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God's Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795

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This edition of Norman Davies' study of the history of Poland has been revised and fully updated with two new chapters to bring the story to the end of the 20th century. The writing of Polish history, like Poland itself, has frequently fallen prey to interested parties. Professor Norman Davies adopts a sceptical stance towards all existing interpretations and attempts to b This edition of Norman Davies' study of the history of Poland has been revised and fully updated with two new chapters to bring the story to the end of the 20th century. The writing of Polish history, like Poland itself, has frequently fallen prey to interested parties. Professor Norman Davies adopts a sceptical stance towards all existing interpretations and attempts to bring a strong dose of common sense to his theme. He consequently presents a comprehensive survey of this frequently maligned and usually misunderstood country.


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This edition of Norman Davies' study of the history of Poland has been revised and fully updated with two new chapters to bring the story to the end of the 20th century. The writing of Polish history, like Poland itself, has frequently fallen prey to interested parties. Professor Norman Davies adopts a sceptical stance towards all existing interpretations and attempts to b This edition of Norman Davies' study of the history of Poland has been revised and fully updated with two new chapters to bring the story to the end of the 20th century. The writing of Polish history, like Poland itself, has frequently fallen prey to interested parties. Professor Norman Davies adopts a sceptical stance towards all existing interpretations and attempts to bring a strong dose of common sense to his theme. He consequently presents a comprehensive survey of this frequently maligned and usually misunderstood country.

30 review for God's Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795

  1. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    I have been told by friends living in Warsaw that Norman Davies' God's Playground is required reading for American diplomats employed in Poland. If this is true, Bravo for the U.S. Foreign service. The state of historical writing in Poland is lamentable. During the 19th century when England, France and the United States were establishing their historical professions, Poland did not exist. It was divided between three empires who appeared to long-term staying power. During this time the universiti I have been told by friends living in Warsaw that Norman Davies' God's Playground is required reading for American diplomats employed in Poland. If this is true, Bravo for the U.S. Foreign service. The state of historical writing in Poland is lamentable. During the 19th century when England, France and the United States were establishing their historical professions, Poland did not exist. It was divided between three empires who appeared to long-term staying power. During this time the universities in Poland neither taught Polish history nor recruited professors competent in the area. Poland was reconstituted in 1919 when all three of its occupiers collapsed simultaneously. Twenty years later, the Poland disappeared again to be recreated in a radically different form by the Russians five years later. Whatever the merits of soviet style historical writing may be, it does not follow the norms that any Westerner who has ever taken a university level history course would be familiar with. Fortunately Davies arrived on the scene. We can hope that he will inspire future generations of Polish historians to write in a form that we can comprehend and accept. Whatever the future may bring, for the present time Polish history would be largely incomprehensible to us without Davies because its institutions are so different from those of Western Europe. For a start, the Polish Aristocracy was not structured on the Feudal model used in France and England. Even the heraldic conventions were different. Polish did not become the lingua franca of the country until the 19th Century. Prior to that time Latin was the language of the court and the language used by the German, Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian merchants to communicate with each other. Until the 19th century very few works of literature were written in Polish. At the time that France and England expelled their Jews, Poland was welcoming them. For most of its history, 80% of the world's Jews lived in Poland. In Poland, the Jews had their own courts and parliaments. There were no religious wars in Poland during the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Most of Poland was outside of the Hanseatic league. Poland's experience then was radically different from the rest of Western Europe. Davies who always keeps his eye on what we know to make Poland understandable. Volume I ends with the Partition of Poland by Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1795. Poland then begins a 126 period of non-existence that would again be incomprehensible to us without Davies' Volume II.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Let me start with a clarifying disclosure - although I have been living in Sweden since my early teens, I was born and raised in Poland and as such always regard myself as a Pole. This fact puts me in a perhaps unusual position when talking about this book. On one hand, I can’t deny that the emotional attachment to the subject of this book is definitely present and affects my opinion of it. But at the same time, I think that my personal background turns me into enough of an outsider to be able t Let me start with a clarifying disclosure - although I have been living in Sweden since my early teens, I was born and raised in Poland and as such always regard myself as a Pole. This fact puts me in a perhaps unusual position when talking about this book. On one hand, I can’t deny that the emotional attachment to the subject of this book is definitely present and affects my opinion of it. But at the same time, I think that my personal background turns me into enough of an outsider to be able to resist the worst of my patriotic passions and be able to regard this book in an objective manner. First volume of “God’s Playground” covers the history of Poland from its origins to the third and final partition of Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in 1795, at which time both of its parts disappeared from European maps as sovereign national entities until 1918. Structure of this volume is somewhat peculiar. Initial third of the book consists of an orthodox, chronological overview of founding dynasties of Polish kingdom - the Piasts and Jagiellons. Once the author reaches the establishment of Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1569, he changes tack and switches to a topical analysis of specific aspects of the Commonwealth. Religion. culture, economics, social structures and diplomacy are dealt with in separate chapters. The nobility of the Commonwealth, with its unique features and social standing is described and analyzed with extra attention. Once finished with this topical dissection, the author once again picks up his chronological narrative and continues, one elected monarch at the time, up until the forced abdication of Stanislaw August in 1795. Final chapters of the book retell the sad story of developments that led to three partitions and how they were accomplished by Poland-Lithuanias hostile neighbours. As a factual source of information on Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, its social and political inner workings, its many unique features, peculiarities and faults (at least when regarded from Western perspective), there is no doubt that this volume is most probably the best work on this topic currently available in English language. However, having said that, I am sincerely perplexed over the status of this book as the seminal work on the history of Poland. When regarded as such, this first volume has pretty serious flaws, first and foremost of them being that its focus is squarely set on the period between 1569 and 1795. Compared with the author’s dedication and attention to detail of the analysis of that period, the Piast and Jagellonian dynasties are in my opinion handled by Davis in rudimentary and frankly, dismissive manner. Piasts and Jagiellonians aren’t the only ones given the short shrift by professor Davies. In his depiction of international relations between Poland and its neighbours, a lot of attention is (deservingly so) paid to the Teutonic Order. The Golden Horde, on the other hand, is mysteriously missing pretty much altogether. Granted, the Mongol invasions, due to the devastation they caused, cannot be ignored by the good professor; but once Subutai turns back east, they pretty much disappear from the scene. Perhaps the Tatars are too exotic and hard to grasp subject for English-speaking audience this book is intended for, but make no mistake - the Golden Horde and the Khanates it later transformed into, they all played an extremely vital role in the history of both Poland and Lithuania. And yet, in “God’s Playground”, they simply don’t exist and thus, the Polish-Lithuanian expansion into Belorus and Ukraine... just happens all on its own. Omissions like those I mention above can be annoying, but at the same time I do realize that the author, even with best intentions, could not cover all of Poland’s history. Something I’ve had much harder time tolerating was the negativity of the author consistently displayed throughout this book when dealing with the period of the Republic. If one were to rely on the narrative provided in this book, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Commonwealth’s period of greatness and dominance was achieved despite the stupidity and selfishness of its leading classes, while the real big question to ponder over isn't why the final and complete disintegration of Poland-Lithuania took place, but rather why it didn’t happen much sooner. The bleak view of the author regarding pretty much every single aspect of the Commonwealth causes me to regard it not as a “history”, but as a dissection and post-mortem, and in my opinion bordering on being malevolent to boot. If you think I am overreacting, imagine a book that proclaims itself as a comprehensive history of England from 1066 to the end of Stuart dynasty in 1688. As you read it, you discover that the author skimps through the period of Plantagents and Tudors dynasties and spends a lot of space on analysis for reasons the Civil Wars of 1642-51. Final part of the book is dedicated to lamentations regarding the silliness of Charles II and incompetence of Jacob II. The whole thing is then rounded up with the conclusion stating that the takeover by the House of Orange was nothing but just desserts for the ineptitude of England's previous rulers. This is how I, as a Pole, percieve first volume of ‘God’s Playground’, if it is to be regarded as a history of my country. Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had its fair share of problems and flaws. Some of them turned out to be terminal and in the end, they led to its demise. However, I fail to see how focusing almost exclusively on those faults gives a just picture of its history, especially in a work which tries to illuminate this subject to a public probably completely unfamiliar with the topic to begin with. I’m quite sure that professor Davies’ intentions were benign, but I’m afraid that his effort doesn’t do much to improve the understanding of Poland in the West. Indeed, I’m worried that this volume actually does more harm than good.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jan Hidders

    Norman Davies is an outstanding historian who is one of the world's leading experts in Polish history, and the book demonstrates this. It contains a wealth of detail that paints the daily life in historic times, but also analyses long-term developments within the Polish nation as well as in international politics, of which Poland has so often and so dramatically been the victim. This is simply the best and most comprehensive book on Polish history written by a non-Pole. There were however also a Norman Davies is an outstanding historian who is one of the world's leading experts in Polish history, and the book demonstrates this. It contains a wealth of detail that paints the daily life in historic times, but also analyses long-term developments within the Polish nation as well as in international politics, of which Poland has so often and so dramatically been the victim. This is simply the best and most comprehensive book on Polish history written by a non-Pole. There were however also a few things I did not like about the book. The first is that Davies tends often to assume that you are already familiar with the main events. When he introduces a subject he will often already then link it up with future events, like certain risings or battles, that at that point will not have been discussed. He can also get quite academic in some parts and bother you with lots of details and academic considerations that do not really push the historic narrative forward. This makes in my opinion the book at some points a bit tedious for the enthusiastic amateur historian who is new to Polish history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    An incredible book, even if I can't remember ever taking so long to finish one. Extremely dense with information; there's more than a person could ever hope to retain to memory here--fact after fact. What really makes this book stand out in my mind though is that Davies makes it all come together. I may not remember many of the dates and details, but I feel like I have a general understanding of Polish history that I never obtained from any other text on the subject. Davies also doesn't shy away An incredible book, even if I can't remember ever taking so long to finish one. Extremely dense with information; there's more than a person could ever hope to retain to memory here--fact after fact. What really makes this book stand out in my mind though is that Davies makes it all come together. I may not remember many of the dates and details, but I feel like I have a general understanding of Polish history that I never obtained from any other text on the subject. Davies also doesn't shy away from argument, he takes conventional myths on head on with historical fact. Zbit dobra.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Vanore

    I wanted to rate this higher ... Davies produced a masterful study of Poland's pre-partition history, but ... it may be the densest tome I've ever picked up. Imagine a book with a full chapter devoted to the Vistula grain trade! Yet I stuck with it, and read every last page, even thought the going was slow. Davies is a serious scholar who has dug into primary source material to produce a thorough, masterful study of Poland, and reading it gives one a sense of the polish national mindset. I wanted to rate this higher ... Davies produced a masterful study of Poland's pre-partition history, but ... it may be the densest tome I've ever picked up. Imagine a book with a full chapter devoted to the Vistula grain trade! Yet I stuck with it, and read every last page, even thought the going was slow. Davies is a serious scholar who has dug into primary source material to produce a thorough, masterful study of Poland, and reading it gives one a sense of the polish national mindset.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    "There's No Land Like Poland" When you think about Europe, you have seen or read numerous histories of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain and even Portugal. There are lots of books that deal with "Eastern Europe" in the modern age, with Ottoman Turkey, the USA, and many other parts of the world, but comprehensive histories of Poland are rare. I realized this when I found the present volume in a Melbourne book store back in 1984. Its 546 pages looked a daunting task, needing a consider "There's No Land Like Poland" When you think about Europe, you have seen or read numerous histories of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain and even Portugal. There are lots of books that deal with "Eastern Europe" in the modern age, with Ottoman Turkey, the USA, and many other parts of the world, but comprehensive histories of Poland are rare. I realized this when I found the present volume in a Melbourne book store back in 1984. Its 546 pages looked a daunting task, needing a considerable space of time to wade through. That's why I didn't get around to it till 2013. I had never really absorbed even the basic outline of Polish history. I came to the right place, but because I only bought volume 1 back then, my learning curve came to a screeching halt in 1795. Starting with an excellent chapter on Polish historiography, Davies proceeds to puncture all the balloons of nationalist, imperialist, and Communist histories. It seems that his book, translated, has been used in the Polish educational system post-1989. That's a signal honor. I can't claim to be expert enough to comment on whether his perspective is worthy or not, but it is thorough and interestingly written. There are vast amounts of place and personal names--rulers, landlords, soldiers, poets, priests--offset by a great series of maps and charts. Nobody but a serious student of Polish history would be able to retain such copious information. Davies lacks pomposity; he's down to earth and somehow you feel you can believe him. A good sense of humor lights up the text with occasional flashes, even if Polish history is anything but humorous most of the time. Anyone who writes, "In the last resort, all our ancestors were alien, mongrel immigrants." gets my vote as a realistic historian. If you tackle this immense and impressive work, you will start out with the early amalgamations of peoples to become "the Poles". You will then move on to the late medieval period when the Catholic Polish state first organized and in a defining moment, merged with up-to-then pagan Lithuania to form a large joint-kingdom which later turned into an elective monarchy, one of the few in history. Kings were elected by a body known as the Sejm, with judicious helpings of bribes and blows. Far from being religiously-exclusive, they tolerated all faiths almost all the time. The enormous kingdom of Poland-Lithuania had its bright moments, its golden age (in the 16th and 17th centuries) and, due to consistently lax, loose organization (nobles with too much power and paying too little tax), a century of nearly non-stop warfare, and constant internal squabbling, disappeared from the map in the 18th century, gobbled up by more tightly organized, more totalitarian Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Davies takes you through immense amounts of data concerning religion, the urban scene---especially in Danzig---the grain trade, law and justice, the nobility, the peasants, the Jews, the practice of diplomacy, and the straight out history of the many foreign-born kings that ruled the unfortunate country before its erasure for 120 years. If Poles were brave and talented, their disorganization and relative freedom proved fatal in the face of aggressive neighbors. The title of the book is ironic. The quality is very high. If you want to know about Polish history in detail, this is your book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alexa King

    This book is DENSE. If you want a thorough (and I mean thorough) history of Poland, this is a good bet. I gave it three stars because although there's loads of information, and it is all laid out nicely and is fairly easy to digest, I have issues with Davies' timeline. I'm still not entirely clear on how he's structured the book, or why. I read this book for a Polish history class, but I think I would be fairly confused as to when everything was happening if I didn't have my lectures to clear ev This book is DENSE. If you want a thorough (and I mean thorough) history of Poland, this is a good bet. I gave it three stars because although there's loads of information, and it is all laid out nicely and is fairly easy to digest, I have issues with Davies' timeline. I'm still not entirely clear on how he's structured the book, or why. I read this book for a Polish history class, but I think I would be fairly confused as to when everything was happening if I didn't have my lectures to clear everything up and lay out a timeline. That being said, Davies writes an excellent history. It's personal, it's political, and you can tell he takes great care with his subject. The introduction, where he writes about how to write about history, is very moving. All in all, a good, solid history, but you need to know what you're getting yourself into, and you might need to do some extra homework to know where you are.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kinga

    Ahh! I've actually made this my last book of the year! God's Playground has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I can't believe that I waited so long to read it. It was a long and dense read, but this book gives its reader a view of history of Poland (though with a focus on the commonwealth) great detail which I haven't really seen in a history book before and for that reason, I love it. Ahh! I've actually made this my last book of the year! God's Playground has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I can't believe that I waited so long to read it. It was a long and dense read, but this book gives its reader a view of history of Poland (though with a focus on the commonwealth) great detail which I haven't really seen in a history book before and for that reason, I love it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette Sautner

    Finally. Comprehensive history of Poland's years until 1795. It is well written. It is dense however, and not well-suited to a mind set craving light, escapist literature. Finally. Comprehensive history of Poland's years until 1795. It is well written. It is dense however, and not well-suited to a mind set craving light, escapist literature.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Danas Kazlauskas

    This Davies' book is more comparable to historic novel than to the serious historian work: a) almost no original historic sources (aka chronicles and documents) were used - actually this book is a compilation of historic works from other authors; b) strange priorities - sometimes a significant event (e.g. Thirteen Years' War) is almost neglected by Davies (only short paragraph was dedicated), but Davies indulges in inserting long letters and descriptions of minor things and events (good example - This Davies' book is more comparable to historic novel than to the serious historian work: a) almost no original historic sources (aka chronicles and documents) were used - actually this book is a compilation of historic works from other authors; b) strange priorities - sometimes a significant event (e.g. Thirteen Years' War) is almost neglected by Davies (only short paragraph was dedicated), but Davies indulges in inserting long letters and descriptions of minor things and events (good example - lengthy narration about a brawl of drunken Szlachta); c) he even makes factual errors - Grand Duke Witold ruled Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1392 (not from 1401 according to Davies - in 1401 Witold was granted just wider autonomy according to the Pact of Vilnius and Radom); d) some phrases in Latin and French are not translated - this is annoying; e) all references to sources used in the book are at the end of it - it would be OK just with a plain list of sources, but sometimes there are quite long comments accompanying references, but it is tiresome thing to go each time to the end of book if you want to read these comments, so I skipped them altogether - it makes no sense to read them when the book was finished. So if you want a light reading with a scent of history, then this book is for you, otherwise avoid.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ewa

    It has never taken me so long to read anything, but this is definitely not the type to just flick through on the bus. Though I was expecting your traditional history book, this one is so much more. Fact after fact, detailed description of reality all through. But it definitely didn't feel like 570pages - rather 2k It has never taken me so long to read anything, but this is definitely not the type to just flick through on the bus. Though I was expecting your traditional history book, this one is so much more. Fact after fact, detailed description of reality all through. But it definitely didn't feel like 570pages - rather 2k

  12. 4 out of 5

    Floyd Mann

    This is the second time I have read this. The best history of Poland in English, one of the best in any language I have been told.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rob Prince

    My sense is - after reading both Vol 1 and 2 of Davis' God's Playground - that it will be difficult for any author to match this incisive and monumental work. Without a long view at Polish history it is neigh impossible to understand the current moment. Frankly I read it to get a broader perspective on the situation of and history of my family - all of whom hail from what was "historic Poland" - Vilnius and Prienai- now in Lithuania, Grodno - now in Belarus, and finally Bialystok now on Poland's My sense is - after reading both Vol 1 and 2 of Davis' God's Playground - that it will be difficult for any author to match this incisive and monumental work. Without a long view at Polish history it is neigh impossible to understand the current moment. Frankly I read it to get a broader perspective on the situation of and history of my family - all of whom hail from what was "historic Poland" - Vilnius and Prienai- now in Lithuania, Grodno - now in Belarus, and finally Bialystok now on Poland's eastern border with Belarus. Of course, they, my fore mothers and fathers, were Jewish. I wonder if they even considered themselves Polish? - especially in the last quarter of the 19th century when the situation of Jews - mostly now under Russian occupation - found themselves in the most difficult of straits. Regardless, they lived in Poland. Some, it seems more from the upper classes and the intelligentsia assimilated, most did not either influenced by Communism or by the temptations of Zionism, that particular form of narrow Jewish nationalism. After having had - admittedly long ago - the opportunity to live in Finland (1985-1990) I became both interested and fascinated in the fate of smaller European countries wedged between more powerful neighbors - with Russia bookmarking the east and either Germany, UK - or even today, NATO (USA) on the West. How to "negotiate" that situation. In Finland's case, a rather dramatic change of heart in the midst of WW2 - reconciliation with Stalin and the Soviets - offered an opportunity of post WW2 independence. Poland did not enjoy such a choice. Beyond that I am particularly interested in what I suppose are the "what if" scenarios. For example, there is nothing from what I have read that could not have led to Poland - or more specifically Poland-Lithuana - becoming a major central European state rivaling both Germany and Russia. But it didn't happen. Anyhow, this two volume work is a wonderful contribution to the historical scholarship of central Europe. There is much I will never know about the specifics of the my grand parents' journeys... but at least reading Davis it is possible to get a broader view of the world that they left, and its fascinating history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jo Ladzinski

    Sometimes you want to write an epic fantasy steeped in its own history. But you’re not interested in British history and nobility, and the only framing you have for the history of your own land is that “it is so boring.” So, you find the most thorough volume you can, and wow, does it deliver. I got so much out of this volume. From the organization of the social classes (which have nothing to do with economics) and the structure of cities and villages (which also have nothing to do with economics) Sometimes you want to write an epic fantasy steeped in its own history. But you’re not interested in British history and nobility, and the only framing you have for the history of your own land is that “it is so boring.” So, you find the most thorough volume you can, and wow, does it deliver. I got so much out of this volume. From the organization of the social classes (which have nothing to do with economics) and the structure of cities and villages (which also have nothing to do with economics), this book covers so much ground. There are maps, there are charts, and the anecdotes and famous-to-Poland historical figures help create a complete image of this land without national borders as it expands, contracts, and disappears off the map altogether. What really drew me was the humility Davies shows from the very beginning. He admits that he cannot possibly know as much as someone whose lived experience is Poland. It’s an energy we can all stand to embrace a bit. As such, he also fully recognizes that the lens through which most of his readers will understand European history is through the crown, family lineages, and colonialism of western Europe. There are charts, there are some anti-parallels drawn, with enough repetition to make international relations salient and easy-(enough)-to-follow. What fascinated me the most was how much was considered international in terms of what’s encompassed by the shield-shaped borders seen on contemporary maps. I found it interesting, but that’s probably because I sought this information out myself as opposed to having to learn it for school exams. Highly recommending this tome if you want a quick overview of the structure of Polish society and culture up through the 18th Century.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mary Arkless

    This is a large book, even in paperback, covering a weighty, non-fiction topic. It was not a chore to read, although I did take my time. In The Days Of Covid, getting things to and from the library takes some planning and effort (only a few click and collect libraries are available, and you must have an appointment). Regular borrowing times have been extended from a few weeks to a few months. And there is something about the situation, that I would just forget to read. Ah, well. This is not the This is a large book, even in paperback, covering a weighty, non-fiction topic. It was not a chore to read, although I did take my time. In The Days Of Covid, getting things to and from the library takes some planning and effort (only a few click and collect libraries are available, and you must have an appointment). Regular borrowing times have been extended from a few weeks to a few months. And there is something about the situation, that I would just forget to read. Ah, well. This is not the author's fault. The time covered is several centuries, up until the time the country was dissolved by Russia and swallowed up by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. There is a second volume from that time until when the book was written. The edition I read was published in 1983, so well before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It seemed a bit disjointed, and the charts and maps weren't the best quality. I usually just kind of glanced at them and moved on. The actual partitioning of Poland-Lithuania seemed quite rushed and abrupt. Borrowed from the library. Will see about getting the second volume in the new year.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    The History of Poland as written by Norman Davies. I found Vol 1 to be a bit of a slog to read, especially the middle which described in great detail the foundation of the Republic, and the religious and nobility structure of it. However, it does cover the timeline of Polish dynasties and with masterful description of the Kings, the union with Lithuania and the Republic, as well as the foreign web of complexities involving the Kings following the Jagiellonians, culminating in the events leading The History of Poland as written by Norman Davies. I found Vol 1 to be a bit of a slog to read, especially the middle which described in great detail the foundation of the Republic, and the religious and nobility structure of it. However, it does cover the timeline of Polish dynasties and with masterful description of the Kings, the union with Lithuania and the Republic, as well as the foreign web of complexities involving the Kings following the Jagiellonians, culminating in the events leading to the complete Partition of Poland, and it ceasing to exist as a separate entity. I am not sure if I got a full answer, but the book definitely helped in clarifying the main reason why I seeked it to begin with: i.e. why is the history of the Polish rulers so complicated, and their selection always involving some form of nomination by a council (or forceful imposition by outside rulers). I can't wait to go through Vol 2!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Vanjr

    This is by all accounts the definitive english language history of Poland. The revised version was copyrighted in 2005. The writing is superb, but there are some serious deficiencies. The author is such an expert that he seems to forget that native speakers of english do not have the background knowledge to appreciate much of the writing, indeed some of the writing in latin is not translated and I was left in the dark. The other significant negative is the paucity of illustrations. All illustrati This is by all accounts the definitive english language history of Poland. The revised version was copyrighted in 2005. The writing is superb, but there are some serious deficiencies. The author is such an expert that he seems to forget that native speakers of english do not have the background knowledge to appreciate much of the writing, indeed some of the writing in latin is not translated and I was left in the dark. The other significant negative is the paucity of illustrations. All illustrations are in black and white and many do not have adequate explanatory material. More maps, more descriptions and larger size of some illustrations would be a great help. While i have expressed some negative opinions I look forward to volume 2.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brian Berrett

    Ugh, this book was laborious to get through. I really, really wanted to like it but I didn’t. It is just too textbookish. I have no doubt the author is very intelligent and did a ton of work to write the book. It has a lot of great information in it. It is just too boring. I have part 1 and part 2 and doubt I’ll ever tackle part 2.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Caomhghain

    Covers not only the history but also gives a very thorough and informative view of the social, cultural, religious, etc aspects of the empire. So understanding the social setting at the local level of landowning and social status helps one understand the Partition's happening so much better. Covers not only the history but also gives a very thorough and informative view of the social, cultural, religious, etc aspects of the empire. So understanding the social setting at the local level of landowning and social status helps one understand the Partition's happening so much better.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jane Massy

    Outstanding in its detail and approach.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Warchal

    Best volume of history pre-Revolutionary/Napoleonic era of Poland.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Having studied the history of the UK, US, and France closely (and other countries loosely), the history of Poland blew my mind. Cannot wait for Volume 2.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Kwasnik

    A good book for anyone interested about the early history of Poland. Contains new information for someone with prior knowledge and doesn't leave someone lacking prior knowledge in the dark. A good book for anyone interested about the early history of Poland. Contains new information for someone with prior knowledge and doesn't leave someone lacking prior knowledge in the dark.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This extremely well-researched book provides a comprehensive but well-organized account of Polish history until 1795. Although some may disagree, I enjoyed the structure of the book's three divisions: 1. origins to the union of Lublin in 1569, 2. political, cultural, and economic trends within Poland, 3. Union of Lublin to the final partition in 1795. Davies has explained with clarity the Polish nation's initial consolidation around the Piasts, rivalry with the Teutonic order, golden age under th This extremely well-researched book provides a comprehensive but well-organized account of Polish history until 1795. Although some may disagree, I enjoyed the structure of the book's three divisions: 1. origins to the union of Lublin in 1569, 2. political, cultural, and economic trends within Poland, 3. Union of Lublin to the final partition in 1795. Davies has explained with clarity the Polish nation's initial consolidation around the Piasts, rivalry with the Teutonic order, golden age under the Jagellions and early Vasas, and the cultural, economic, and political machinations of the "golden freedom," the nature of its religious tolerance, and the szlachta nobility culture that was unique to Europe in its persistence. Finally, he concludes the latter half of the book the slow decline and the final accelerated downfall of the Polish kingdom, brought to its knees as a decentralized and constitutionally paralyzed player situated between the rapidly militarizing Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Russia, in particular, figures as a clever but tenacious enemy that was able to paralyze the Republic for the last century of its life, before orchestrating its final destruction with the help of Prussian and Austrian connivance. The last flurry of explosive and self-aware resistance occurs too late, triggering the final and 3rd partition. Davis has given me a genuine feeling for Poland's story and place in European history, both in its early constitutional innovation and its ultimate undoing as an ineffective noble oligarchy. Poland should not be seen as an unimportant player whose history serves the development of more powerful 19th century players, but rather a unique and colourful example of European culture that consciously bucked the trend on absolutism, periods of religious fanaticism, and prevailing ideologies of its time. It is a rare example of an alternative Europe: one shining example which, although far from perfect, offers a glimpse into how institutions within Europe could have looked if they had taken a divergent path. Its story and impact on European and world history is often overlooked in pop history, but this book is able to explain in detail how it was not a leaf tossed in the wind of European ideas, but rather offered much institutional, scientific, and religious innovation of its own, beyond influencing major events in European history on several occasions. It is does not overstate the country's importance, but rather offers a well balanced and mature view of its successes, failures, obscenities, and final humiliations. Its destruction is described with a high degree of empathy and a keen understanding of this often-overlooked nation's legacy to European history, politics, and culture. Overall, this book is a 5/5 as far as history books go: clear, empathetic of its subject, and able to convey a balanced narrative of the nation's successes, changing fortunes, and the causes behind them.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeff DeRosa

    Five stars in terms of depth and research. Two stars pertaining to readability. Do not be fooled; this is a text book! Yes, it's an essential read packed with knowledge about Poland. However, be ready for the grind of reading a text book! Five stars in terms of depth and research. Two stars pertaining to readability. Do not be fooled; this is a text book! Yes, it's an essential read packed with knowledge about Poland. However, be ready for the grind of reading a text book!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Davies doesn't strictly organize the book chronologically. While that is how it is set up for good portions of the books, he also has chapters on specific themes (religion, nobility, peasantry, politics, etc). This works really well in helping to give context to events, and allows for a broader look at Poland. He writes really well, and makes good use of primary sources throughout (including Polish originals, which is nice). I will critique the publisher though, as the text was not that clear, an Davies doesn't strictly organize the book chronologically. While that is how it is set up for good portions of the books, he also has chapters on specific themes (religion, nobility, peasantry, politics, etc). This works really well in helping to give context to events, and allows for a broader look at Poland. He writes really well, and makes good use of primary sources throughout (including Polish originals, which is nice). I will critique the publisher though, as the text was not that clear, and the maps and diagrams were all but useless as a result, but having seen the 1980 version I know that was an issue with this printing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    Get his book and its Vol 2 as well. Considered definitive if you want to understand Poland and its history. I agree.

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Cradock

    Both volumes of `God's Playground` with `White Eagle, Red Star` are must reads. Both volumes of `God's Playground` with `White Eagle, Red Star` are must reads.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kira

    Excellent book on the history of Poland

  30. 4 out of 5

    Wes

    suggested as a polish beginner book by one of gosias friends, dense tho

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