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Even the stones spoke German

Brendan Simms: Wrotizla, Breslau, Wroclaw

28 November 2002
Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City 
by Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse.
Cape, 585 pp., £20, April 2002, 0 224 06243 3
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... much comment. He seemed happy enough when I met him; and his Polish neighbours appeared remarkably incurious about and benevolent towards one of the last living links with their earlier history. NormanDavies and Roger Moorhouse probably never met Schiller, but he could be a character in their stimulating book, which recounts the history of his home town. The name of the town itself does not appear ...
20 February 1997
Europe: A History 
by Norman Davies.
Oxford, 1365 pp., £25, October 1996, 0 19 820171 0
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... It is important to check and verify, as Carlyle sometimes failed to do. But ‘telling it right’ is also important. All historians must tell their tale convincingly, or be ignored. So writes NormanDavies, in the introductory pages of this huge, heroic book. Carlyle claimed in 1834 that ‘the only Poetry is History, could we tell it right.’ In this sense, Europe: A History is an epic work of ...

Little More than an Extension of France

Hugo Young: The British Isles

6 January 2000
The Isles: A History 
by Norman Davies.
Macmillan, 1222 pp., £30, November 1999, 9780333763704
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... followed, in another two hundred, by settlement in two distinct zones, one mainly Celtic – behind those mountains, and on the Green Isle to the west – the other exclusively Germanic. Thus, NormanDavies writes, ‘the conditions had been created where England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales could begin the initial and most tentative phase of their crystallisation.’ The Isles’ deep history ...

Those Streets Over There

John Connelly: The Warsaw Rising

24 June 2004
Rising ’44: ‘The Battle for Warsaw’ 
by Norman Davies.
Pan, 752 pp., £9.99, June 2004, 0 330 48863 5
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... Red Army and its Polish collaborators finally crossed the Vistula in January 1945, they found a tabula rasa on which to inscribe their rule. Could this fiasco have been averted? In his new account, NormanDavies distributes blame among the major powers, including the United States and Britain. But he does not explore the culpability of the Polish leaders who decided to launch the insurgency. The ...

Five Possible Ways to Kill a State

Neal Ascherson: Vanished Kingdoms

15 December 2011
Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe 
by Norman Davies.
Allen Lane, 830 pp., £30, October 2011, 978 1 84614 338 0
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... patriotism and disloyalty to England. Then something snaps. ‘Don’t you come that stuff!’ On the face of it, this film is about a revolt against the restrictions of postwar Britain. But to read NormanDavies’s new book is to see many other ideas, some conscious and others perhaps unrecognised by the scriptwriters, stamped on the pages of Passport to Pimlico. Burgundy, as it happens, is one of ...
27 July 1989
... recent brutalities of Tiananmen Square: total control both of the military and of all forms of political activity obviously makes possible an almost limitless exercise of power. But martial law, as NormanDavies has pointed out in The Heart of Europe, was introduced by the ‘core of the Communist establishment’, the Army leaders, because every other source of authority had been exhausted. They ...
20 May 1982
God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol 1., The Origins to 1745, Vol. 11, 1745 to the Present 
by Norman Davies.
Oxford, 605 pp., £27.50, December 1981, 0 19 822555 5
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... Dr Davies claims that ‘very few comprehensive surveys of Polish history, written by British and American scholars, have ever been attempted.’ He sees himself as producing something which had a predecessor ...
17 September 1998
Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century 
by Mark Mazower.
Penguin, 496 pp., £20, March 1998, 0 7139 9159 3
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... competing for the loyalties of Europeans in the 20th century – liberal democracy, Communism and Fascism – had a real chance of success. The triumph of liberal democracy was not predestined. Like NormanDavies in his monumental Europe: A History, Mazower gives ample space to Central and Eastern Europe, redressing the balance of countless conventional histories. Above all, as its deliciously ...


Peter Burke

21 May 1987
The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline 
by J.H. Elliott.
Yale, 733 pp., £19.95, August 1986, 0 300 03390 7
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Philip IV and the Decoration of the Alcazar of Madrid 
by Steven Orso.
Princeton, 227 pp., £36.70, July 1986, 0 691 04036 2
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... magnify it. Is there no other possibility? In the last few years we have seen some interesting experiments in historical writing – by Natalie Davis, for example, in The Return of Martin Guerre, by NormanDavies in his Heart of Europe, and by Jonathan Spence in a number of studies of China. Their innovations in narrative form – making ordinary people protagonists, telling a story backwards, and so ...
6 August 1992
Murther and Walking Spirits 
by Robertson Davies.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 357 pp., £14.95, October 1991, 1 85619 078 1
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... I have been sometimes praised, sometimes mocked, for my way of pointing out the mythical elements that seem to me to underlie our apparently ordinary lives.’ Dunstan Ramsay, the hero of Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business, says this; but one can assume that Davies is also talking about the reception of his own novels. To reduce character and incident to their ‘mythical elements’ can be ...

Who remembers the Poles?

Richard J. Evans: Between Hitler and Stalin

4 November 2010
Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin 
by Timothy Snyder.
Bodley Head, 524 pp., £25, September 2010, 978 0 224 08141 2
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... A number of other historians have written recently, and more perceptively, about this same topic, from Richard Overy in The Dictators to Robert Gellately in Lenin, Stalin and Hitler – some, like NormanDavies in Europe at War 1939-45, from a similar perspective to Snyder’s own. Despite the widespread misapplication of Hitler’s statement about the Armenians, few claims advanced in Snyder’s ...


Richard Usborne

24 January 1980
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 
Oxford, 908 pp., £12.50, November 1980, 9780192115607Show More
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... Anyway, this is where I at last track down the verses I was made to learn as a boy, for recitation, and my non-location of which has now been irritating me for weeks. From a little blue book, about a Norman baron dying. I only remember bits, and probably misremember those: In his chamber, weak and dying, Was a Norman baron lying … I couldn’t find this in Scott (school prize), nor in Kipling’s ...

Bugger me blue

Ian Hamilton

22 October 1992
The Selected Letters of Philip Larkin 
edited by Anthony Thwaite.
Faber, 759 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 571 15197 3
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... There is a story that when William F. Buckley Jr sent a copy of his essays to Norman Mailer, he pencilled a welcoming ‘Hi, Norman!’ in the Index, next to Mailer’s name. A similar tactic might happily have been ventured by the publishers of Philip Larkin’s Letters: the book’s back pages are going to be well-thumbed ...
19 October 2006
Richard Rogers: Architecture of the Future 
by Kenneth Powell.
Birkhäuser, 520 pp., £29.90, December 2005, 3 7643 7049 1
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Richard Rogers: Complete Works, Vol. III 
by Kenneth Powell.
Phaidon, 319 pp., £59.95, July 2006, 0 7148 4429 2
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... is more civic-minded. Although young by architectural standards in 1971, Rogers had several years of practice behind him. A graduate of the Architectural Association, he attended Yale in 1961-62 with Norman Foster; the two were in partnership, together with their spouses, until 1967. Hard though it is to imagine today, Team 4 disbanded for lack of work, but not before they had completed a breakthrough ...

The Fug o’Fame

David Goldie: Hugh MacDiarmid’s letters

6 June 2002
New Selected Letters 
by Hugh MacDiarmid, edited by Dorian Grieve.
Carcanet, 572 pp., £39.95, August 2001, 1 85754 273 8
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... it at all makes clear his own big-headedness – the great pleasure he took in the enormousness and occasional enormity of his ego – as well as his lifelong obsession with size and comparison. Norman MacCaig, who knew him well, thought MacDiarmid was an ‘egomaniac’; Seamus Heaney has described him as ‘very egocentric’. Neither of them, sensibly, thinks that an imperfect or monstrous life ...

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