This is, at times, a very dry read but in the end well worth persevering with. I have rated the book highly because of its impact on me; its informati...moreThis is, at times, a very dry read but in the end well worth persevering with. I have rated the book highly because of its impact on me; its informative content and even-handed yet critical analysis of a very difficult and sensitive topic. It looks at the Jewish experience in Poland during the Nazi Regime, and Warsaw quite specifically;
"Ninety-eight percent of the Jewish population of Warsaw perished in the Second World War, together with one-quarter of the Polish population: in all, some 720,000 souls, a number that dwarfs the destruction of life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined and is undoubtedly the greatest slaughter perpetrated within a single city in human history. The flight of twenty-odd thousand Jews from the Warsaw ghetto seems by comparison a negligible phenomenon... Yet it was probably the greatest mass escape from confinement in history..."
Paulsson goes on to investigate that escape, the difficulties that faced the Jews in the world outside the ghetto and the circumstances, and substantial network of support, that made Warsaw "the largest clandestine community of Jews anywhere in Europe, in fact probably the largest community of people that has lived in hiding in any city, ever." Half of those who fled perished, but so did 99 percent of those who did not flee.
A particularly touchy element is that of antisemitism amongst the Poles. Polish society had a large number of antisemites because of its Patriotic-Catholic tradition and the growth of a Nationalistic Right-wing movement prior to the re-establishment of the Polish State in 1918. I was, however, surprised to find how separate the Jewish community was considering how long it had been established in the old Polish Commonwealth; there were problems with language, behaviour and "cultural separateness". They weren't, on the whole, just that nice bunch of people next door who apart from eating kosher are no different than us; most of them lived very separate, and often isolated, lives. It is hardly surprising that Poles and Jews eyed each other suspiciously and each thought the worst of each other. This is something that comes across quite powerfully in the study; none of the resistance groups (Polish or Jewish) comes out smelling of roses - the real heroes are those who acted (Jew or Pole) despite their reservations, for whatever reasons. Even those Poles who stood and said nothing contributed towards the preservation of those endangered lives; "... if there was more antisemitism in Poland than in many other countries, there was also less collaboration."
This is an excellent study of the plight of the Jews in this tragic period. I would recommend that, if nothing else, all historians should read the superb conclusion. (less)
It is not often that I read an art book from cover to cover. I tend to use them more as reference books which I dip into - over the years I will have...moreIt is not often that I read an art book from cover to cover. I tend to use them more as reference books which I dip into - over the years I will have read there right through, some sections more than once, others less thoroughly as I scan them, looking for something specific. Art books can be quite tedious with their inevitable lists of artists, works, architects and buildings with brief descriptions... almost monotonous. This book is one of those rare exceptions that is not only informative and educational but also quite illuminating and often fascinating. It had me gripped from the very beginning when Da Costa Kaufmann explains the differences in the ways that the Italian Renaissance impacted on Eastern and Central Europe. In Russia, for example, it played a more restricted role due to the special mission the Russians saw themselves as having as preservers of the Orthodox faith, and all the prohibitions that accompanied it, with a rejection of the Latin "deviation". Architecture played a greater role in transmitting Renaissance ideas from Italy, but even here the Italians were forced to work to Russian traditional forms (as on the Kremlin) and the desire to imitate, even exceed Byzantium, meant that the Italian impact was muted. It is no coincidence that Russian ideas had to change before she could play a more active role in Europe. In Central Europe, on the other hand, with its greater religious, cultural and political links with Italy the impact was much greater. The multi-ethnic states of Poland and the Habsburgs had an international art which served and drew on the talents of many regions, and Italians and Germans worked side-by-side and we see the dissemination of Renaissance ideas through foreign patronage. Whilst the influence of the courts was great, the economic wealth of the Hansa encouraged the creation of art outside the court, especially in public buildings (and especially, churches) and we see the development of a "civic" expression of status and wealth. Kaufmann gives us a fascinating history of the development of this art, especially in the German and Bohemian lands and points out that whilst there is a tendency to see the Renaissance in Germany as an ethnic expression produced by ethnic Germans, the Renaissance is characterised by the production of hybrid styles which merge the Italianate with traditional local forms. Kaufmann also gives us a super explanation of the impact of the Reformation on Church art. Initially the reformists questioned the place of images in the Church but it wasn't long before a form of Protestant iconography arose (partly in response to the radicalism of the iconoclasts) centred on themes such as the Last Supper and epitaphs. In church architecture we see the creation of an open space and the prominence of the pulpit. As Kaufmann progress through his history he covers a number of fascinating and interesting topics. I was particularly interested in his explanation of the growth of specialist collections (Wunderkammer) where works of man-made art would be displayed alongside works of nature. Some natural objects (ostrich eggs or tusks) would be incorporated into man-made elements as if to complete them, or collaged in mosaics (pietra dure). These collections often also included scientific instruments. These "encyclopaedic" collections reflected the world in microcosm, and through organisation could give understanding of the macrocosm. Art was thus linked to the Renaissance view of the world; the four seasons corresponding to the four humours of Man and, in turn, to the four elements. Often, in the rooms where these collections were stored, there would be depictions of the elements or the seasons, or months of the year, on ceilings or panels (behind which relevant artefacts would be stored). Thus a ruler displayed not only his wealth but also his mastery of his world. This was an era of collecting which led to patronage (not only of artists but also scholars and scientists). Kaufman goes on to look at the impact of the Thirty Years War and points out that not all of Central Europe was involved; Poland saw a golden age of architecture, and even in Germany and Bohemia there were important developments taking place, especially in literature and music, which laid the foundations for the work of the later C17th and early C18th. This was a period of artistic growth for Dresden and Augsburg, whilst Prague and other cities declined, and some Germans, such as Elsheimer, Holler and Kneller, worked abroad (Italy had a particular attraction) and had much impact on art where they practised. In Poland, art and architecture was used as a way of unifying the various and diverse ethnic elements after the Union of Lublin. In Bohemia we see the building of the ground-breaking Wallenstein Palace which was to have huge impact on later developments, especially in Austria. It can almost be argued that it was here that the Baroque grew up; size and grandeur became a metaphor for power. I found Kaufmann's description of the developments in the post-war era particularly illuminating. In this victorious era for the Catholics, religious sculptures made a huge revival and were heavily influenced by Spanish works. Elaborate rituals and dramatic sermons, designed to move their audiences, had their visual counterparts, especially in Southern Germany and Austria. Sculptures of saints often interact with a central painting in a piece of theatre and can be compared to Bernini's work. During the Thirty Years War the Habsburgs had moved their court from Prague to Vienna and a style was developed which resembled the Baroque of Rome and Bologna but, where once it had served the Church, it now served the nobility - it was an architecture of triumph. The second decade of the C18th saw a boom in Church architecture in S Germany and the introduction of the Rococo style. It is more commonly seen in Bavaria which had strong links with France (where the style originated) and was imported by French gardeners and French-trained architects. The clergy seems to have competed with their secular counterparts in the splendour of their projects. In the typical interior everything (painting, sculpture, stucco and architecture) is fused into a whole. We also see a fusion of French and Italian elements (trompe d'oeil alongside rocaille). The joy of religion, of beauty as an expression of the divine, is what is intended to be communicated, and its apogee is to be seen in the Wurzburg Residenz and the work of Balthazar Neumann. In the latter half of the C18th most Central European states were autocracies looking towards France and England for inspiration. State control of the arts, with the aim of independence from foreign influences, and improving quality, led to the setting up of academies. There is a plethora of styles and an interest in Chinoiserie (which grows out of the Enlightenment literary motif where exotic visitors are used to expose weaknesses in Western systems). The Neoclassical style becomes the public face of the enlightened ruler as a country gentleman, the Neo-Gothic is his more private face. There are times where Kaufman managed to lose me but overall he gives a very clear and illuminating account describing the evolution of art and architecture in this part of Europe. The book is weaker when dealing with painting in depth (as with most art books). Quite detailed attempts to describe composition, vibrant painterly activity and the use of colour are actually wasted on us since there are no large-scale colour illustrations of the many works described and, anyway, this style of writing is more suited to film or television documentary. The book ends with the disappearance of two of its main protagonists; the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth disappears in the Partitions, and the Holy Roman Empire is dissolved after the Revolutionary Wars (1806). The German states became secularised and separated from Austria, and the Free Cities disappeared. The loss of the huge diversity of states impacted on the variety of cultural activity - the new states had more centripetal tendencies. The disappearance of multi-ethnic states and a society in which foreign artists moved about freely was replaced by more nationalist ones with very specific (ethnic) agendas. It is not difficult to see parallels with the world of today; the apparent internationalism and freedom of movement provided by the European Union is belied by a distrust of multiculturalism and the growth of nationalistic trends.(less)
The reportage of Joe Sacco has had quite an impact on me; it's down-to-earth and presented in a very interesting way to digest. I know there are peopl...moreThe reportage of Joe Sacco has had quite an impact on me; it's down-to-earth and presented in a very interesting way to digest. I know there are people out there who scoff at "comics" but they really haven't acquired the skill to read them like a storyboard, they haven't read stuff like Sacco. So it was with great interest that I got hold of "The Great War; July 1, 1916 The First Day of the Battle of the Somme". I was actually slightly surprised that it really IS a panorama - how unusual and yet how obvious! There is a long tradition of warfare being depicted through panorama; Kossak and Styka's "Raclawice Panorama", Roubaud's "Borodino" or Grekov's "Stalingrad". It is so natural to scroll the scene and watch the events unfold. And so it is with Sacco; we watch Haig strolling through his peaceful garden outside his chateau and then the build-up of the troops, the marching into the trenches, shelling, the walk to death... explosions throw bodies into the air or tear them apart, the wounded are carried back to the field hospitals and the dead are buried as more soldiers march to the front. It is so well done in simple black and white (no colour). There are no real dramatics... it just unfolds, almost pleasantly, unfeelingly, with the coldness of nature and history.(less)
Very early on in this book the authors make a statement that comes partly as a shock, partly as a revelation: "... simply to declare that the hijackers...moreVery early on in this book the authors make a statement that comes partly as a shock, partly as a revelation: "... simply to declare that the hijackers alone killed all those people gives them far more credit as tacticians than they are due. The buildings themselves became weapons... so, too, did a sclerotic emergency response culture in New York that resisted reform... " At least 1,500 people in the trade centre - and possibly many more - survived the initial crashes but died because they were unable to escape from their floors or elevators whilst the buildings stood. Those people were not killed by the planes alone any more than passengers on the "Titanic" were killed by the iceberg. With 102 minutes in the north tower, and 57 minutes in the south, thousands of people had time to evacuate, and did. Those who did not escape were trapped by circumstances that had been the subject of debates that began before the first shovelful of earth was turned..." The men who made decisions governed by financial profit rather than safety when the World Trade buildings were designed, emerge as the real villains of the drama. They reduced the number of escape routes so that they had more space to rent out. They used untried technologies that were never tested for their effectiveness in fire and heat. The terrorists may have been the final catalyst for the deaths on 9/11 but it was these money-grubbing faceless bureaucrats who were the real killers. We see how chances to improve safety were squandered after the 1993 bombing, how faults in communications between the Fire brigade and the Police were never overcome... We also discover how the role of civilians in the saving of lives was played down in order to cover up the squandering of firemen's lives. This is a powerful book that unfolds the drama, the frustration, the tragedy and the sacrifice with the clinical precision of a scalpel. We watch the events unfold with the same horror we first saw them... but this time there are names attached to those who struggled for survival in the twin towers and we are in there with them, breathing in the fumes and feeling the heat... and fear. Individuals make decisions that lead to life or death, others are saved by coincidence and accident. If this was fiction would we believe it? (less)
"Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty; there are many layers of civilisation in the bord...more"Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty; there are many layers of civilisation in the borderlands, and they do not lie neatly on top of one another. A ruined medieval church sits in the site of a pagan temple, not far from a mass grave surrounded by a modern town. There is a castle on the hill and a Catholic church at its foot and an Orthodox church beside a ruined synagogue. A traveler can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus - and he has never left his village."
As I read Anne Applebaum's introduction I thought "Every historian, every politician should read this in order to understand the damage that ignorance about a place can do. Every historian and politician should read this to understand the complexity of a place." In just a few superb paragraphs Anne paints a picture of persecution, subjugation and the search for identity that must be a part of ALL histories but dominates that of these ethnically-cleansed lands in which cultural genocide is the norm. I was reminded of the time when, in the early 1990s, countries in the former Soviet Block sought their independence and often fought to establish what they felt was rightfully their heritage, English colleagues of mine, wrapped in the comfort of almost a thousand years of security and national identity, would sit baffled and in condemnation of what they saw as this pettiness. They had that same patronising attitude that they often reserve for the Welsh and the Scots when they try to retain a little of what makes them them. Anne Applebaum is a very good writer - she has a comfortable way of grabbing one's attention and holding it. In her section on Kaliningrad it is almost as if one is in a spy story by le Carre. Her description of a failed society lies in that ruined city and the decrepit hotel where she stays, with its poor construction, plumbing and lively cockroach. The Soviet Union was always going to fail and once it did it would always resemble something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. She writes dispassionately in that she does not take sides, nor does she pass judgement; she observes and records. Being an "outsider" she is able to disassociate herself from the hopes, dreams and myths in a way that almost disappoints those of us exiles who are looking for reinforcement of our illusions - she is a blast of fresh air. She observes the tragedy of rivalry and hatred between the Lithuanian Poles and ethnic Lithuanians. Was it always like this or has it grown out of the years of living apart, the evil of Russification and as a result of the growth of Nationalism? One becomes aware of small communities harking back to a past that was brutally and crudely torn out or eradicated by either the Nazis, the Soviets or, in the worst of cases, both. Sadness permeates. The book is full of conflict as neighbours contest land, contest history, contest the ownership of poets and heroes. Anne Applebaum is a wonderful observer; her stay in Nowogrodek is so evocative of lost glory, lost hope, of decay and poverty, of that hopelessness and neglect one has come to associate with these contested borderlands. Once one crosses the border into Western Ukraine things start to look more familiar. Stories of corruption, dodgy dealings and of the Mafia remind us that we are not only in the borderlands but also at a boundary in time; everything is in a state of flux. This is, in a strange way, a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has to find their new role, where one man is on his way down whilst another is going up, where the exploited suffer whilst the wheelers and dealers grow fat. And the countryside, so evocative of the countryside I saw in Poland at this time, there are poverty, survival, some hope and many ruined dreams made more tragic because of some greater loss. Anne Applebaum writes beautifully. Her easy and evocative prose almost makes her materialise before you and her voice charms images out of the air. Her section on Dobrobych and Bruno Schulz is a masterwork of writing that all aspirants ought to study. This is a strange journey, an exotic journey: from the concrete monstrosities of Kaliningrad and Minsk; through the isolated villages lost in mist, forest and mountains in the South; Kamenets with its Ghormengast castle and the eclectic structures of Czernowitz... this is an alien land. The sense of being on the outer limits of human habitation, on the borderlands of time and place, lingers. It touches your sensibilities like spreading tendrils or cobwebs. There is that sense of time having paused whilst boundaries always shift like rivers breaking their banks in constant flooding... almost surreal. This is a journey that can never be taken again and it ends in beautiful, exciting Odessa. From the cold, concrete Baltic to the warm, exotic sun of the Black Sea and the minarets of Istanbul. Wonderful. Anne travelled this region in 1990-91 (in fact one of the last landmarks she plants for us is the declaration of independence made by Lithuania in February 1991) yet as I was reading the book I was also reading about continuing tensions in the region: tensions between Lithuania and Poland over the rights of Lithuanian Poles; of Polish-speaking Belorussians being persecuted by the Belarus state; of conflict between Eastern and Western Ukraines over the legality of the use of the Russian language. One paragraph among many stands out;
'Politics perplexed her. "I am Polish, he is Jewish, and we have been living together for thirty years," Larisa told me, pointing at her husband. "In all of that time I have never figured out what makes him different from me."'(less)
This book starts with a birth surrounded by all the pomp and power of an empire at its peak. in reality the book is about failure and indecision, abou...moreThis book starts with a birth surrounded by all the pomp and power of an empire at its peak. in reality the book is about failure and indecision, about the useless sacrifice of thousands in a vain and pointless enterprise that somehow manages to sum up all that is wrong with man's ambition - in fact, Napoleon summed it all up when he coined his quip on reaching Warsaw, having abandoned his men; "From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step." Watching the build-up to the Russian campaign is like watching a samurai preparing himself for ritual suicide... there is that sense of inevitability - that driving desire to destroy oneself. The "French" army is actually a massive coming together of forces throughout Europe; the courageous Italians, the various Germans, Austrians, Dutch, Belgians, Spaniards and, of course, the "largest non-French contingent... who numbered some 95,000", the Poles. Napoleon's arrogance towards and exploitation of his allies, his incompetence and dithering is astounding. His deception and abuse of his Polish allies, whose courage is constantly proven, is inexcusable! The French were poorly equipped with out-of-date weaponry, poorly designed and uncomfortable uniforms and a genuine lack of logistical planning for a war to be held in an Eastern Europe that was a total contrast to the more "civilised" and comfortable conditions found in the West. "The troops (were) subjected to a rude awakening... there was an element of surprise at the exoticism and the backwardness of many of the areas east of the Oder. they marvelled at the emptiness of the landscape..." The roads were unsuitable, the villages were squalid, there was a lack of food and infrastructure that could "support" such large invading forces... even the fact that the troops had to bivouac in the field rather than be billeted in comfortable farmhouses and towns... all contributed to the great discomfort of the men and the failure of the campaign. Some of the mistakes made were so similar to Hitler's over a hundred years later... right down to the alienation of potential allies within Russian-occupied territory! "The Frenchmen came to remove our fetters," the peasants quipped, "but he took our boots too." The Russians wore more comfortable uniforms and had superb artillery but Russian troops were conscripted for a period of twenty-five years - when they left their villages they were given a symbolic funeral since they were never expected to return. Their training and discipline was harsh and they did not lay down their arms; "Frederick the Great is alleged to have said that one first had to kill the Russian soldier and then push him over." The real tragedy is that they were lead by a gang of in-fighting incompetents that belong more in a school staffroom than on the field of battle. "Napoleon's military success in the past had rested on his capacity to make a quick appraisal of any situation and to act intelligently and decisively on its basis. Yet from the moment he set out on his (campaign) he displayed a marked inability... to act decisively...(He had) a difficulty in comprehending what his opponents were trying to achieve... The Russians had spent a year and a half deploying for an offensive, only to retreat the moment operations began. This... led Napoleon to expect a trap, and then to assume that they were avoiding battle out of fear of losing. He was not to know that most of it was the result of chaos and intrigue at Russian headquarters." When the fighting begins cities are razed, the slaughter is immense. The agony of the wounded is heart-rending. One small fact jumped out at me - it concerned the battle of Borodino: "It had been the greatest massacre in recorded history, not to be surpassed until the first day of the Somme in 1916." Perhaps the most surprising bit of the story is the march on Moscow. History (or is it romantic vision) concentrates on the horrors of the retreat of a failed army, in the freezing depths, harassed by Cossacks, under fire, starving. Yet the march to Moscow, in the blazing heat and rain, bitten by mosquitos and dying of hunger and thirst cost the French almost a third of their forces! In the retreat, Napoleon's concern about his loss of face meant that suitable, life-saving action was not taken prior to and during the march back. In fact constantly we see not a great leader at the head of his men but a great vacillator, a man full of indecision, skulking in his carriage or hidden away in luxury whist all about him struggle and die. When he did make decisions they were the wrong ones and had terrible consequences. His men "should have blamed Napoleon but did not because he belonged to them as much as they to him... His glory was their common property, and to diminish his reputation by denouncing him and turning away from him would have been to destroy the common fund of glory they had built over the years and which was their most prizes possession." What I really like about this sort of book is the way it tries to tell the story of the ordinary men. We hear (and see) individual tragedies played out on this cruel stage littered with frozen bodies and abandoned booty. The terrible cold, the lack of food, the conditions... even the lice... One shudders as one watches the growing indifference to the torment of their comrades, the desperate acts they became prey to simply in order to survive. My heart went out to them. Every time they thought they'd reached safety things just got worse. And the death toll was astounding! "...it is safe to say that all in all, between the Grande Armee's crossing of the Niemen at the end of June 1812 and the end of February 1813, about a million people died, fairly equally divided between the two sides." Europe was changed. The Russian Campaign set the seeds for the setting up of autocratic structures throughout, and this in the face of the desires for greater freedom the man-in-the-street (especially the Russian exposed to the greater liberties of the West) expected. Russia and Prussia became dominant powers and it is no conceit to see in Napoleon's failure the sowing of the seeds of that greater conflict to come in 1939. That I enjoyed this book should not need stating, that it is a good read is undeniable. Zamoyski writes with an ease that encompasses us and a knowledge that gives us material to bore our friends with for a long time to come. This is an epic tale told in an epic manner. (less)
I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. My mother endured forced labour under the Soviets in 1940 and s...moreI was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. My mother endured forced labour under the Soviets in 1940 and slave labour under the Nazis after 1941. She saw some of her family being deported by the Soviets to almost certain death in Kazakhstan and discovered the rest in a mass grave, shot by the Nazis. Her best friend survived Auschwitz. My Godfather was a partizan in the forests around Lwow, fighting both Nazis and Soviets. My Godmother lived through the Stalinist regime, survived the battles for Kharkov and slave labour in Germany. I was taught chess by a White Russian whose memories of that time were horrific. Even I visited Auschwitz in 1963 - when I returned to England I was shocked to realise non of the English people I knew knew anything about the place. Until recently who, apart from the Poles, knew the truth about Katyn? So, when I started reading Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands” my first impression was “There is nothing new here”. I’d heard it all in one place or another. But what Snyder does do is take all those evils and puts them together in his Pandora’s Box - only one thing is missing, Hope. Because there was no hope, only fear and death. The depressing bleakness hollows out the soul. One has to pause to take stock, to look away, to absorb the evil and hear the dead cry out for justice, and an understanding that what happened there, on the “Eastern Front”, in the “Bloodlands”, actually exceeded anything the West could understand: “...The American and British soldiers who liberated the dying inmates from camps in Germany believed that they had discovered the horrors of Nazism. The images their photographers and cameramen captured of the corpses and the living skeletons at Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald seemed to convey the worst crimes of Hitler...this was far from the truth. The worst was in the ruins of Warsaw, or the fields of Treblinka, or the marshes of Belarus, or the pits of Babi Yar.” Timothy Snyder is the conscience of us all. Snyder fills his Pandora’s Box and then he reveals its contents to us. He deals with the real terrors of Stalinism; the tragedy of the Great Famine of the Ukraine, the nightmare of the Great Terror, and the cold-blooded elimination of the educated classes and all forms of potential resistance in Poland. He goes on to deal with Nazism; once more, the elimination of educated Poles, the attempts to depopulate Belarus, and the Final Solution. He looks at Post-War Cold War anti-Semitism in a very knowledgeable manner that makes the era clearly understandable. He does a wonderful job of sorting the truth out from the “false history” we have in the West by reminding us (for example) that “by the time the gas chamber and crematoria complexes came on line in spring 1943, more than three-quarters of the Jews who would be killed in the Holocaust were already dead.” The name of Belzec is less well known than that of Auschwitz because it was a death camp - those who survived it were highly lucky and could be counted on the fingers of one hand. “The vast majority of Jews killed in the Holocaust never saw a concentration camp.” Snyder debunks the modern attempts to “balance” out history: the Nazis and the Soviets were not inhuman beasts - they were ordinary men and women like you and me. These men and women had ideals which they tried to live up to. They saw themselves as victims of other groups and their actions were a form of self-defense. They forced others to collude in their plans by giving them a choice between that or death. He reminds us of the real atrocities carried out in the war, for example, “About as many Poles were killed in the bombing of Warsaw in 1939 as Germans were killed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945. For Poles, that bombing was just the beginning of one of the bloodiest occupations of the war... “ and that “German journalists and (some) historians ... have exaggerated the number of Germans killed during wartime and postwar evacuation, flight, or deportation...” Snyder’s “Bloodlands” are, for me, the lands of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth partitioned between 1772 and 1794. The horrors that took place here are just a continuation of the policies of the Germans and Russians to control those lands. Perhaps I fall into that category of historians who try to understand the horrors in nationalistic terms - he debunks the Russian myth of the “Great Patriotic war” and points out that most of the “Russian” dead were “Soviet” and came from Belarus, the Ukraine and Eastern Poland - themselves victims of Stalinism in 1939 (and earlier). I said there was nothing new here - that isn’t completely true. Snyder’s research is so broad as he brings the strands together that there will always be a fact that will surprise you, no matter how much you think you know the history. I never knew that the invading Germans, in 1939, tended not to treat captured Polish soldiers as prisoners-of-war but simply shot many of them as they surrendered. Snyder filled his history with facts and figures throughout. One simple fact stands in for so many in the book: “On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire.” There’s nothing new in this book. The story and the facts have always been available. In this post-Cold war era the truth about what went on in the East has been slowly revealed to the West: all the “false” history is been revealed as another version of the West’s anti-Communist propaganda, a Big brother version of history in which Polish troops, for example, were not allowed to partake in VE celebrations because the country was Communist (albeit sold out by the allies at Yalta). Snyder brings the true history of this era to the attention of the West. Everyone should read it - but then I would say that, wouldn’t I, I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. (less)
Kapuscinski was one of the greatest reporters around and his books are considered masterpieces in the use of the Polish language. "The Soccer War" was...moreKapuscinski was one of the greatest reporters around and his books are considered masterpieces in the use of the Polish language. "The Soccer War" was my introduction to this amazing man and, though episodic, the book has its moments of sheer horror. There's that moment when, whilst at a political meeting, you realise that all those around you, baying for blood, only see the colour of your skin - not your nationality. There's the chaos in the Congo when whites are being pulled out into the streets to be beaten and you wonder how the hell you got here. Then there's the depressing reality of politics in a colony that has to grow up overnight. Kapuscinski was the fly in the ointment; a newsman from a non-colonial state who found himself watching the collapse of empires in Africa whilst at the same time confronting the politically correct taskmasters back home in Poland. You can't fail to be gripped by the book. (less)
Absolutely superb book on the art of the First World War.When one realises what a watershed this was in the development of art - Futurism had already...moreAbsolutely superb book on the art of the First World War.When one realises what a watershed this was in the development of art - Futurism had already had its dramatic impact on the rest of Europe and ensured the continuing existence of Cubism as an art language, Dada was born out of the chaos and disgust (but took its inspiration from Futurism) and other artists were finding forms of expression to depict the horror...(less)
I first read this book in the late '60s early 70s - it was awesome! It takes the Americas and treats them as a test-tube. It looks at Native American...moreI first read this book in the late '60s early 70s - it was awesome! It takes the Americas and treats them as a test-tube. It looks at Native American societies and analyses the development of cultures and society as a series of advances from primitive tribe to sophisticated empire. It relates these advances to the local response to the environment and forces acting upon these societies. The book is full of fascinating facts and leaves one with the feeling that one has really begun to understand how societies function and develop. If this isn't a must-read I'd like to know what possibly could be.(less)
This is, in my opinion, an important book. It looks at the origins of Art and Science and presents the argument that both have evolved out of our need...moreThis is, in my opinion, an important book. It looks at the origins of Art and Science and presents the argument that both have evolved out of our need to create a worldview that makes sense of our surroundings.(less)
The Epilogue! The majority of this book is a super history of the pursuit of an understanding of the way the Universe works focussing on Copernicus, B...moreThe Epilogue! The majority of this book is a super history of the pursuit of an understanding of the way the Universe works focussing on Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler and Galileo. It's a brilliant read full of detail... but the Epilogue... well I found that mindblowing!(less)
I was 15 when I read this book and it had a powerful impact on me. The battle of Verdun was the greatest blood-letting of the First world war and Alis...moreI was 15 when I read this book and it had a powerful impact on me. The battle of Verdun was the greatest blood-letting of the First world war and Alistair Horne's telling of it is just as rich today as it was almost 40 years ago! I love history that goes right to the source and quotes the letters and diaries of those who experienced it - it is the closest we will ever get to a true surrogate experience.(less)