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Poland: A History

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  280 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
Adam Zamoyski first wrote his history of Poland two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. This substantially revised and updated edition sets the Soviet era in the context of the rise, fall and remarkable rebirth of an indomitable nation.
Hardcover, 426 pages
Published June 1st 2009 by HarperCollins; Smithsonian Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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God's Playground by Norman DaviesThe Polish Way by Adam ZamoyskiWhite Eagle, Red Star by Norman DaviesGod's Playground by Norman DaviesForgotten Holocaust by Richard C. Lukas
Best of Polish History
9th out of 143 books — 37 voters
Natasha's Dance by Orlando FigesJourney into the Whirlwind by Evgenia GinzburgA History of Ukraine by Paul Robert MagocsiWhite Eagle, Red Star by Norman DaviesThis Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski
Best Eastern European History Books
93rd out of 101 books — 27 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Mar 19, 2014 Nooilforpacifists rated it really liked it
First sentence: "In the Middle Ages, when people favored simple explanations, Polish folklore had it that the German nation had been deposited on this earth through the rectum of Pontius Pilate."
Dec 16, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, poland
My people! My hapless, invasion-prone people. I can’t help but love the place (pogroms and such aside). I like to think of my ancestors working the land for the author’s ancestors. My people come from villages not far from Zamosc. Zamoyski’s family founded Zamosc. Respect.

I’m usually skeptical of uncited histories. Zamoyski just includes an index. I think we are in good hands here regardless. He has written a mature, sober history of a very emotional, turbulent place. He thinks of Poland as the
I now want to go to Poland.

I would have sworn reading the first hundred pages that this book had a slight eastern European accent, little turn of phrase that sounded charmingly translated. 'Put it in H! (Mr Plow - The Simpsons)'. No Adam Zamoyski is a New York native, but he writes with such a exasperated nostalgia that only a true native has.

Poland felt like they were the hipsters of Europe, all intellectual irony but no practice. Yeah no government is great in theory (yeah I know high horse
Joseph Serwach
Jun 27, 2010 Joseph Serwach rated it it was amazing
Bought this 2009 book in Poland. For some reason, it's not available in the U.S. yet, just Amazon/UK and not even on Kindle. Adam wrote an incredible book on Poland's history in 1988 and he noted it can seem like ``reading a book written in another century'' because of all the change that's occurred in -- and because of -- Poland since then. This is a great read, summing up 1,044 years of history in 409 pages... ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Dimitri rated it liked it
I have never read a complete history of Poland, alltough eye-catching bits like the winged husaria of the Commonwealth, Copernicus and the tragedies of WWII stuck earlier. Zamoyski doesn't tell the complete history either, but he will make you love the soul of a nation that was often a model of tolerance, yet torn off the map three times over.
The participation of the Polish elite in the culture of the Renaissance was eye-opening. It contrasts stubbornly with the backwardness so often attributed
As a young (relatively) Russian, I was always perplexed by the encounters - infrequent as they were - of mutual animosity between my people and the Poles. We can understand significant amounts of each other's language (to a degree again), stem from one Slavonic family, share name pools and laying claims on inventions of v/wodka, borsch/t and kas/zha. Being and two different branches of Christianity for me is an empty sound, since I counted on some advances atheism worked on both peoples. I am a ...more
Aug 04, 2016 Jana rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a useful introduction to Poland, and it explains the main points well enough, but it could use more visual support beyond maps with changing borders. I'm much more used to biographies and social history, so this style of Big Events history feels dated and vague to me - and it has too many statistics to remember. Again, Big History seems to be all about wars and pacts signing - and no women ever, at all, were part of that, apparently. Seriously. Religious reformation? No nuns in sight. ...more
Lukasz Wertel
Jun 10, 2010 Lukasz Wertel rated it really liked it
It was a very interesting book, although I have to say, it took me much longer time to read than I expected. It is a very detailed and an interesting book, but the author just runs through the Piast dynasty. The book is also not just a list of facts, but a thourough explanations. The years being described also change in a weird pattern (at one page you have the year 1703, on the next one 1699, then you have 1705 etc.), but then, the book is not boring. I recommend it to everyone who likes ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Jan 21, 2011 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A fine, concise history of my ancestral homeland. Adam Zamoyski has a fluid writing style that makes this book incredibly easy to read.
Michal Czech
Sep 28, 2016 Michal Czech rated it it was amazing
'Poland: A History' show us that Polish nationalism meant something totally different than what our current government is trying to suggest. It is a real relief to find in this Zamoyski’s book many theses which emphasise a liberal side of Polish patriotism.

In the 16th century, Poland was home to large minorities of Lithuanians, Belarusians, Germans and Jews. In these times a Polish nationalist was a republican, pretty tolerant and open-minded. Like Roman citizens in the glory days, the Polish ge
A concise history of Poland spread over 400 pages. Given the brevity of his account Mr. Zamoysky moves quickly through his subject, and for those not with previous knowledge of Polish medieval history may feel none the wiser after reading brief descriptions of the reign of different kings in a land with continuously shifting borders.
Mar 13, 2015 Adrian rated it it was amazing
Poland is a country well known, but little understood. If one thinks of Poland, perhaps it may be the first victim of WWII, a key area of East-West Cold War tension, or a country with a global populaiton. But few really understand the pre 20th century history.
Adam Zamoyski sheds light on all of it, and leaves no stone unturned. Zamoyski begins at the beginning of Polish history, with the first origins of the country, from it's namesake meaning people of the fields, to it's involvement with the T
Aug 03, 2011 Magdalena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, history, read-in-2011
Kompendium wiedzy o historii Polski. Książkę faktycznie czyta się jednym tchem, szkoda, że pewne kwestie są słabo wyeksponowane albo w ogóle pominięte. Trochę brakuje dokładniejszych informacji na temat początków państwa polskiego i dynastii Piastów.
Czytelnikom żywo interesującym się obecną sytuacją polityczną nie radzę czytać ostatniego rozdziału, bo mogą się z lekka zdenerwować ;)
Czarny Pies
Sep 05, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Someone lacking the time to lead Norman Davies much longer work.
Recommended to Czarny by: I try to read everything Zamoyski publishes
Shelves: european-history
Written by a very good historian, this book is the best one-volume history of Poland available. I think that Norman Davies two-volume history "God's Playground" is superior in direct proportion to its much greater length. If this shorter work better matches the time you have available, then it is better choice.
Jan 23, 2015 Bruce rated it really liked it
Adam Zamoyski, born in the United States, now lives in the UK. He is an historian of Polish background. In 1987 he wrote a history of Poland that he decided to revise more recently. However, in light of the fall of the USSR and the consequent liberation of countries in eastern Europe, including Poland, it became apparent to him that a new book was needed, a work reflecting changes in history and understanding that have occurred during the past thirty years. This book was published in 2009.

This h

I have to admit, it’s hard to get a hold of any histories of Poland in English. Adam Zamoyski’s was one of the few I was able to get my hands on, and offers a broad overall view of Polish history, from the Dark Ages up to modern day.

One of the things that surprised me was just how fragmentary the history is. As a Briton, I’m much more used to fairly well documented history in the Dark Ages and Medieval period, but for a variety of reasons including Poland’s late conversion (meaning a slow spread
Simon Binning
Poland has probably the most complicated history of any current European state. It's story is sometimes hard to follow, as it's geographical size and shape, its ethnic mix and religious and political systems have undergone so many major upheavals. Indeed, the author on a couple of occasions by his own admission has to decide what to include, simply because the state ceases to exist, so what then does 'Poland' mean?
Overall, though, he does a very good job. There is much to learn here, particularl
Sandy Millin
Nov 01, 2016 Sandy Millin rated it really liked it
Having recently bought a flat in Poland, I thought it was high time I learnt more about the history of this fascinating country. This book fit the bill perfectly - a good overview of what has brought Poland to where it is today. I already knew a few bits and pieces from visits to various places, but this filled in the gaps. Before reading it I had no idea about the Commonwealth or the cultural dominance over the area before the 1600s. It was easy to read too, which was a real bonus.
Oct 24, 2016 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2016
This book was interesting. I realized I knew next to nothing about this countries history. Now I want to know EVERYTHING. The only reason it lost a star was that, it said it was a good read for people new to Poland's history and it was a difficult reads in parts and tended to throw words at you often. I still enjoyed it a great deal though.
Michael A
Aug 01, 2014 Michael A rated it really liked it
I first started taking a serious interest in Poland when I saw the films of Kieslowski and Polanski. I seriously wondered how these two men were capable of making such wonderful films that cut so emotionally deep when viewed. I was also struck at how they mixed various influences into such distinctively artistic work -- an amazing talent to mix influence from Western media and archetypes with their own personal lives and memories.

I think reading Poland's history has helped me come to understand
Oct 04, 2016 Alex rated it liked it
As a Pole, this was my first time reading a history book about the land of my birth. I enjoyed it, but it has the same problem that most history books have: you read so many names, events, and years that it all starts to blur together after a while. It's a fine primer, but it demands extemporaneous research if you want to get a more detailed understanding of certain people, periods, and events. That said, it definitely ignited my interest in learning more about Polish history, so it did its job. ...more
Stanisław Ryguła
Sep 04, 2016 Stanisław Ryguła rated it it was amazing
Poland: a History is a brief account of what happened with Poland since her beginnings up till the current moment.

My education has somehow failed when it comes to history. I wanted to get to know my country better. I was hoping this would give me a better understanding of what is happening here nowadays.

The book has fully lived up to my expectations and needs. It lays out the history of Poland and puts it into a meaningful context. It is informative and resourceful without going into details of
John Daly
Sep 08, 2014 John Daly rated it it was amazing
This book covers a millennium of history of the Polish people concisely, for a general public. The author, although educated in England, is of a Polish family and clearly has studied Polish history in detail.

Poland was a multiethnic empire that covered a third of Europe in 1500, and no longer existed as an independent country 300 years later. That is a story worth your attention.

The Polish people wanted their nation to have a country and kept their culture alive for centuries without one until n
Aug 08, 2015 Rob rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Halldór Thorgeirsson
Nov 02, 2013 Halldór Thorgeirsson rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The author leads you through the complex history of Poland from the Middle Ages to our times. It reads very well and provides sufficient level of to detail for the reader to follow the main currents without loosing the thread (this is important, I had given up on reading Davies's "God's Playground"). You can't help developing a appreciation for the trials and tribulations Poland has gone through and to empathize with those with the perseverance not to emigrate. The horror of World War II comes ...more
P.H.G. Haslam
Jan 28, 2016 P.H.G. Haslam rated it really liked it
A nice general account of a county I find very interesting. I found the strongest points of the book to be about Commonwealth era (1569-1795), its greatness and its fall. I was unaware of its fascinatingly light government and toleration of minorities; venerable and very interesting. It's inspired me to study the Commonwealth more in the future.

The book fizzled-out a little towards the end for me, and Zamoyski doesn't really tie any themes up in the way I thought he would. Perhaps an epilogue wo
Matthew Griffiths
Mar 08, 2015 Matthew Griffiths rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent work on the history of Poland which manages to cover a tremendous amount of ground in detail without swamping the reader. Zamoyski details the birth of the polish nation and its development into one of the superpowers of the late medieval period alongside the burgeoning Ottoman empire and the Hapsburg variant and follows its decline, particularly the elements of its decline hastened on by the Prussian, Austrian and Russian empires in their partitions of the country. A truly ...more
Brad Lengen
May 15, 2014 Brad Lengen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Surrounded by enemies the glorious Poles, masters of Renaissance thought and warfare, defend their ambitious republic against conniving Teutons, wild Tatars, their brother Cossacks and a deluge of Swedes. Of course, don't forget the sleeping giant that was and is Mother Russia. The indomitable Poles, occupying the center of Eurasia, have as their history one of this planets greatest epics. East meets West, feudalism meets republicanism, civilization meets nomadism, and Catholicism finds its ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I knew some of the history of Poland from other WWI/WWII era books, and some from listening to the older people in my family talk but there was so much I didn't know. Honestly, if someone wrote the history as a novel, I might think "wow, a bit of overkill there" as so much has taken place there over the centuries. I understand quite a bit more about my grandfather and his heritage from this reading.

The author has a very engaging style, so it might be a great book for someone who is interested i
Oct 25, 2015 George rated it really liked it
In just over 400 pages the Zamoyski does an excellent job of covering more than 1000 years of Poland's history.

Poland is a fascinating country that unfortunately often gets overlooked. It was among the worlds first democracies albeit a highly flawed one. It was also one of the most culturally diverse and tolerant European nations ever prior to the tragedies of the first and second world wars.

I found the author's assessment of today's Poland and the many challenges it faces spot on. The struggl
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Goodreads Librari...: Change description 4 16 Nov 29, 2015 07:19AM  
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A historian and a member of the ancient Zamoyski family of Polish nobility. Born in New York City and raised in England. He is Chairman of the Board of the Princes Czartoryski Foundation. On June 16, 2001, in London, England, he married the artist Emma Sergeant.
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“Duke Leszek the White explained in a long letter to the Pope that neither he nor any self-respecting Polish knight could be induced to go to the Holy Land, where, they had been informed, there was no wine, mead, or even beer to be had.” 2 likes
“All were agreed that there could be no liberty while a body independent of the parliamentary system was able to judge people, and the ecclesiastical tribunals' jurisdiction was duly annulled by act of the Sejm in 1562.” 0 likes
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