.
Quotations
All the nations that have ever lived have left their footsteps in the sand. The traces fade with every tide, the echoes grow faint, the images are fractured, the human material is atomized and recycled. But if we know where to look, there is always a remnant, a remainder, an irreducible residue. (p.393)
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Book description
Contents:
Tolosa : soujourn of the Visigoths (AD 418-507) --
Alt Clud : Kingdom of the Rock (fifth to twelfth centuries) --
Burgundia : five, six, or seven kingdoms (c. 411-1795) --
Aragon : a Mediterranean empire (1137-1714) --
Litva : a grand duchy with kings (1253-1795) --
Byzantion : the star-lit golden bough (330-1453) --
Borussia : watery land of the Prusai (1230-1945) --
Sabaudia : The house that Humbert built (1033-1946) --
Galicia : kingdom of the naked and starving (1773-1918) --
Etruria : French snake in the Tuscan grass (1801-14) --
Rosenau : the loved and unwonted legacy (1826-1918) --
Tsernagora : Kingdom of the Black Mountain (1910-1918) --
Rusyn : the republic of one day (15 March 1939) --
Éire : The unconscionable tempo of the Crown's retreat (1916-2011) --
CCCP : the ultimate vanishing act (1924-1991) --
How states die.
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How many British people know that Glasgow was founded by the Welsh in a period when neither England nor Scotland existed? How many of us will remember the former Soviet Union in a few generations' time? This book answers these questions and includes stories, observations and connections that give us a fresh perspective on the history of Europe.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 1846143381, 0141048867

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