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God's Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795 [Paperback]

by Norman Davies
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1, 2005 0231128177 978-0231128179 Revised

The most comprehensive survey of Polish history available in English, God's Playground demonstrates Poland's importance in European history from medieval times to the present. Abandoning the traditional nationalist approach to Polish history, Norman Davies instead stresses the country's rich multinational heritage and places the development of the Jewish German, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian communities firmly within the Polish context.

Davies emphasizes the cultural history of Poland through a presentation of extensive poetical, literary, and documentary texts in English translation. In each volume, chronological chapters of political narrative are interspersed with essays on religious, social, economic, constitutional, philosophical, and diplomatic themes.

This new edition has been revised and fully updated with two new chapters to bring the story to the end of the twentieth century.

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God's Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795 + God's Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 2: 1795 to the Present + Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present
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Editorial Reviews


"The standard work on the subject in English.... [Davies] writes with commanding dexterity and a confident, at times almost swaggering, intelligence as he balances narrative and analysis." -- "Atlantic Monthly"

About the Author

Norman Davies is chair of the history department, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, at the University of London.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 638 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; Revised edition (July 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231128177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231128179
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.6 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Norman Davies C. M. G., F. B. A. is Professor Emeritus of the University of London, a Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and the author of several books on Polish and European history, including God's Playground, White Eagle, Red Star, The Isles, Europe, and Microcosm.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best on Poland--Where's the Update? February 2, 2000
Since its publication in 1984, these two heavy tomes have been the only survey course of Polish history worth reading, in Polish or English or any other language. The others, since the beginnings of Polish history books, have generally been badly outdated, marred by heavy ideological or religous bias, or were written by enthusiasts rather than by trained historians. I have read as many as I could fine since I started studying the field in 1971. Davies is controversial because he does indeed take stands not always popular with some readers, and he is a reasonable romantic enthusiast. Note the other reviews. After all, he received his doctorate in Krakow, the former capital of Poland, a true measure of devotion to the country. Unfortunately, the world of Polish, much less Eastern European, historigoraphy has been overturned with the end of the Cold War and opening of the archives and libraries formerly denied. There is a crying need for an updated version of Polish history, especially to cover the post-1945 period, which was off-limits under the rules in the former People's Republic. Until then, read Davies. Understandably, the market for this sort of work is limited, but it is good to know that a Polish translation is used in the restored Poland. Certain periods are well-coverd, as in the Piotr Wandycz book on 19th century Poland. We distributed copies of this work through the cultural section of the American Embassy in Warsaw in the 1980's.
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shining example of what historical writing should be August 7, 2002
With God's Playground Davies has proven himself to be one of the greatest historians, historical writers, and historical theorists that the English language has known. Davies combines the narrative and thematic approaches to achieve a historical study that provides a chronology of events as well as an understanding of deeper changes and cultural contexts. Since you are reading this in the hopes that it will help you decide to buy the book, let me explain how Davies does this. First, he provides a chapter that is written in the traditional narrative style from n-date to x-date. Then he follows that up with several chapters on each facet of Polish life and how that developed from n-date to x-date. Typically, he uses political, military, economic, religious, and cultural (the arts, etc.) as his primary themes. By using this technique Davies is able to impart much more knowledge and much deeper understanding to his readers. Finally, these two volumes also contain some of the best and most useful maps I have encountered in any history book. The maps alone are worth the price of the book, and anyone teaching a European history course will find them to be invaluable in helping students understand Eastern Europe.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
God's Playground is currently being used by many schools in Poland as the textbook of Polish history. It was writen in English, and was translated into Polish to be used in schools. It is very thorough, well balanced, and focuses on the Mickiewicz point of view. The book is a good reflection of how Poles see their history. Russophiles probably wouldn't enjoy this very Polish view of history, but it is well written, well researched, and interesting! This is the first book about Polish history, that was translated into Polish to be used in Polish schools.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book February 18, 2001
Excellent book. Few years back Norman Davies received an honorary diploma from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow for his outstanding achievements. This book was recognized as a masterpiece, translated into Polish, and is currently used by undergraduate and graduate students in Poland.
I highly recommend it.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reader's reviews of Polish history are rarely unbiased December 13, 1998
By A Customer
Davies sympathized with Poland as a nation wrongly accused of not doing enough during WW II to help save its Jews from the Nazis. His opinions conflicted with Jewish academics', with whom he quarreled. Those differences in opinion are worth noting by any serious student of Polish history and should not, in any case, be used as an excuse to criticize everything Davies has written. An earlier reader/review characterizes the expression that peasants "live lustily" as a "fairly typical Slavophilic view." Obviously he\she is not Slavic, and the comment and its context is certainly negative. Makes me wonder what people's view the reader represents?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There's No Land Like Poland" February 28, 2013
When you think about Europe, you have seen or read numerous histories of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain and even Portugal. There are lots of books that deal with "Eastern Europe" in the modern age, with Ottoman Turkey, the USA, and many other parts of the world, but comprehensive histories of Poland are rare. I realized this when I found the present volume in a Melbourne book store back in 1984. Its 546 pages looked a daunting task, needing a considerable space of time to wade through. That's why I didn't get around to it till now. I had never really absorbed even the basic outline of Polish history. I came to the right place, but because I only bought volume 1 back then, my learning curve came to a screeching halt in 1795.

Starting with an excellent chapter on Polish historiography, Davies proceeds to puncture all the balloons of nationalist, imperialist, and Communist histories. It seems that his book, translated, has been used in the Polish educational system post-1989. That's a signal honor. I can't claim to be expert enough to comment on whether his perspective is worthy or not, but it is thorough and interestingly written. There are vast amounts of place and personal names--rulers, landlords, soldiers, poets, priests--offset by a great series of maps and charts. Nobody but a serious student of Polish history would be able to retain such copious information. Davies lacks pomposity; he's down to earth and somehow you feel you can believe him. A good sense of humor lights up the text with occasional flashes, even if Polish history is anything but humorous most of the time. Anyone who writes, "In the last resort, all our ancestors were alien, mongrel immigrants." gets my vote as a realistic historian.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Polish history
This is a fantastic book on a very difficult subject. It's a joy for a longtime reader of history. Sometimes I laugh out loud, which seems appropriate to Polish mindset and... Read more
Published 4 months ago by VWitmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Extensive History
Davies provides a detailed and extensive history of Poland. Definitely a must for serious "students" of Polish history. Might be a bit much for a casual interest reader. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Connie H. Cherry
5.0 out of 5 stars History of Poland Vol.1
I purchased the book for a class assignment on Poland, because our family will be moving there soon. It is very detailed.
Published 10 months ago by sassyjen
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic and worth the read
As a child of a Pole, I have been appalled by the West's acceptance of the highly biased German or Russian/Soviet views of Poland. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Leo
5.0 out of 5 stars What might have been...
A fascinating expertly researched and written study of the growth of a culture and nation much ignored and unknown to Western readers. Read more
Published on November 4, 2010 by John
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
Dr. Davies, Gods Playground is a definitive history of the most overlooked & under appreciated nation in Europe. Read more
Published on August 28, 2010 by Gregory Lauren Meyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Historical Account of a Much-Neglected Nation
Few English-speaking peoples know much about the accomplishments of the Polish people. The very readable work by Davies, an Englishman, goes a long way to fill in the gap.
Published on November 16, 1999
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