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The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat Hardcover – April 21, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0691114064 ISBN-10: 0691114064 Edition: First Edition first Printing

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Hardcover, April 21, 2003
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition first Printing edition (April 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691114064
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691114064
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.8 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,526,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[A] glorious, immensely readable book."--Economist

"A pleasure to read. . . . Mr. Lendvai has done a remarkable job. His book is easily the best history of Hungary in English. . . . What's remarkable is how many extraordinary individuals, admirable and otherwise, we come across in this small nation's history."--Stephen Goode, Washington Times

"The writing of national histories is . . . justified by the erudition and intellectual brilliance of the [author]. To this one must add, as a special attraction, the charm, wit and healthy cynicism of The Hungarians."--Istvan Deak, Times Literary Supplement

"[R]ewarding, entertaining, and well written. . . . [F]ar more substantial than the witty musings to be found, for example, in Luigi Barzini's The Italians. . . . No one who is interested in Hungary should miss reading this book."--Nicolas Parsons, Hungarian Quarterly

"An outstanding storyteller. [Lendvai] not only presents scientifically based facts and analysis but also tells the reader a story. . .. A compact overview of Hungarian history, a wonderful collection of biographical sketches and a subtle description of the 'Hungarian temperament'."--Neue Zürcher Zeitung

"Excellently researched and masterfully constructed, this should become a standard work. . . . The book reads almost like a novel with historical background. . . . Most warmly recommended."--Die Presse

"An exhaustive history of the Hungarian people. . . . The author has written a sympathetic account of Hungarian history. Yet the book also exposes the blemishes along with the heroism. . . . For those interested in the history of a art of Europe that has been shrouded in mystery and cliché, it's a helpful handbook."--Anne Gyulai, The Montreal Gazette

"It is history's destiny to stare helplessly as the past's effects on facts have them act no differently on our minds and bodies than do fictions. In his loving rendering of Hungary's troubled saga, Lendvai has shown us how our knowledge and memory are a tangle of both threads."--Norman Madarasz, The European Legacy

From the Inside Flap

"This brief narrative of Hungarian history, elegantly translated into English, is written with verve, humor, profound insights, and just the right degree of cynicism. It well explains the dilemma of a respectable old state squeezed between more powerful neighbors, the contradictions between individual genius and repeated national failure, and the recurring tragic conflicts between the defense of nationhood and messianic nationalism. It is supplemented with fascinating essays on, for instance, the complexities of Jewish and German assimilation into the Hungarian nation."--Istvn Dek, Columbia University

"When Paul Lendvai, the indefatigable observer of Eastern Europe, writes a book, he has in general something exciting to relate. . . . Lendvai's book is a well-constructed mixture of historical facts, political judgments, and cultural anecdotes."--Der Spiegel

"Lendvai has written a standard-setting work, always at the highest level of historical research yet so eminently readable, so entertaining--only a journalist out of passion with profound knowledge of history is able to write in this way. . . . Lendvai's presentation of the thousand years of Hungarian history in Europe is not only comprehensive, it is also just."--Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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Customer Reviews

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Thoroughly recommended for anyone who loves history.
Judith Calman
I am not sure which book is the best available on the Hungarian language itself, but this fine book mentions the Magyar (Hungarian) language, a bit.
Scott R Harrington
I heard the author give a talk at a dinner in Washington, DC, which prompted to read his book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 81 people found the following review helpful By "annikadean" on April 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an outstanding, very easy to read, history of a little known and understood country and people, the Hungarians, who are NOT slavs nor to be confused with the Huns. I heard the author give a talk at a dinner in Washington, DC, which prompted to read his book. I have not been disappointed. On the contrary, this is the most readable, entertaining history that I've read in years. Lendvai makes David McCullough look like an amateur, in terms of the scope of the years covered and the masterful way in which he writes, displaying a command of significant details and telling anecdotes. Even those with no particular interest in Hungary or eastern Europe would enjoy this book for its style of writing alone. This should be must reading for anyone planning a trip to Hungary.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Istvan Nemes on July 14, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I often wondered why Hungary and Hungarians have such poor public relations, particularly in the US. Unfortunately, this book fails to answer that question. It is a fascinating read, if only because it gives, (in parts) a refreshingly different perspective. In others, unfortunately, the Communist-era interpretation of the author's sources is painfully evident. The many details in the narrative are interesting, partly because the selection of the details reveals the author's biases. There are a number of translation errors I found in the book which naturally led to faulty conclusions. P.e. "Honved"(seg)(hon=home, vedni=to defend) is not the militia, it's the standing army. "Nemzet orseg," (nemzet=nation, orseg=guard) is the militia. All in all however, it was worthwhile to read through the book. It will lead those, who are not familiar with the Magyars to some understanding of the background of this nation although will leave them feel shortchanged in understanding their psyche. I sent a copy of the book to both of my (adult) children together with a 16 page commentary.It is a laudable effort on the part of author Lendvai and by and large I believe it will benefit the Hungarians' image as well.
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69 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Well written, detailed, and fascinating history of this often beleaguered but important people and country. My interest is mostly in Ural-Altaic linguistics, which includes Hungarian, which belongs to what is called the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic sub-family, which contains Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, but I also found I enjoyed picking up some history about the Hungarians and their culture, too. I already had the basics and knew about when they'd first arrived in eastern Europe, and about their later wars with the Tatars, Turks, and Russians, but I learned quite bit more about it from this book.
A little aside here, Hungarians have contributed disproportionately, relative to their numbers, to modern math, physics, and other areas of science. They include greats like mathematician Paul Erdos, who founded the area of discrete mathematics, worked in many areas of pure math, and may have been the most prolific mathmematician who ever lived, with 1500 papers; John von Neumann, who developed game theory and was the inventor of the electronic computer; Edward Teller, the "father of the H-Bomb," and Bela Julesz, a mathematical psychophysicist and researcher in the field of visual perception, and recipient of the prestigious MacArthur "Genius Award." And last but not least, Andy Grove, the former President and CEO for 20 years of Intel Corporation, the famous computer chip-maker, was Hungarian also.
Interestingly, although I'm not Hungarian myself, I have a few connections to some of the above. I'm related to Ernest Lawrence, who invented the cyclotron, or atom smasher, which made possible critical technology for the building of the atom bomb, without which there wouldn't have been the later hydrogen bomb. Lawrence won the Nobel Prize in 1939 for his invention.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By The Philistines on August 12, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been studying Hungary for over a decade and this book was still able to introduce new insights to me. An easy read and it came off more as a novel than a history book. It just flowed. What's more, I know some Hungarian historians and I found the book excellent fodder for cocktail conversations.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Critical Reader on April 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
I would not recommend this book to anyone who does not already know Hungarian history. It does not tell the story of the Hungarians in a coherent and compelling manner. The narrative is frequently interrupted by digressions: bringing up famous Hungarian poems which were later written about the events being described, discussions of historiography (e.g., how Austrian and Hungarian accounts of an event differed, or how accounts changed over time), etc. At times the author assumes that the reader is already quite familiar with the details of European history. For example, it's hard to appreciate his argument as to why the Austrian defeat in the battle of Koeniggraetz improved the Hungary's political position vis-a-vis Austria without knowing who defeated the Austrians there, how that war ended, and whether Hungary had fought in that war too, and on which side. The translation from German is extremely literal and resulted in an awkward, dry style.

The author provides a clear interpretation and evaluation of Hungarian history, which is both a strength and the weakness of the book. It's a strength insofar as the reader is left with ideas about themes of Hungarian history, such as Hungarians' fear that they might cease to exist as a people and the question of whether one is a Hungarian primarily as a matter of choice rather than blood. It's a weakness insofar as the book is sometimes burdened by the author's blame of certain historical figures and praise of others. In a book covering 1000 years of Hungarian history, can it really be worth bringing up in defense of George Soros that "proper tenders always had to be produced" by recipients of financial support from the Soros Foundation?
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