Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies

For anyone aspiring to an education in European history Norman Davies book is a "must read." The crannies of history that have remained obscure are made painstakingly clear, from the Visigoths to the Kingdom of Poland and its Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Not only is this book essential for an understanding of Europe's chaotic history, but it clarifies, through the author's own travel experiences, what's happening now and why. Davies' approach is unique in my experience in his vivid accounts of the present conditions of the lands whose pasts he delves. Most harrowing: the effects of the soviet era, depopulating cities and regions that were centers of culture and prosperity not so very long ago.

The text is littered with maps, as borders and the identity of nations change and change. One would do well to have such maps printed on clear plastic to be able to overlay them to see the lengthy passage of time, as anatomy books overlay a view into the body inch by inch. Vanished Kingdom is not easy reading, it can be head-spinning in its complexity. My advice is to take it slowly, reading a section, absorbing it, perhaps reading something else for a while (I'm taking a break with the Countess of Carnarvon's Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey), but forge on with Davies, for there lies wisdom, compassion and a true sense of our past.">View all my reviews</a>

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Katherine Ashe is the author of the  four volume Montfort novelized series