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Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe.

Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe. Norman Davies. Allen Lane. [pounds sterling]30.00. xvii + 830 pages. ISBN 978-1-846-14338-0. Prof. Davies is an acknowledged expert on European history and one therefore approaches a new work by him with certain expectations. This collection of mini-histories may be described as a study in anti-determinism. Great states often emerge at the cost of other states--European states come and go and sometimes, as with the Baltic republics or his beloved Poland, they come again but there is nothing inevitable in the process. His theme is that states do not last forever and this is surely something of a truism. If they do survive they often do so after seismic changes: the US for example survived the loss of eleven states in 1861 only after a bloody war to force them back. But this book is concerned with Europe and each case study begins with a description of the present-day locality, moves to a history of the vanished state and ends with a description of what remains. Some choices are obvious: Burgundy, Lorraine, Etruria, Aragon, Galicia and the USSR but why Ireland other than as a means of parading his republican sympathies? Prof. Davies writes with great learning and he seems very satisfied with his learning and insights. When he comes to predict the future, e.g. of the UK, his own political prejudices mean such predictions must be taken with the usual grain of salt: one often thinks something will happen if one already hopes it will. One could argue that given recent massive immigration into the UK, if this country survives it will be a very different one in 200 years' time. His writing resembles that of his erstwhile tutor, A.J.P. Taylor, with its penchant for clever (at least to the author) 'one-liners': whether this is praise or damnation readers will have to decide for themselves. (A.C.)
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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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