Celia Yost's Reviews > Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations

Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies
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Mar 04, 2012

really liked it

I really enjoyed this. It was a bit of a slog at times, because, well, dynastic politics among families that seem to be choosing names for their offspring as if there's a tax on new ones generally are. I give the author credit for acknowledging this, and even if the genealogical details got a bit lost, the general thrust of who was in charge and how the ended up getting there was generally comprehensible. This is higher praise than it sounds, trust me.

I have other nit-picks, but most of them have to do with how Vanished Kingdoms' subject is very wide. Each chapter could have easily been its own book, and so while some areas are probably painted with too broad a brush, and it would've been nice if areas beyond Europe were covered...but the book is already 700+ pages so I understand why there would have been space concerns.

That said, the topic is fascinating, and the author at his most engaging when breaking down what the various points of view about a given country were (ethnic factions, religious factions, political groups, etc. internal and external), where they were coming from, and how they interacted with each other. He also makes a point of going through what information would be easily accessible about the countries covered today, and in most cases how it's wrong. This is at times hilarious, such as the bit where he consults the internet and all the encyclopedias about Burgundy, and complains about each source. But anyways, what really makes this book worth reading is the author's dedication to showing the complexity involved in the history of these countries, and by implication everywhere, that tends to get overlooked or ignored in favor of the conventional narrative, and that said narrative is subject to perspective.
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