As usual with Davies, an exceedingly accomplished and dauntingly thorough study.




Distinguished British historian Davies (No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939–1945, etc.) delves into 15 once-great, now-fallen states, from the ancient Visigoths to the Soviet Union.

The author again displays an enormous breadth of knowledge in this selective yet comprehensive historical study of thriving kingdoms that eventually gave way to internal or external forces such as implosion or conquest. Davies is inspired by the epic movement of peoples, starting with the writhing of barbarian hordes that invaded the rotting Roman Empire, namely the Visigoths, who established the Kingdom of Tolosa (modern-day Toulouse) in 418 CE. They lasted for 89 years and spread (into Iberia) a unique Gothic speech, political culture and architecture. These were only one of many interrelated linguistic sub-groups that moved into pockets of Europe, such as the Ostrogoths, Lombards and Burgundians, all now vanished, but leaving in their wake a rich “contaminating” of language, culture and gene pool. Davies delights in recounting the “Kingdom of the Rock,” aka the Old North (Scotland), which was once inhabited by the Ancient Britons (as opposed to the Celts or the Anglo-Saxons), giving forth such legendary notables as St. Patrick, King Arthur and St. Mungo, before being eclipsed by myriad tribes and the Vikings. The author also examines the obscure state of Belarus and its capital Minsk, locus of a dizzying collision of migrating tribes, but he seems overwhelmed by the task of summarizing the complex civilization of Byzantion. Davies dwells instead on Borussia, where the early Prusai, the “People of the Lagoon,” mingled with their invited guests, the Knights of the Teutonic Order, creating a potent socio-military machine of conquest. Other recondite searches wander into Italy, Germany and her rivaling Saxon duchies, ancestral Éire and, finally, Estonia as emblematic of the Soviet Union’s pernicious cultural manipulation. A fine concluding chapter, “How States Die,” offers a robust roundup for the diligent reader.

As usual with Davies, an exceedingly accomplished and dauntingly thorough study.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02273-1

Page Count: 804

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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