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White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920 and The Miracle on the Vistula Paperback – October 23, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


A masterly account of the surprisingly little-known Polish-Soviet War of 1919–20—a decisive battle that largely determined the course of European history for the next twenty years.

From the Publisher

In White Eagle, Red Star, distinguished historian Norman Davies gives us a full account of the Polish–Soviet War, with its dramatic climax in August 1920 when the Red Army—sure of victory and pledged to carry the Revolution across Europe —was crushed by a devastating Polish attack. Since known as “the Miracle of the Vistula,” it remains one of the most crucial conflicts of the Western world. Drawing on both Polish and Russian sources, Norman Davies shows how this war was a pivotal event in the course of European history. Norman Davies, Professor Emeritus of the University of London and Supernumerary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, is also the author of God’s Playground and Europe and Microcosm.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House UK; New Ed edition (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712606947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712606943
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,306 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

48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Leszek Strzelecki on January 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
This much goes beyond any doubt in my mind: the history of the Twentieth Century in Europe could have taken on an entirely different path should Poles fail to beat the Bolsheviks at the gates of Warsaw in 1920.

Lenin, following doctrine of Karl Marx, believed that the communist revolution, initiated in Russia, should be taken abroad to the rest of Europe and beyond. He wanted to go global. Time of the capitalistic society was nearing its end, he thought; social conflicts came to their extreme during World War I, hence - it was time to abolish old system and replace it with Socialism, Communism and the so called 'classless society' of eternal justice.

Feeling already victorious in his 'domestic' dispute over who were to rule Russia, Lenin believed time was ripe for other countries.

And let's not forget that the Communist movements elsewhere in Europe following the end of the Great War were strong and lively, especially in Germany. Lenin believed that if Bolsheviks could beat Poland the gates of Berlin would stand wide open to Communist takeover enthusiastically supported by German workers. And then the rest of Europe would fall into their hands.

It did not happen that way, Russians were beaten at the gates of Warsaw, Communist Revolution in Germany run out of steam, Social Democrats and supporters of democracy in general prevailed, Europe was spared horrors of the Gulag System created soon after in the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin.

Norman Davies in his book attempted to explain in detail what exactly had happened and how did it happen. As far as I can tell this book, originally written, I believe, close to thirty years ago (was it not his doctoral dissertation?
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Wojt on January 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
As a historian of Central and Eastern Europe, I am responding to the review by Thomas Porter who sounds like a typical Westerner who never had the dubious pleasure of living his life within the confines of a communist society.

At the time of this war, it was not necessarily certain that either system would prevail or that Comumuism was such a bad thing. We know a bit better these days since those in power tend to stay in power - for better or worse and usually the latter - unless there is a system that can check them. At the time of this war - according to the philosophy esposed by Marx (and to a certain extent Hegel), the founder of the doctrine - world revolution was an essential requirement for its success. It was this very action that necessitated a change in that theory and the new flavor of the month became Communism in one country with its export later once victory was secure (although Lenin's NEP was a harbinger). This is exactly what happened as we now know. Historically, Russia had far less of a claim to these lands than Poland, at least since the time of Ivan IV. I do not question the fact the Pilsudski was the instigator nor would I say that he was not a dictator - a strong person was needed to forstall the imposition of Communism from within Poland itself (many of the best Communists were Poles or Lituanians - Dzerzhinski, Radek, Rokossovski, etc.). Nonetheless, the evacuation of the Germans from the Ostland created a vacuum that had to be occupied somehow and the race was on.

The Western victors of WW1 were exhausted and had no particular interest in this conflict. It is quite likely that this war prevented the imposition of Communism throughout Central Europe or if not, at the very least it prevented another war to decide the issue.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
An early and fine book by the distinguished historian Norman Davies. The subtitle "The Miracle on the Vistula" is probably a recent addition by the publisher as it does not appear in the original (1972) edition. Davies takes pains to demonstrate that there was nothing miraculous about the Polish victory. The Polish-Soviet War is known to many from Isaac Babel's great Red Cavalry story sequence. Davies provides a well written and documented narrative and analysis of the Polish-Soviet War. He covers the background, military history, political history, and diplomatic history in a series of well integrated chapters. All chapters are distinguished by Davies' well considered descriptions and judgments about the major actors and historic trends, and excellent selection of quotations from the primary literature (including some from Babel's stories).

In Davies analysis, some type of conflict between the Soviet Union and the Polish state was inevitable. The collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and German Empires left an enormous power vacuum in Eastern Europe, particularly the borderlands between central Poland and western Russia. The Soviet leadership, facing great challenges from internal enemies, was convinced that the revolution had to expand, particularly to Germany, to be secure. They also perceived the Polish nationalist regime led by Pilsudski as a tool of western capitalism and inevitable foe. The Pilsudski regime, in fact, was regarded with considerable distaste by the French, British, and Americans, and pursued a strongly independent policy. A more important vision driving the Polish leadership was of a greater Polish state or Polish led federation from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
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