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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,497 Ratings  ·  184 Reviews
'The past is a foreign country' has become a truism, yet we often forget that the past is different from the present in many unfamiliar ways, and historical memory is extraordinarily imperfect. We habitually think of the European past as the history of countries which exist today - France, Germany, Britain, Russia and so on - but often this actually obstructs our view of t ...more
Hardcover, 789 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Allen Lane
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant
Some books stay on your shelves so long they get squatters’ rights and you get the idea they’re part of the décor rather than something to read. This was one of those.

I took a look at it this week. I had a go. And one of those things I like to geek out on, occasionally, is obscure history. The Empire of Trebizond. The Khanate of the Golden Horde. Timbuctoo. Faraway places with strange sounding names. (I have to recognise that to the 54,450 inhabitants of Timbuctoo, it's actually Nottingham Engla
...more
Tamara
So this turned out to be waaaay more WTF than expected. While also being really fucking boring.

Now, i’m the escapee graduate of a Marxist cult that hasn’t incorporated a new idea since Warsaw Ghetto fell. I am perfectly at home with the notion that all accounts of history are an ideological construct - including the ones you *(yes, you) hold dear. Since history can never be known, but only abused, you might as well shrug and move on with the brainwashing. So the question then becomes, what is th
...more
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Dec 31, 2014 Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk rated it really liked it
The best histories are always slightly eccentric - and this one certainly is eccentric. Its range is great, both in time and space: ancient, modern and trans-European, it deals with "failed" or "vanished" states but in reality reminds us that everything is transient. Things only feel permanent and fixed when we stand in the centre.
I suppose what I like about this book is its serendipity - the fact that you can dive in virtually anywhere and find something interesting and informative. It has vari
...more
Hadrian
May 28, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
A rather interesting, albeit cluttered, set of historical essays on states and nations which no longer exist, from the kingdoms of Spain to Alt Clud/Strathclyde in Scotland, to the USSR.

The memory of every thing is overwhelmed in time, says Marcus Aurelius, three centuries before his empire passed. Why did these old states crumble - wars, internal strife, warring ethnicites, imperial ambitions? Perhaps. Some states, like the Republic of Carpatho-Ruthenia, survived for but a day, swallowed by the
...more
Mike
Aug 12, 2015 Mike rated it liked it
Shelves: history, reviewed
Vanished Kingdoms is a bit of an uneven book. On the one hand it delves into some really fascinating corners of European history and reminds the reader that there is no intrinsic reason the current borders are where they are. On the other hand Davies sometimes ends up on some inconsequential tangents and has a thing for discussing a vanished kingdom's songs and poetry (not my cup of tea). Even as a lover of history I grew tired of some of the paths he led me down.

This was clearly a special proj
...more
Adam Higgitt
Jul 16, 2012 Adam Higgitt rated it did not like it
It is slightly fraudulent to mark this book as read, but given that there is no option to mark as "skipped some chapters after persisting far longer than the material justifies" this will have to do.

I cannot recall the last time I didn't read a book all the way through, even a long one like this. Alas, the addition of some truly objectionable showing off has pushed me over the edge. There is no doubt that Professor Davies has researched all his subjects meticulously. But do we really need to be
...more
Rob
Feb 27, 2012 Rob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wood2
When I was a child in the 1970's, the map of the Europe seemed immutable. Ongoing decolonialisation granted statehood to pre-existing territories of the major European powers, and new states had sprung forth from violent conflict in far-flung corners of the globe, but Europe's boundaries, fixed in the aftermath of the Second World War, were constant. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and the break-up of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovia. Europe's states suddenly became fragile entities, as ce ...more
Loring Wirbel
Oct 10, 2012 Loring Wirbel rated it really liked it
Readers familiar with Davies' two historical monster-works of the 1990s, 'Europe: A History' and 'The Isles,' recognize that Davies combines a desire to be comprehensive on a broad scope with a unique style of information presentation that is exciting and quite unlike most historians. At the same time, he is dismissive of over-specialization in historical studies and of post-modernist concerns with "narrative," critiques that I share with Davies. But the very nature of this book suggested it wo ...more
David Nichols
May 26, 2012 David Nichols rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed

A rather old-fashioned collection of essays on defunct European monarchies, focusing on the military conquests and marital alliances of those kingdoms' ruling families. Davies pads the narrative with block quotes, genealogical charts, and song lyrics, and pauses periodically to indulge in interpretive quarrels that are likely to bore most readers (unless they are deeply interested in how many political entities bore the name 'Burgundy'). Still, there are a few interesting chapters here on the A
...more
Liviu
Apr 27, 2012 Liviu rated it really liked it
While seemingly impressive and erudite, I was a little disappointed with this book for two reasons; the narrative is on the clunky side and i remember (maybe wrongly though) that I liked the narrative in Europe and The Isles and thought it flowed.

On the content side, the lesser known states have some interesting tidbits but i found the story of the ones I know about (Duchy of Lithuania, Byzantium or CCCP) on the sketchy "for Martians" side; Byzantium is truly ridiculous and I have no idea why it
...more
Jason Goodwin
Jan 28, 2013 Jason Goodwin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A book after my own heart. Vanished Kingdoms details the stories of several significant European polities which no longer exist, including the Kingdoms, Duchies and Counties of Burgundy, the Polish-Lithianian Commonwealth, and Saxe-Coburg. The biggest recent Boojum is, of course, the Soviet Union, which vanished overnight without anyone – least of all Gorbachev – intending it to do so; nor the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, strategists, politicians or secret policemen devoted to its preserva ...more
4ZZZ
Apr 06, 2016 4ZZZ rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, europe
I rather enjoyed this book. One of those that could be delved into as the mood took. Each chapter more an essay on the specific subject and no doubt some would not be happy with that. But for a bit of less than dry reading it more than hits the spot as entertainment. Some would not be happy with the book title. Hardly kingdoms at times that should not detract from the book. Some may not like the songs and poems interspersed but again it is more a book aimed at entertaining history. I like the st ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Feb 18, 2012 Tony Gualtieri rated it it was amazing
An excellent history devoted to the places that lie between the places that other histories cover. Besides the wealth of detail and the opening up of unknown worlds, the books explores how countries disappear. What goes away and what remains. I wouldn't try it without a good grounding in European history, but if you have that, you'll find it fascinating.
Alex Sarll
An infuriating, fascinating survey of countries that aren't there anymore. Davies is quite right to suggest that a teleological bias sets in if we learn Europe's history through component histories of France, Germany, Spain et al, and discount erstwhile fixtures such as Burgundy and Livonia. He has the wide learning and seriousness more often found in earlier generations of historians, and occasionally their wonderful turn of phrase too: "Ramon Berenguer ruled in uneasy tandem with his brother, ...more
Katherine
Oct 21, 2013 Katherine rated it it was amazing
For anyone aspiring to an education in European history Norman Davies book is a "must read." The crannies of history that have remained obscure are made painstakingly clear, from the Visigoths to the Kingdom of Poland and its Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Not only is this book essential for an understanding of Europe's chaotic history, but it clarifies, through the author's own travel experiences, what's happening now and why. Davies' approach is unique in my experience in his vivid accounts of the
...more
Austin Burbridge
On the whole, I liked the book; not, however, as much as I liked the idea of the book. It really does want an editor to look out for the reader. Although I like the conclusions to which the author eventually arrives, I would have been much happier reading, had he let me know where he was headed at the beginning of each chapter. The surprise-twist ending works for O. Henry, but O. Henry's stories were more compact than the chapters of this book. Neither a failure of history, nor of wit; but some ...more
Matthew
Apr 02, 2016 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, europe
While the historical content of this book was very interesting, and in some cases, new and revealing, the overall theme seems to be more about how people think about history, or, rather, don't think about history. Since Davies is a specialist in Eastern Europe, I would guess that the examples from that area are most accurate, but I'm not a specialist in Eastern Europe, so I can't really judge it for myself. Still, I would definitely recommend this book, though if you're buying the ebook, wait fo ...more
Malcolm
Aug 02, 2015 Malcolm rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-europe
I’ve got to admire Norman Davies for his chutzpah; not only has he produced thousand page general histories of Europe and Britain (well, almost 1000 pages for Britain), he has also given us this 800 page history of Europe told via states that no longer exist. However, the idea marvellously contrarian as it is) turns out to be better than finished product.

Starting with the great strength: much of what we get as historical writing is stuck within a national frame – histories of phenomenon X in
...more
Mo
Apr 02, 2014 Mo rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I checked this out from the library a second time to give it another shot, but my first impression has merely been confirmed: this is a hell of a boring book. Don't get me wrong, I love lengthy history tomes, but Vanished Kingdoms lacks significant analysis and half of it isn't even history besides. Which is a shame, because what a great premise! I'd love to read a book about the forgotten kingdoms of Europe. Just not this one.

Davies starts each chapter with a travelogue-type description of the
...more
Melissa
Feb 08, 2014 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finito. Finally. This is a great, big, honking book.

It started out really well, with the exception that EVERYONE in the Kingdom of Aragon has the same damn name which got confusing. But about halfway through the book, around the tail-end of the Litva (Lithuania) chapter the tone started to shift. It became less objective and far more personal. This is understandable because the author teaches at the Jagellonian University in Krakow so he's right in the thick of it there. But then less than 20 pa
...more
Ralph
Dec 02, 2013 Ralph rated it did not like it
A pedantic, inept piece of work. The areas I happened to be familiar with were handled so badly it called into question the rest of it. (e.g. The German Vormarz is misidentified as a movement, rather than a historical period.)

The conceptual basis was incoherently fuzzy. The people of the former Soviet Union might understand that they are included metaphorically as one of the 'kingdoms' (chapter 15), but the Irish may be quite surprised to find themselves among the 'vanished' (chapter 14). This
...more
Holly Cruise
Dec 13, 2013 Holly Cruise rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A frustrating, sometimes interesting, sometimes baffling book. The idea of the book, a look at European nations which have disappeared really appealed to me, but the execution wasn't what I had hoped for.

The early chapters were a drag. I appreciate that the sources for such old countries and peoples won't be as numerous or in depth as for later nations, but at times it did feel like reading a list of names, dates and events with no elaboration. Not my cup of history.

Things perked up in places. T
...more
Tanya
Aug 17, 2012 Tanya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, i-own-it
I was fascinated by the basic premise of this book - examining the histories of long-dead states, and learning why they were no more. But the reality was more of a trudge through time than the fantastic journey I had imagined. Some of the later sections of this 800-page behemoth were very good: Eire, the USSR, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's Rosenau, and Montenegro. But others were absolutely tedious. I'll admit that I did a lot of skimming when Davies elaborated on the fifteen (yes, 15) incarnati ...more
Melisende d'Outremer
What I would have preferred was some reference to lesser known "vanished kingdoms". I really had no interest in the last seven chapters and pretty much skimmed through them. The chapter on "Byzantion" was barely two dozen pages in length and of no particular interest. The second chapter "Alt Clud: Kingdom of the Rock" left me in utter confusion as to just what he was going on about.

Much of this should have been entertaining, but it was, I'm afraid, bogged down with too much detail and overly lon
...more
Mark
May 23, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
Enormously entertaining stroll through the European history you don't read much about. Burgundy? Savoy? The Grand Duchy of Lithuania? The Crown of Aragon? Yugoslavia? The USSR? All of these and more are discussed, these vanished political units brushed under the carpet of modern states and their official histories. Davies is a curmudgeon with a viewpoint, and easily shares his opinions about these current nations while reeling off the obituaries of the dead ones. Recommended for the history buff ...more
Peter Dunn
Sep 21, 2015 Peter Dunn rated it really liked it
This is a huge tome of book and I am sure I am not alone in having read it over the course of a few weeks whilst also reading other books, dipping into an individual vanished kingdom a sitting at a time.

The book’s central theme is the great mutability of Europe’s borders and the transience of whole countries therein. Davies shows that even great empires such as Prussia, the Soviet Union or Austria- Hungry were not immune from being replaced by something else.

Davies cleverly beguiles us into und
...more
Becky
Feb 18, 2015 Becky rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The book is about states and nations that once existed, even thrived, but exist no longer. The amazing thing about this book is the incredible detail about some events and individuals in European history that I had never known about. Apparently the full stories are not well known to many well-educated people.

I was overwhelmed by the detail in some cases and skipped over the middle section of a few chapters, which is the section that offers the blow-by-blow historical account of each "vanished k
...more
Themistocles
Apr 19, 2016 Themistocles rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I'm yet another reader who skipped through much of this book.

Davies writes with tons of passion, knowledge and excitement. Alas, the result reads more like ramblings than a coherent set of (hi)stories.

The subject itself is very fascinating - kingdoms that once were and shaped the current world in a bigger or smaller way; peoples we may never have heard of; how underneath the rich fabric of the present there's so much we can't imagine. That's what drew me to this book.

Unfortunately, for most peop
...more
Kotinka
Jun 01, 2014 Kotinka rated it really liked it
A book like this is a great reminder of the old saying that “History is written by the victors.” Only a select number of stories of those cultures and societies that have not lasted to the present day are well documented, the well known having left monumental architectural heritage (the Egyptians, Aztecs and Romans to name a few) which inspired the awe and interest of future generations. It's great to read a book that digs elsewhere to uncover very interesting societies that didn't reach the hei ...more
Alison C
Mar 13, 2015 Alison C rated it really liked it
Norman Davies is one of my favourite writers of European history, as he has ways of making connections between different countries and events and individuals that lead the reader to a richer understanding of that continent. In Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, he describes 15 nation-states from the past, ranging from a Visigoth kingdom in the 5th Century to Estonia and Ireland (Eire) in the 20th Century. Along the way, we learn a great deal about the interactions, and inte ...more
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Professor Ivor Norman Richard Davies FBA, FRHistS is a leading English historian of Welsh descent, noted for his publications on the history of Europe, Poland, and the United Kingdom. From 1971, Davies taught Polish history at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) of the University of London, where he was professor from 1985 to 1996. Currently, he is Supernumary Fellow at Wolfso ...more
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“One has to put aside the popular notion that language and culture are endlessly passed on from generation to generation, rather as if ‘Scottishness’ or ‘Englishness’ were essential constituents of some national genetic code. If this were so, it would never be possible to forge new nations – like the United States of America or Australia – from diverse ethnic elements.” 3 likes
“the Welsh name for ‘England’, Lloegr, meant ‘the Lost Land’, I fell for the fancy, imagining what a huge sense of loss and forgetting the name expresses. A learned colleague has since told me that my imagination had outrun the etymology. Yet as someone brought up in English surroundings, I never cease to be amazed that everywhere which we now call ‘England’ was once not English at all.” 0 likes
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