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The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  627 ratings  ·  140 reviews
A sweeping yet intimate narrative about the last hundred years of turbulent European history, as seen through one of Mitteleuropa’s greatest houses—and the lives of its occupants
When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador’s residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furn
Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Crown
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Judith Witzig By all means. I liked it enough to want to read it a second time.
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 ·  627 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
Extensively researched, this fascinating narrative provides a look at the changing political climate in Prague. The palace was built by Otto Petschek, in the 1920's, his family was in banking and invested in the mines, they were all quite wealthy. Although Otto claimed to have an altruistic motive in building this ostentatious gem, after reading this I think Otto just wanted a showcase to show how successful he was. As smart as he thought he was, as a Jewish family he didn't heed the warning sig ...more
Katie B
3.5 stars

There were a couple reasons I was interested in reading this book. The first being I got to visit Prague a few years ago and it really is a beautiful city. Second, back when my husband and I lived in Germany, we loved going to see the different castles and palaces so I was intrigued by the description of this particular palace being perhaps the last one built in Europe. Sadly, I do not remember if I saw this one during my trip to Prague, at most it would have only been a qui
The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House was a moving and beautiful memoir in which author Norman Eisen relates how financial magnate Otto Petschek had a dream to build a beautiful palace unlike any other for his family in the heart of Prague following World War I, and as a testament to freedom and democracy. Otto Petschek was mindful that his father and uncle had fled to Prague to escape a pogrom and were fearful of anti-Semitism. As a young boy Otto was draw ...more
Bob H
This book covers the life and times of a great house in Prague, amid a tumultuous century for the city and the country. It's worth noting that the book comes to print at a time of several anniversaries: 50 years after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and the crushing of the Prague Spring; 80 years after the September 1938 Munich conference and the abandonment of Czechoslovakia to Nazi occupation; 100 years after the end of World War I and the proclamation of Czech independenc ...more
The book covers the 20th century history of Czechoslovakia (now two countries) through the life of what was, most likely, the last palace built in Europe. The story begins with the Petschek family and ends with the author's taking up residence in their palace/home as the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, 2011 - 2014.

Otto Petschek was a dreamer with a passion for the arts. He could indulge his passion with the family wealth which he augmented with his own gamble on coal after WWI.
Meryl Landau
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Norm Eisen's The Last Palace is a fascinating look at 20th century Europe. This history unfolds through the inhabitants of a singular palace in Prague, built after World War I by a Jewish banker and industrialist, confiscated by the Nazis during WWII, then lived in by three consequential American diplomats--Eisen among them. When I turned the page after reading through the first three fascinating people, I expected number four to be a boring placeholder until we get to Eisen; imagine my surprise ...more
Maine Colonial
Thanks to the publisher, Crown, for providing an advance reviewing copy.

I like histories told through a place. And what a place in this case. Just imagine a Jewish man who grew up poor becoming a wealthy industrialist and deciding to build a grand, palatial house in the heart of Prague, one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Otto Petschek was well known, an influencer and financier, and a German speaker, as most important people in Prague were at that time. He was ebullient, full
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As Norman Eisen mentions early in the book, Goethe referred to architecture as "frozen music". In a well-written and personal narrative, the author delves into the history of a building, where he served as US ambassador to the Czech Republic, that echoed the triumphs, trauma, and tragedies of political and social turmoil in the heart of Europe.

This book examines the history of the 20th century to the present day as it follows the building of a mansion in Prague by Otto Petschek, the eldest chil
Jill Meyer
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The city of Prague is geographically in the middle of what we used to call "Eastern Europe". The city, now the capital of the Czech Republic, has long been a magical, mystical place and its history is pretty much the history of the whole area. I am half-Czech, like former US Ambassador Norman Eisen, but my family immigrated to the US three or four generations ago. He has a more immediate connection with the country as his mother was a survivor of the Holocaust. Eisen's mother left Czechoslovakia ...more
I heard about this book on NPR during one of my marathon ironing sessions, and considering that I'm fascinated both by the Holocaust and by Europe in general, this book seemed right up my alley. It still boggles my mind that in my lifetime, eastern Europe was behind the Iron Curtain, and only a lucky few were able to defect to the West. Along these lines, I recently watched the movie The Lives of Others, about the lives of East Germans under their repressive regime.

Unfortunately, I couldn't love this
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book through a GoodReads "First Reads" Giveaway. "The Last Palace" was built in the 1920s by Otto Petschek, a wealthy Jewish financier and coal baron. Through the lives of Petschek and three other former residents of the palace, Eisen takes the reader through Prague’s dramatic and tempestuous 20th century, including the German occupation during World War II, the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, and the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Besides Otto Petschek, Eisen’s brisk and enga ...more
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enjoyable history lesson disguised as a great yarn. I learned much about 20th century Europe though the stories of one palace and its occupants.
Overall an engaging story but the writing left a bit to be desired. The author loves to state the obvious and repeats himself, for example when talking about how Shirley Temple Black's husband trusted her knowing she was feisty. Yes, we get it. And we understand that she was HUGELY famous during the depression, more so than other big name stars of the time. Now can we move on! I also was disappointed that the author did not investigate deeper into Viky's life. Where did he go after the family ev ...more
Feb 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this book, probably a 3 for me. It wasn't as academic or scholarly as I like and more of a light read. This says something about me, and not the author , necessarily, and I saw many 4 and 5 star reviews online regarding this read.

It was a creative premise to write a book around- the palace and its inhabitants. I liked all of the stories - though I probably enjoyed the Shirley Temple Black section best, because it was such a surprise for me. I liked Shirley Temple as a girl
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating story by the former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Every US ambassador lives in this beautiful palace in Prague and have done so for many years. THE LAST PALACE takes the reader through the history of this famous building; we learn about its creation, role in World War II, and how it came to be the residence of the US Ambassador. Norman Eisen also weaves in the story of his mother's life as she was a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia. This is not the ...more
Marie Look
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was excited to receive my ARC of The Last Palace from Penguin Random House's First To Read program, however I was ultimately disappointed in this book for two main reasons. First, its cover and summary had given me the impression that the incredible house itself would be a character in the book, or at least a focal point, but that turned out to not be the case. I felt this book turned out to be more of a history of Prague from the 1920s to the 1960s and the house served as very loose connectiv ...more
Larry Hostetler
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, 2018
Would give this 4.5 stars if I could, only because the title somewhat misleads. It is not so much about “The Last Palace” itself (the content about the structure was five star worthy) as about Prague and the political world around it sine the Palace was conceived. I also found the opening section (about the individual behind its construction and his family) to be too lengthy to keep my interest.

But once the subject (the subtitle is more accurate than the title) got into the construct
Kathy Stone
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This is a really good book. This is the history of the building that the United States would make the US Embassy in the Czech Republic. It was built by an eccentric Jew with a large coal fortune in the ninety twenties. He traveled all over Europe to make sure he had the best of everything or at the very least really good replicas. This book goes into the Nazi Party coming to power and taking the building Then the Russians came and destroyed it as the Soviet Government did not honor the history. ...more
The Last Palace presents the history of Prague and Czechoslovakia through the lens of the Petschek Palace and the residents who occupied it. The palace, the most opulent in Prague, was built after WWI by a wealthy Jewish businessman, Otto Petschek, to his unique and demanding specifications. When the Nazis come to power, the Petscheks escape, leaving the palace to the occupancy of a Wehrmacht commander. Finally, thanks to the efforts of the post-War US ambassador to Prague, the Palace becomes th ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Norman Eisen’s The Last Palace is a beautiful and personal story of Czech history over 100 years, told through his perspective and that of four previous occupants of the Petschek palace (later home of American ambassadors to the Czech Republic) as well as his own mother. It starts with the early life and then adult successes of Otto Petschek, a Jewish business magnate in Prague. His financial success leads to his decision to build his own personal palace. The Petschek family flees when the Nazis ...more
Mike He
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not only is Norman Eisen a skilled diplomat representing the US interests in the Czech Republic in the Obama administration, but also he is a great story teller as evidenced in The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House. The well-researched book, intertwined with the ordeal of the author's Czechoslovakia-born mother during World War II, is a saga about the so-called "The Last Palace" in Prague, built and re-built by a wealthy Jewish banker in the 1920's who ...more
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I won a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads.

The former Ambassador to the Czech Republic tells a brilliant story of European wars, a single house, a single family, and what democracy means. As the child of a Czechoslavakian Holocaust survivor, he returned to the most famous Czech Jewish industrialist amazing house - not the US Ambassador's home in Prague. The story focuses on the life of his mother, the original home owner/builder, Shirley Temple Black a former ambassado
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Last Palace was mostly a compelling read that relates the 20th century history of Prague and Czechoslovakia. Anyone who has proceeded through a home remodel could at least somewhat relate to Otto Peschek's obsessive quest to build his ideal home.

The story of the velvet revolution viewed through the eyes of U.S. ambassador Shirley Temple Black was particularly fascinating. And, it shows that everyday people can come together to change their society for the better.

I'm n
Glenn Giuttari
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Is's not often you find history in such readable fashion. Beginning with the Petschek family and the building of the Palace, European history of the last century unfolds thru the actions of four residents of this magnificent structure. Meticulously documented (on line), I found myself wondering how it was possible to know these intimate thoughts and drives of the characters--but this is the result of three years of research by Eisen- former US ambassador to the Chech Republic.
Most of all, there
Edna Axelrod
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book, a meticulously researched and detailed work of non-fiction that is written with the pace of a thriller. Spanning more than a century, the historical events related here are inherently gripping. The people who built, inhabited, occupied, preserved, and labored in “The Last Palace” come alive on the page. And laced throughout are two important themes: the importance of moral integrity and the precariousness of freedom. Highly recommended. (Note: I read an Advance Readers ...more
Elisabeth Ahlefeldt-Laurvig
I would have loved that it was not just "greatest moments", but that we also heard a little about the dreary everyday life between the war and the dramas of 1968 and 1989.

Also I had hoped to learn more about the house and the people in it. Eg. the caretaker from Otto Petschek's days, whom Laurence Steinhardt gave a life long job, deserved much more attention.

And then I see it more a description of a country's history rather than European history.

But what is included is c
Sally Smith
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating read on the history of Prague as told through the history of the house that is the residence of the American Ambassador to the Czech Republic. This house was built by Otto Petschek, a successful Jewish businessman and the story is told by Ambassador Eisen, whose mother was a Jewish Holocaust survivor. I've never been to Prague, but this story kept me interested from start to finish and gave me a great desire to visit the Czech Republic.
Terri Wangard
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the biography of a palace and the history of a nation in the twentieth century. The story of Otto Petschek is fascinating. His father sought to keep a low profile, but not Otto. Building himself a palace proved to be folly for him, estranging his children, bringing himself to the edge of ruin, and fueling dissent against him. And he only lived there for four years. Especially interesting to me was Shirley Temple Black’s association with the palace and Czechoslovakia. Remarkable book.
Kayla Tornello
This book offered a look at Czechoslovakia's history. It centered around the opulent palace built by Otto Petschek. After the Jewish Petscheks fled the country on the brink of WWII, the palace was occupied by Germans during the war and eventually became the residence of the U.S. ambassador. I enjoyed learning about the individuals who occupied the palace and also the history of the country. Any history lover should pick up this book!

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Yay!
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was fortunate to receive this book through a goodreads giveaway and found it engrossing from the first page to the last.
Mr. Eisen provides a fascinating and informative book on the history of the Petschek Palace in Prague.The book is both a memoir and a journey through the times of this remarkable palace.
Beautifully written,engrossing and compelling,I read long into the night.I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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Ambassador Norman Eisen is the author of The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House, forthcoming on September 4, 2018. He is a senior fellow at Brookings, a CNN political commentator, and the chair of the government watchdog group CREW. Eisen served from 2009 to 2011 in the White House as President Obama’s “ethics czar” and as the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Repub ...more