'Vanished Kingdoms' is an absolutely fascinating journey through European history from the Dark Ages to the modern day, but the book takes takes the s'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 manages to give us a narrative of how states form, grow, decline and fall, giving a new perspective on how the current map of Europe is not an end point but merely a snapshot.
The book sheds light on some forgotten aspects of history, like the Kingdom of the Visigoths, the various entities known as Burgundy and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and in doing so illuminates some aspects of current European politics, like the moves towards self determination in Catalonia, the Scottish Referendum on independence, and situation of Belarus and Ukraine. In fact, for a book that starts out in the Dark Ages and focusses on Dukes, Kings and Queens it has a surprising amount to say about modern Europe.
'Vanished Kingdoms' is discursive and anecdotal, which I enjoyed but which may be off-putting for those who prefer their history more linear. Some chapters are more interesting than others, and some of the later chapters start to push the self-defined boundaries of the book, describing states which are more ex-kingdoms. Overall though it is one of the most interesting books on European history which I've encountered and is well worth a read. ...more
Fascinating book about 'the Great Game', the rivalry between Russia and Britain in the nineteenth century. Examines the disastrous First Afghan War, tFascinating book about 'the Great Game', the rivalry between Russia and Britain in the nineteenth century. Examines the disastrous First Afghan War, the Russian conquest of Khokand, Bhokara and Khiva, and the brief life of an independent Sinkiang. ...more