Poland

What I'm reading: Thirty Years of Woe

Peter H Wilson's Europe's TragedyAs ever my reading list is long with both History and Science Fiction but I think it is worthwhile mentioning a few of the history books here as they are most enjoyable.

The first and best of the lot is Europe’s Tragedy by Peter H. Wilson. There are excellent reviews around so I’ll point you to them rather than write my own right now. I’d point out one small irritant which is that Wilson has a tendency to shift what seems to me abruptly between theatres of conflict. I’m getting used to it, but combined with the huge line up of notable actors in the period, it can make reading harder going that I’d like.

The Telepgraph
Worse than the Black Death, worse than the First World War, worse than the Second World War, worse than the Holocaust – that is how the Thirty Years War lives on in the collective German memory. This is just one of many arresting pieces of information to be gleaned from this colossal history of one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history.

The Times
The lead-lined window that sparked it all is still there, of course: you can even open it, and peer down to the dry moat into which the three Catholic imperial counsellors were cast on May 23, 1618 by a group of enraged Bohemian Protestant gentry. The room itself is on the fourth floor of the great Hradschin Palace, which looks over the river to the city of Prague. All is peaceful now, but it wasn’t then; it was the epicentre of a storm that was to engulf much of Europe for the following three decades.

Californian Literary Review
Wilson, whose grasp of 17th century politics and diplomacy is most impressive, makes two significant contributions toward understanding the origin of the Thirty Years War. First, the Holy Roman Empire, which unified the German and Slavic states of Central Europe under Habsburg rule, was a much more effective political force than is generally realized. Differing in organization from a modern nation state, the Empire was an elective monarchy which kept order and cohesion among the component dukedoms, electorates and free city-states.

BBC History magazine
Perhaps most importantly Wilson is an enemy of historical inevitability. The first 300 pages of this book, far from being a countdown to inexorable catastrophe, are largely about why the war should not have occurred. Against the familiar line that a chaotic and enfeebled Holy Roman empire of German principalities, cities and micro-territories was already long past its sell-by date in 1618, Wilson offers a feisty defence of imperial institutions and of their remarkable success during the later 16th century in solving problems of territorial inheritance, religious rights and political rivalries.

One final observation before I leave it for today, the cover for the British and Irish edition is top left and it really is a nice cover but the US edition is really something, far superior and much more attention grabbing so I’ve included it below right.

See what I mean?
Eoin

A day for battles: Warsaw & Blenheim

Eoin Purcell

Warsaw
I’ve written before about the completely fascinating Polish-Soviet War of 1920 and Adam Zamoyski’s excellent book on the topic: Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe. The key battle in that war The Battle of Warsaw began on this day 89 years ago. The initial stages of the battle were not that promising for the Poles as an extract makes clear:

On 13 August Sollohub attacked the outer perimeter in force, and the Polish 11th Division abandoned its positions and fled. Sollohub’s 27th Omsk Division pursued it and was joined unexpectedly by the 21st Rifle Division of Lazarevich’s army, which had strayed into the wrong sector. Together they overran the little town of Radzymin, twenty kilometres from Warsaw, but happily for the Poles the two units became so entangled that they were unable to pursue their advantage.*

Blenheim
John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough , was one the most exceptional military leaders of British history. His most celebrated victory is Blenheim when he prevented the armies of France from advancing towards Vienna in a crushing defeat made possible by his rapid and secretive march from the Low Countries to the Danube. You can a description of the battle in The Fifteen Decisive Battles of The World by Edward Shepherd Creasy. There is a version here in Google Books, sadly you cannot download a copy because although the text itself is well out of copyright and firmly in the public domain, the only copy that seems to be available on GBS is a Forgotten Books version (thus there is IP in the setting and it is not a public domain version)

Below is a great video on Marlborough as a Great Commander.

Quite the day for climactic battles is it not?
Eoin

*Page 84, Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s failed Conquest of Europe, Adam Zamoyski

Warsaw 1920, a quality read

Eoin Purcell


European Wars
I’ve just finished Warsaw 1920 by Adam Zamoyski (responsible for an interesting recent history on the 1814 Congress of Vienna (and several others) in Vienna) a really great fast read.

Relevance
Zamoyski makes a case for the importance of Poland’s victory in the campaign (for a brief overview of the Battle of Warsaw read this wikipedia article) and it is a rather convincing one. One of the strong points in the narrative is that Zamoyski draws out the personalities of the main players pretty well (which is impressive given the short nature of the book).

The somewhat chaotic nature of the Russian commands come through very clearly and the relative inexperience of both states is also fairly obvious. By far the most impressive feat that Zamoyski achieves however is to paint through the book the possibilities and potentials that a Russian victory, or even a slightly different Russian defeat, might have opened up.

I read the book with a degree of anticipation despite knowing the outcome and despite knowing the future of many of the participants. To my mind, that alone makes the book worth reading.

Finishing Tom Holland’s Millenium. Here is a negative-ish review from someone else, more when done.
Eoin