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The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History

14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691050522
ISBN-10: 069105052X
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Editorial Reviews Review

In The Winter's Tale, a play of 1610, William Shakespeare gave a coastline to Bohemia, a landlocked country. Three hundred and twenty-eight years later, his compatriot Neville Chamberlain would call a brewing war in Czechoslovakia, as the country was called, "a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing." As Canadian scholar Sayer writes, knowingly, Bohemia eventually got its coastline, one "guarded by minefields, barbed-wire fences, and tall watchtowers with machine guns," while the West took little notice. The general ignorance of all things Czech would cost Europe dearly, for conflagrations from the Thirty Years War to World War II (and even sparks that might have ignited World War III) have begun in the tiny country known by many names---Czechoslovakia, Bohemia, Moravia. Canadian scholar Sayer writes of the Czechs' struggle over centuries to define themselves as a people and nation, and he does so in a vivid, detailed narrative that will enlighten readers who are unfamiliar with the critically important center of Eastern Europe. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Historically, the Czech people have long been oppressed and have only recently gained true independence. Therefore, it is difficult to uncover the origins and long history of the Czech people and Bohemia. Here Sayer (sociology, Univ. of Alberta in Edmonton) takes a sociologist's approach to history by writing about the emergence of the Czech nationality. He meticulously tracks and details the growth of Czech nationalism through literature, theater, art, architecture, language, and music to provide a thorough story of how the Czechs shed the oppression of the German and Austrian reigns over their land to become a distinct people. While a bit cumbersome to read, Sayer's work is groundbreaking in its scope and direction. Recommended for academic libraries and specialized European collections.AJill Jaracz, Chicago
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069105052X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691050522
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #895,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Penrice ( on June 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a marvelous book. It is far and away the best single work available to English-speaking readers with an interest in Czech history and culture. It also more than merits the attention of anyone with an interest in Central Europe, the Western invention known as "Eastern Europe," European cultural history, or cultural history generally.
Sayer is quite convincing in making his major arguments: that the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia are rightly viewed as having stood for centuries at the center of European history; that Czech national identity, created virtually from scratch in the 19th century, exemplifies a complexly and authentically modern process of self-invention; and that the echoes, ironies, and reversals of Czech history hold valuable lessons for Westerners whose notions of "Eastern European" exoticism and backwardness are rivaled, in their ingenuousness, only by our belief in history as progress. He shows in vivid detail how history and historically derived notions of collective identity are refracted in the service of politics and power--and not only by totalitarian regimes. (In one of the book's most disturbingly persuasive sections, Sayer shows how Communism--far from being the wholly alien import that many Czechs would now prefer to see it as--took root in soil that had been well, if unwittingly, prepared by 150 years of often liberal Czech nationalist ideology.) Throughout "The Coasts of Bohemia," he provides a lavishly and (one comes to understand) lovingly detailed journey through the collective psyche of a fascinating nation--though Sayers' love for the Czechs and for Czech culture, we also come to suspect, is fiercely complicated and deeply ambivalent.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I can only agree with the eloquent rave of the first reader review. COASTS OF BOHEMIA is a miracle. It sweeps through Czech history, presenting a marvelous depth of historical detail while always remaining thoroughly readable, even beautiful, and exciting. Most of all I was impressed with the way in which the author so persuasively demonstrated a remarkable thesis: that a history so unique, particular, and extraordinary could show us things about European history in general that we had not seen before. A MUST READ for those interested in the area. Another perspective, also arguing for the broad and general implications of a very particular history, is offered in the book PRAGUE TERRITORIES. Both books argue for the contingency of national identity, the former relating it to the selfconsciously invented (reinvented?) Czech cultural "Renaissance" of the 19th century, the latter to the incredible creativity of the small group of Prague German Jews around Franz Kafka. PRAGUE IN BLACK AND GOLD presents the long sweep of Prague history in terms of eternal bloody conflict--ultimately a narrower thesis than the other two but a good introduction to Prague history, Czech and German. MAGICAL PRAGUE is a romantic journey through a cliche, a fun read but it never analyzes the "mystical" image of Prague but only reproduces it. All three of the above books are antidotes to this. But for a history of the Czech nation that enlightens European history generally, no book lives up to Derek Sayer's.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Janice M. Albert on October 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
In The Coasts of Bohemia, Derek Sayers tells us how social values are invented and reinterpreted by those with the will and the power to do so, a study of Bohemian history with broader applications. He writes to clarify and contextualize social movements in the Czech lands from before the Hussites to the modern period, but the reader learns late in the book that his passion owes something to the cooperative assistance of his wife, whose father was a professor lost to the world of learning when he was removed by the Nazis as they closed the universities in Czechoslovakia in the 40s.
The book is a bright but isolated star in the realm of scholarship that explains the Czech lands and people to the citizens of the United States. Sayers has a firm grasp on the little things, "the quotidian," that make up cultural identity, but it is his writing style and his ability to weave small points into major themes that makes the book such a masterpiece.
I note with mixed feelings that Sayers works and teaches in Canada. The English-speaking world's gain; America's loss.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
The book's subtitle is "A Czech History," but people looking for a general history of the Czech lands will be disappointed. Sayer focuses not on battlefields and parliaments but on art, literature and historiography. He either completely ignores or barely mentions such topics as the world wars, the Munich Pact and the Communist coup while devoting dozens of pages to poets, artists and critics. Thus, despite the rather esoteric nature of Czech history, Sayer assumes readers already know the basics. I guess a title like "The Humanities and Czech Identity, 1620-1960" wouldn't sell as well.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By bnberthold on December 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
Anybody wanting to gain a deeper knowledge of the Czech people, Czech culture, and Czech spirit should read Derek Sayer's 'The Coasts of Bohemia.' Anybody wanting to dive into the sticky mess of Central European history would also do well to read this book. And those unbelievers who think that a scholarly work must be by its very nature dry and dense, MUST read this book.

Sayer's work stands alone in the veritable dearth of good works dealing with Czechdom. A towering mountain, 'Coasts' is far and away the best door to a culture and nation little understood in the 'West.' In this monumental work, Sayer continues in the grand tradition of Czech historiography started by the grand master of Czech history, Palácky. And like Palácky before him, Sayer attempts to give an answer to that elusive question: Who are the Czechs?

Starting his work with the formulators of written Czech, Josef Jungmann and Josef Dobrovsky, Sayer makes a wise decision. During the Hapsburg rule from 1620 to 1918, the only real home of Czechdom was Cestina, the Czech language. From there, Sayer takes the reader on a serpintine journey through the heart of Czech cultural consciousness. We meet up with poets of the national awakening like Karel Hynek Macha, whose epic poem, 'Máj,' could easily be considered the Czech people's Aeneid, a work that defines who they are as a voice in the cacophony of Europe. Critics of culture like F.X. Salda and voices of modernism in Czech culture like Kundera or the Noble Prize-winning poet, Jaroslav Seifert, also make appearances as Sayer makes a case for the Czech artistic voice being paramount in the creation of national identity.
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