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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,079 ratings  ·  156 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 (first published October 1st 2009)
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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
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
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
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
Adam Higgitt
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
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
Feb 27, 2012 Rob rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
David Nichols

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
Loring Wirbel
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
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
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
Jason Goodwin
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
Tony Gualtieri
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.
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
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
Holly Cruise
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
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
Damian Streets
Although an admirer of Davies' writing I struggled with this one.

Each chapter covers the history of a nation that lived and died. Some are intriguing but Davies injects himself into the narrative too much for mine.

The (very) short history on Byzantium is a tirade against fellow historians. He makes frequent sledges at rival historians.

The second half of the book covers many ex-Polish influenced entities and each is an excuse to savage the various Russian regimes and talk up Polish history. Under
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
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
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
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
Jeremy Goh
Magnificent history of states and kingdoms in Europe that have all vanished, many with barely anyone left today to mourn their passing. Certainly a thought-provoking, somewhat melancholic read, but completely engrossing. Perhaps slightly heavily weighted towards Eastern Europe, but an eclectic choice of vanished states.
Artur Coelho
Este livro lê-se como um guia turístico para nações desaparecidas, cheio de curiosidades históricas sobre países europeus que tiveram o seu momento na história para depois serem absorvidos pelas entidades nacionais que hoje conhecemos, ou por evolução política e dinástica ou por invasão arrasadora. É um curioso companheiro de leitura para o Dicionário de Lugares Imaginários, livro onde as geografias de ficção encontram um cantinho num vasto catálogo, mas neste Vanished Kingdoms as geografias exi ...more
'Vanished Kingdoms' is an absolutely fascinating journey through European history from the Dark Ages to the modern day, but the book takes takes the scenic route rather than the more conventional road. Most European history is the story of the countries that now make up the map, treating those as the end point of our history and going backwards to see where they came from, but Davies tells the story of those European states that didn't make it and that have vanished from the map. By doing so he ...more
Billy Biggs
This book is worth reading. Parts of this book drag on, but some chapters I could not put down. Specifically the chapters that dealt mostly with Montenegro, Belarus, and Carpathian Ruthenia should not be missed.
Tyler Ostergaard
Excellent book, can't recommend it highly enough only wish I had bought it rather than borrowing it so i could lend it to people. Really fascinating look at various nations of europe that never happened, almost happened, or fell apart. I started reading this when things were heating up in Ukraine and Davies book has really helped explain why and how Ukraine became such a tangled mess. Davies takes to task the idea of the nation state, but in a well written and engaging manner. Not to mention its ...more
First chapters are magnificent. Last 200 pages should have been scrapped. Editors please just tell authors the truth!
I tend to read books fairly quickly, so if it isn't a deep science book and it takes me ca. 3 months to finish, this is an indicator, that I didn't find the book a hugely interesting read.
I like detailed histories about people and nations and this one was about parts of history you generally don't read about. I'm familiar with European History, but as this book shows well, you only hear from the victors and a little bit of the vanquished. This book takes a close look at nations that have ceased
I *really* like this book. It has a number of separate chapters that each deal with a specific country (usually a kingdom, but not always) that used to exist, but no longer does. In some cases something related exists today, but not in the same form that it once did.

There are two high points to this book. First is the coverage of rather obscure (to modern Americans, anyway) kingdoms like Tolosa, Alt Clud, and Aragon. While I had heard of Aragon before, and knew that it had something to do with C
Andrew Fish
European history is most often told as a narrative, the focus heavily on those centres of power that remain, or were to become, the nation states of today. As a result, rather a lot gets left out. All those with a good grasp of English history, for example, know that Henry VIII married one Catherine of Aragon, but with her role subordinated to the more (from an English history perspective) significant Anne Boleyn, we have only a vague idea of where Aragon was and less why it was important enough ...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
More about Norman Davies...
Europe Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw The Isles: A History No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 God's Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795

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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.” 2 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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