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MICROCOSM: Portrait of a Central European City (history of Wrocław)

27 Feb 2013 #1
Ostensibly, it's a history of Wrocław, as told through the age. Using the Austro-Prussian and Napoleonic wars, etc; as well as the Hapsburg dynasties and others actions in Wro to tells the story of European and World history as a whole. Hence: Microcosm. We're supposed to extrapolate from the dense text what the repercussions of all the Wilhems and Mongols et al that have affected Wrocław a closer sense of how the world itself was affected during that time. It's by Norman Davies, the celebrated Welsh professor of "All Things Polish", and his Germanist researcher, the historian Roger Moorhouse. The book is thicker than cold molasses, and moves about as quickly. Dense with dates, statistics, minor characters and an annoying practice of jumping back and forth hundreds of years at a time within a single chapter, this is NOT an nice book to read casually in bed, or by the beach. It's a overly-researched and under-humanized account of every battle, council meeting, and policy change of the last 800 years of Vratislavia. It is boring. Nothing about this tome speaks from or to the heart. It's dry as kindling, and makes the thrilling history of such a storied town feel like chewing a saltine cracker. I had truly high hopes for this book, and am as equally disappointed as I excited prior to opening it. Oh well.
Ziemowit 13 | 4,235
27 Feb 2013 #2
I think I can agree with you: it is not a book for the general public though it seems it was meant to be such. I have the book, started to read it once, but gave up after having read a small passage. I have no personal links to Wrocław except that my two aunts who were born to a family that lived close to the Polish border with Germany before 1939 (thus not a very long distance from the town formerly known as Breslau) moved to it after 1945. Now that you've mentioned the book, I will try to get to the book once again.

The book by Norman Davies which may interest you is: Europe East and West, 336pp, Jonathan Cape, £20. Here's what the Guardian says about it ...

Norman Davies is obsessed by a single idea. This is that the history of Europe has been monopolised by the west to the detriment of its eastern component. Himself an expert on Poland, Davies objects to the division drawn since classical times between the civilisation implanted by Rome and the barbarism overflowing from the steppes.

... and about his other books in an article of 11 November 2006:

Much of Davies's academic endeavour has been to bridge the gulf, to show that Europe is a whole and that it makes no sense to examine its parts in isolation. His bestselling Europe: A History(1996) was an admirably comprehensive study that overcame the difficulties of generalisation by peppering the text with separate snapshots and thumbnail sketches.
thetenminuteman 1 | 80
27 Feb 2013 #3
I actually found it quite good, especially the chapter about Breslau. It was news to me just how Polish it was for a German city.

However, I like such books. I don't care about the human factor that relies on emotion, I care about hard facts.
Ziemowit 13 | 4,235
27 Feb 2013 #4
It was news to me just how Polish it was for a German city.

The Germans seem to have convinced the world that Breslau had been German for ages before 1945. In reality, Breslau and the entire Silesia became German (Prussian) only as late as 1741 by getting it from Austria in the result of a war.
grubas 12 | 1,390
27 Feb 2013 #5
The Germans seem to have convinced the world that Breslau had been German

That's not their best achievement on this field.They seem to managed to convince the world that they didn't start WW II and murdered millions.It were some Nazis.
ifor bach 11 | 152
27 Feb 2013 #6
They seem to managed to convince the world that they didn't start WW II and murdered millions.

No, they don't.
sobieski 107 | 2,128
27 Feb 2013 #7
I studied history and I find this a good book. Well-researched and especially the first chapter is gripping, showing the plight of the German population under the Soviet attack.

Roger Moorhouse has been Davies' researcher and co-writer since ages. First time he was mentioned as such.
OP jasondmzk
27 Feb 2013 #8
My father-in-law once interview Davies for Radio Wrocław. I wish I heard more to tell you, but my wife only mentioned it to me in passing, and I've yet to question my teść about the encounter. Microcosm had fact a'plenty, but not the kind that connected with me. I'd like to know the story of the building certain church, and who decided to put a certain cemetery where. I think the book could have used half as many numbers and twice as many photos, and I'd have been pleased. Now, I'm unsure whether to take his his broader history of Poland I also received with me when I travel there, shortly.
Palivec - | 380
27 Feb 2013 #9
I actually found it quite good, especially the chapter about Breslau

If you think Breslau was somehow Polish you should read the book again. First of all, it was written on behalf of the town council, which, in the 90s, was looking for new ways to come to terms with the past of the city. During Commie times Breslau was always Polish, only Germanized by the Prussians in the 18th and 19th century. This theory was so stupid that everyone with a little bit of knowledge and open eyes knew it was propaganda. The new perspective was the multicultural city, a view in which the population exchange after 1945 becomes just the last episode in a long list of ethnic changes.... in fact, this view creates a continuity. To propagate this view the multicultural aspects get overemphasized, and Davies' Microcosm is a prime example here. In each chapter many pages are about the ethnic composition of the city, even if there is not much to report. After ~1500 he can hardly find autochthon Poles anymore in the city, and tries to hide this fact by mentioning the few he can find (like these two obscure priests on the outskirts of the city, or this one Polish teacher in a tiny school). Several times he's also dependent on hearsay and doesn't check if these sources are true or not. Not scientific at all.

As a book for people who still believe in the old Commie propaganda it's OK, as a scientific work it's not even mediocre. If you want to read a good book get Encyklopedia Wroclawia.

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