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Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations Hardcover – January 5, 2012

90 customer reviews

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Hardcover, January 5, 2012
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

A dozen-plus examples from European history constitute this ruminative disquisition on the impermanence of polities. Struck by popular amnesia about the existence of his selections, some of which endured for centuries (although one, the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine, lived but one day), Davies, from a traveler’s viewpoint, describes the contemporary appearance of each former state’s territory or principal city, then applies engrossing clarity to the history of its origin, ascent, and decline. Two states en route to expiration, Prussia and Savoy, left traces in contemporary Germany and Italy, but the rest are gone, submerged by dynastic politics, as were the duchy of Burgundy and the kingdom of Aragon, or hacked away and conquered by aggressive neighbors, as was the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Despite the subject of extinction, pessimism does not pervade Davies’ accounts, which detect a persistence of popular memory about each vanished state, encouraging advocates for its revival, as occurred in the cases of Poland and Lithuania. Having current relevance especially to the UK and Montenegro, Davies’ fascinating work harbors insights and discoveries for avid history readers. --Gilbert Taylor


“Densely packed yet commendably accessible, magisterial and uncommonly humane.”—The Boston Globe

“Hugely ambitious . . . From the mists, Mr. Davies summons the kingdoms; he records their emergence, their flowering and their demise—whether by ‘internall diseases’ or ‘forraign warre’ in Thomas Hobbes’s words. And he examines the traces that the kingdoms have left behind, in works of art or a piece of rock or perhaps just a place name.”—Wall Street Journal

“Davies resurrects the lands and peoples that were lost in the brutal tide of history. . . . He is presenting knowledge gained over a long lifetime of research. It takes a tremendous feat of empathy to write a detailed tome about countries and peoples that no longer exist. And the amount of information in Vanished Kingdoms that will be new to all but the most expert students of European history is staggering. . . . Fascinating facts and insights flutter on its many pages.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“Davies has written short histories of 15 nations and states in a substantive volume that shows how so many past peoples have intertwined with the larger world and shaped it even after they are forgotten in the sands of time . . . an efficient, lively and important work, an outstanding addition to the histories of the human race.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Davies is well known as an iconoclast who punctures the comforting myths of countries that history has blessed . . . Vanished Kingdoms gives full rein to his historical imagination and enthusiasms, imparting a powerful sense of places lost in time. All across Europe ghosts will bless him for telling their long-forgotten stories.”—The Economist

“Davies performs autopsies of Europe’s cadaver-states, and like a skilled mortician he has a gift for making them appear lifelike. . . . There are wonders in this book worth discovering.”—The Nation

“Davies is certainly one of the best British historical writers of the past half century, and every gauntlet he throws down is bejeweled. His literary gifts and his capacity for what he nicely calls ‘imaginative sympathy’ are stretched to their limits by this challenging project. . . . Yet Davies succeeds, and it is quite a success.”—Timothy Snyder, The Guardian

“Brilliant . . . Davies asks us to contemplate European history in an entirely different way, seeing the map as a shifting patchwork of claims and identities, its complexion always changing, some states dying, others making unexpected revivals. . . . Vanished Kingdoms is distinguished by his extraordinary intellectual ambition and lovely eye for detail.”—Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times (London)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; Reprint edition (January 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067002273X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022731
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #709,531 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

141 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Graham on January 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an imposing tome, with 750 pages of tightly written history of 15 of Europe's (mostly) smaller states, many of which have now entirely vanished, both from maps and from popular memory.

One of Prof Davies' main themes is the uncertainty of nations. It is easy to think of today's European states as the natural sub-units of the continent. But many other forgotten states might have seemed just as natural, if they had only been a little luckier. Another pattern that struck me is the multi-ethnic nature of many of Davies' states. They were often welded together from a mix of peoples, overlapping in the same physical terrain, but willing to live together in some varying degree of harmony.

The states covered are Visigothic Tolosa, ancient British Strathclyde, the many Kingdoms of Burgundy, Aragon, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Byzantium (very briefly), Prussia, the lands of the House of Savoy, Galicia, the Napoleonic Kingdom of Etruria, Saxe-Coburg (birthplace of Prince Albert), Montenegro (lost and reborn), Carpatho-Ukraine (a Republic for but a day), Eire (a newborn state), and last but not least the USSR (freshly and mysteriously vanished). By winding up on the USSR, Davies takes the opportunity to reflect on the inevitability of change. "Nothing lasts forever" and Davies argues that while today's major states may seem permanent, they too will eventually fade, or change into very different forms.

The book has both strengths and weaknesses. Among the strengths are thorough histories of various forgotten states, including many fascinating nuggets of history, greed, intrigue and folly.
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80 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Tony Williams on January 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For a reader of what can be called tertiary historical works (so those written by someone who studies the source documents and most usually in a specific field and who also understands the process by which secondary works come about) I am always aware of what is possibly being left out because it doesn't quite fit onto the overall message of the book. Since I am unlikely to ever have the time or inclination to, for example, learn to read Polish or Lithuanian documents to ensure that there are no glaring lacunae, Dr Davis's book gives me great comfort and the assurance that inconvenient facts are included, and the result is a provocative, readable and sad work. Sad, because so many countries that seemed to be not bad places to live (compared to others of their time) vanish into history, forgotten by all but a few.

He is passionate about Poland-Lithuania, and the sections that involve this are superb. I would have greatly enjoyed an expanded section on Byzantium, but as he points out, that could take many volumes, and to a certain extent, has been covered, if in a fashion that while amusing is somewhat out of fashion today.

This is a great book.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By S. Heminger on January 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The historical memory of nations has a great deal to do with their position amongst contemporaries at the time of their existence. Thus the stories of Rome, Greece and Great Britain are well chronicled. In fact the historiography seems to grow by the week of these great nations and empires. In contrast however, nations that had an admittedly mediocre history, or were perhaps consumed by these other great nations have largely disappeared from the historical picture. A current analogy might be the manner with which we tend to forget mediocre performing professional athletes and the astronauts after Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon. This is the type of issue that Norman Davies sees in the current state of history of Europe,however and he has set about to remedy, at least in small part, this glaring gap in the historical record of Europe with the writing of `Vanished Kingdoms'. In so doing he has striven to "both highlight the contrast between times present and past and to explore the workings of historical memory"(9). What's more is that, although left unstated, this work sets out to collect a series of histories that might never be able to be read by the layperson due to the highly specialized nature of the research, as it currently exists. What has resulted is a fantastic work of history and although it is some 739 pp in length, is hardly a ponderous read.

The book is organized into 15 essays covering such little known nations and kingdoms as Alt Clud, Tolosa and Etruria. Each chapter is further organized into three sections covering, in order: a sketch of some geographical area as it exists now within the onetime borders of a particular kingdom, a narrative of the particular nation and lastly, the current state of historiography of the kingdom/nation.
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124 of 161 people found the following review helpful By Greg Polansky on January 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Davies' thesis is that because modern historians write from the perspective of successful states, we often forget about all the states that didn't make it to the twenty-first century. Great thesis and it caused me to preorder this book. He then goes on to discuss 15 states that no longer appear on the map. In addition, each chapter is divided into roughly three sections - a travelogue of the present area, some history of the area, and a description of the scholarship on the area. It is the third part that often presents the problems for me.

I think that if it were better written, the third part could be great. But half the time Davies comes across as curmudgeonly, acting as if he knows better than all the other historians. For example, at the end of the chapter on Burgundy, he goes on. And on. And on about how his description of the history of Burgundy is the only complete one while everyone else is not. And then we are subjected to descriptions of encyclopedias and entries in search engines.

The other main problem is that the descriptions of history read like a medieval history. There is precious little analysis - basically it reads like an encyclopedia entry itself. And that's a problem for me because the idea behind the book is really interesting. Perhaps Davies would have better availed himself of the material if he had written about half the places but with double the information. Then a chapter like the one on Byzantion (The Byzantine Empire) would not be the biggest joke of the book due to its extreme shortness. He should have just left it out.

I would say to those considering reading this book to treat it as Lonely Planet: Lost Kingdoms rather than a serious scholarly history.
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