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The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999

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Timothy Snyder traces the emergence of four rival modern nationalist ideologies from common medieval notions of citizenship. He presents the ideological innovations and ethnic cleansings that abetted the spread of modern nationalism but also examines recent statesmanship that has allowed national interests to be channeled toward peace. “A work of profound scholarship and co Timothy Snyder traces the emergence of four rival modern nationalist ideologies from common medieval notions of citizenship. He presents the ideological innovations and ethnic cleansings that abetted the spread of modern nationalism but also examines recent statesmanship that has allowed national interests to be channeled toward peace. “A work of profound scholarship and considerable importance.”—Timothy Garton Ash, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford “Timothy Snyder’s style is a welcome reminder that history writing can be—indeed, ought to be—a literary pursuit.”—Charles King, Times Literary Supplement “A brilliant and fascinating analysis of the subtleties, complexities, and paradoxes of the evolution of nations in Eastern Europe. It has major implications for all of us who want to understand the processes of state collapse and nation-building in the world.”—Samuel P. Huntington, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies “Snyder’s ultimate query in this fresh and stimulating look at the path to nationhood is how the bitter experiences along the way, including the bitterest—ethnic cleansing—are to be overcome.”—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs


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Timothy Snyder traces the emergence of four rival modern nationalist ideologies from common medieval notions of citizenship. He presents the ideological innovations and ethnic cleansings that abetted the spread of modern nationalism but also examines recent statesmanship that has allowed national interests to be channeled toward peace. “A work of profound scholarship and co Timothy Snyder traces the emergence of four rival modern nationalist ideologies from common medieval notions of citizenship. He presents the ideological innovations and ethnic cleansings that abetted the spread of modern nationalism but also examines recent statesmanship that has allowed national interests to be channeled toward peace. “A work of profound scholarship and considerable importance.”—Timothy Garton Ash, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford “Timothy Snyder’s style is a welcome reminder that history writing can be—indeed, ought to be—a literary pursuit.”—Charles King, Times Literary Supplement “A brilliant and fascinating analysis of the subtleties, complexities, and paradoxes of the evolution of nations in Eastern Europe. It has major implications for all of us who want to understand the processes of state collapse and nation-building in the world.”—Samuel P. Huntington, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies “Snyder’s ultimate query in this fresh and stimulating look at the path to nationhood is how the bitter experiences along the way, including the bitterest—ethnic cleansing—are to be overcome.”—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs

30 review for The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is a riveting history of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus, and how these “nations” fluctuated over historical time in terms of geography, language, culture, ethnicity... Only after the extreme onslaught of the Second World War did these regions become more homogenous ethnically then they were in the past. Mr. Snyder goes into detail on the cleansing that these countries underwent from Hitler, Stalin and themselves. The German attack in Eastern Europe unleashed the ethnic hatreds that h This is a riveting history of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus, and how these “nations” fluctuated over historical time in terms of geography, language, culture, ethnicity... Only after the extreme onslaught of the Second World War did these regions become more homogenous ethnically then they were in the past. Mr. Snyder goes into detail on the cleansing that these countries underwent from Hitler, Stalin and themselves. The German attack in Eastern Europe unleashed the ethnic hatreds that had built up over centuries; which is not to say that animosities never existed prior to 1939, far from it. Mr. Snyder also describes how Poland’s emancipation from the Soviet Bloc was a positive influence on Eastern Europe, particularly the emerging countries from the former Soviet Union. Poland refused to open up the Pandora’s Box of history, and looking to the future, established good relations with its neighbors – Ukraine, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus and the newly unified Germany. As the author mentions a “Yugoslavia” of ethnic geographical confrontations could have erupted (as in the past) with the contested lands that had at one time belonged to either Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and other countries. I did find this book opaque when reading about history prior to the Twentieth Century (this constitutes about one-fifth of the book). The author presumes a familiarity with historical events that I did not have. Little is mentioned about the Eastern Ukraine and Stalin’s horrible devastation of it during the 1930’s. Ruthenia is mentioned but not explained. Same for the Uniate Church. But we do get an excellent flow of these countries in the Twentieth Century and their long and troubled road to nationhood. We are given the varying, and often conflicting, historical interpretations of these different nationalities. For a group of people history is never objective.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    The Maidan saga is still evolving, and it recently took an ugly pivot to the past, as has been documented in Foreign Policy journal and elsewhere. Shortly after the new Ukrainian government ascended to power, President Poroshenko appointed an amateur historian whose nationalist views have been the subject of ridicule by historians of Ukraine worldwide to the post of Director at the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance. The historian in question has a record of downplaying and denying the The Maidan saga is still evolving, and it recently took an ugly pivot to the past, as has been documented in Foreign Policy journal and elsewhere. Shortly after the new Ukrainian government ascended to power, President Poroshenko appointed an amateur historian whose nationalist views have been the subject of ridicule by historians of Ukraine worldwide to the post of Director at the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance. The historian in question has a record of downplaying and denying the crimes against humanity carried out by the OUN and the UPA during the 1940s; now he controls the largest archive in Ukraine. THIS is why reading Snyder's work in 2016 gives us pause. THIS is why history is important and valuable and why the purest evaluations of historical events are always unbiased and objective. There is a war in Ukraine going on as I write this review and a broader, nasty information war between the Russian and Ukrainian/western media that is warping our sense of the truth. At the same time, the generation of WWII veterans and survivors is fading away and the events that transpired are less tangible by the day. What happened in Ukraine during the years of 1942-3? As Snyder writes, and despite what Ukrainian patriots riding the current nationalist wave might tell you, there were "about twelve thousand Ukrainian policemen (who) assisted about fourteen hundred German policemen in the murder of about two hundred thousand Volhynian Jews" in 1942 and that this was the formative experience for Ukrainians who would later join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. The next year, over 100,000 Poles living in Volyn and Halychyna were murdered by the Insurgent Army. There is no way to dispute these facts, which have been documented by primary sources and collected by many historians, Snyder included. My point in this review is not to shame Ukraine or Ukrainians. God knows the Soviet government perpetrated crimes against its own citizens and others, including Ukrainians, on a larger scale with similar brutality. The point I want to make is that one cannot bend, twist, or simply erase events like the Holocaust or the Polish-Ukrainian civil war and ethnic cleansing that did in fact happen, no matter what anyone would have you believe. History is too often used to support nationalist movements, and Snyder's work does a service to breaking down nationalist myths, which is perhaps the most valuable contribution contained within this gem of readable, "accessible" history. In addition to the bitter truth about Ukrainian nationalist movements, you will find a wonderfully woven timeline of places we consider nations today: Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. Until the 20th century, the lines defining where "Poland" ended and "Ukraine" began were much blurrier; people didn't necessarily identify language as a mark of ethnicity until modern nationalism took root. Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, did not have a majority of Lithuanian speakers until 1945. All four nationalist movements in the book's title have claimed Adam Mickiewicz as a national poet at some point in history. According to Polish opinion polls taken in the late 1980s, Polish people were more fearful of aggression from an independent Ukraine than from any other country in Europe including the Soviet Union/Russia and a united, temporarily recidivist Germany. More fascinating facts are contained within the pages of this book. This was the first book I've read by Snyder. What an unbelievable introduction to his work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk

    My "to read" shelves are prioritised; "these can wait" and "these must be read soon". There are books that languish there, on the shelves, if not covered in cobwebs (my wife would never allow that ignominy) then certainly enshrouded in an invisible thick web of time. It is my shame that this book languished on my shelves for so long. It has sat there, in the "these must be read soon", for a number of years. It has sent out signals that "there things here of great worth" but I have constantly gla My "to read" shelves are prioritised; "these can wait" and "these must be read soon". There are books that languish there, on the shelves, if not covered in cobwebs (my wife would never allow that ignominy) then certainly enshrouded in an invisible thick web of time. It is my shame that this book languished on my shelves for so long. It has sat there, in the "these must be read soon", for a number of years. It has sent out signals that "there things here of great worth" but I have constantly glanced, momentarily paused and then moved on to another. Shame on me. This is a superb book, a work of true scholarship. It explains the roots of so many problems and provides so many answers in a part of the world I love well. It is a work of real significance in the understanding of the history of the former lands of the Rzeszpospolita, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It clarifies the evolution of political ideas in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine and explains the history of enmity that developed between these once united "nations". It begins by describing the dominant role of Poland in the relationship, the roles of language and religion, of culture. It exposes the flaws, especially in the Rzeszpospolita's relationship with the Ukraine, which ultimately contributed to the disappearance of this great, "modern" state. It tracks the growth of nationalism and the conflict of interest between those who believed in an ethnic nation state and those who believed in a federation that had its roots in the Commonwealth. We see the rise of suspicion, fear and hatred; the emergence of war and ethnic cleansing in times of chaos, and we see the way the Poles evolved a means of overcoming these stumbling blocks in order to create a successful transition in the movement towards the creation of independent states in this part of Europe. This is a magnificent book, a great history and a superb commentary. It is so well-written and easy to read; there are very few points at which I had to pause and re-read a part in order to take it in. Timothy Snyder had already attracted my attention in his marvellous work "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin", now he has been raised to the Pantheon of the greats.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    Jesli Europa jest nimfa -- Neapol Jest nimfy okiem blekitnem Sercim – cierniami w nodze: Sewatopol, Azow, Odessa, Petersburg, Mitawa – Paryz jej glowna Nakrochmalonym – a zas Rzym … szlaplerzem Juliusz Slowacki wrote the above in 1836. Norman Davies cites these words in “Heart of Europe” and offers this translation: “If Europe is a nymph, then Naples is the nymph’s bright blue eyes – Warsaw is her heart, whilst Sevastopol, Azov, Odessa, Petersburg, and Mitau are the sharp points of her feet. Paris is Jesli Europa jest nimfa -- Neapol Jest nimfy okiem blekitnem Sercim – cierniami w nodze: Sewatopol, Azow, Odessa, Petersburg, Mitawa – Paryz jej glowna Nakrochmalonym – a zas Rzym … szlaplerzem Juliusz Slowacki wrote the above in 1836. Norman Davies cites these words in “Heart of Europe” and offers this translation: “If Europe is a nymph, then Naples is the nymph’s bright blue eyes – Warsaw is her heart, whilst Sevastopol, Azov, Odessa, Petersburg, and Mitau are the sharp points of her feet. Paris is her head – London her starched collar – and Rome her boney shoulder.” Tim Snyder’s book is the best book I’ve read about the “Heart” of Europe in 25 years. He does an absolutely remarkable job of using history, literature, poetry, myth, religion, politics and more to carefully lead us from the Lublin Union of 1569 to the present (which was 2003 when this book was published in 2004). Poland is at the heart of this book and deservedly so since it is the Poles who were able to break and set aside, particularly the years 1939 through 1947, the bonds of their tortured history to lead their nation into the 21st century and “re-union” with Europe. In the process they led the Baltic nations, most especially Lithuania, to do the same. Timothy Snyder has spent considerable time in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine. This book reads and flows extremely well and it is clear those years of study and experience in these countries led to the book’s conceptualization. At the outset he lets us understand his approach: "To argue with meta history risks accepting its rules of engagement: and nonsense turned on its head remains nonsense.... Dialectics of myth and meta history sharpen the minds of nationalists, and are thus properly a subject rather than a method of national history." In other words, he very carefully reconstructs not only what happened but gives us insight – to the extent possible -- into what happened. In the process, he is extremely even handed resisting the opportunities to come down disposed to one side or the other. He is very strong when he speaks of myth and in particular the efforts of one nation to attempt to adopt someone else’s national poet into another culture as both Lithuania and Belarus did with the great poet Adam Mickiewicz’s Polish literary epic, “Pan Tadeusz.” He comes down hard on Belarus: “In a society still overwhelmingly concerned with status, translating folk culture into a literary language is one thing; translating literary masterpieces into the speech of peasants is quite another. The cultured may be charmed when someone brings a muddy pearl back from the sty, but it does not follow that they like seeing their own pearls thrown before swine.” He is referring to the attempt to translate Mickiewicz’s epic into Belarusian which was barely a codified language in the mid-1800s. There were points where I wondered if Tim Snyder isn't more of a literature professor than history professor, but I reminded myself that literature and art are windows on history. Tim Snyder uses these windows superbly. One of the saddest parts of the book concerns the very tortured history of Lithuania in World War II and just after. Will let Snyder’s words provide a sample: "Einsatzkommando 9 of the German Reich arrived in Vilnius on 2 July 1941. Having incorporated thousands of Lithuanian volunteers into its ranks, it began to eliminate Vilnius's Jews. In July and August 1941, hundreds of Jews were abducted by German and Lithuanian Einsatzkommando soldiers. These Jews were murdered by Germans and Lithuanians in the sand pits of the Paneriai (Ponary) forest. Much of the actual killing at Paneriai was carried out by Lithuanian volunteers known as the Special Platoon (Ypatingas Burys). In September 1941 3,700 Jews were rounded up and shot in the sand pits. On 6 September, 38,000 Jews were crammed into two small ghettos; another 6,000 or so were taken to the sand pits and shot. In October and November 1941, in seven actions, more than 12,000 Jews were taken from the two ghettos to the sand pits and shot ….” It was worse in the Ukraine. I suspect that what happened in the Ukraine was perhaps the most brutal chapter of World War II with the possible exception of the Rape of Nanking. I’ve already recounted enough of this book to give you the flavor. I would only add that if you want to have anything like an understanding of what is happening in Eastern Europe today, particularly Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine you need to read this book. It is the most even handed treatment of the area that I have read. You will also gain an understanding of why the Poles and Lithuanians have become part of the European Union while Belarus and the Ukraine have not. I spent three years in Poland from 1990 to 1993. Why Poland was able to avoid being a victim of her history while the Ukraine has not is very well spelled out. As a final note, I am privileged to have worked for a great diplomat and ambassador, Thomas W. Simons. Tom saw Tim Snyder’s book through from the beginning. I can think of one or two people I admire as much as Tom Simons, but no one I admire more. And, finally, I am very much prejudiced toward the Poles. How could I not be? I have a “brother” and a “sister” there. We are not related by blood, but our hearts beat in rhythm.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    The nation, as a thing, has become such a taken for granted of contemporary culture and politics - in its various forms of the nation-state, of the nation as ethnic group, of the nation as self-determining - that it is sometimes difficult to remember that it is the product of historical, social, political and cultural choices, changes and developments. There are few places on the 'Old World' where this is as obviously the case as east and central Europe, that area fought over, claimed and traver The nation, as a thing, has become such a taken for granted of contemporary culture and politics - in its various forms of the nation-state, of the nation as ethnic group, of the nation as self-determining - that it is sometimes difficult to remember that it is the product of historical, social, political and cultural choices, changes and developments. There are few places on the 'Old World' where this is as obviously the case as east and central Europe, that area fought over, claimed and traversed by the Habsburgs, the Romanovs, and the various groups and dynasties that became modern Germany, and this book healthy remainder that we can't really get a grasp on European history without engaging with east-central Europe: a top quality exploration of the difficult thing that was the Polish-Lithuanian empire. The Polish-Lithuanian empire is one of Europe's lost states - a sprawling multi-ethnic confederation extending from Estonia in the north almost to the Black Sea in the south, from just east of modern Berlin in the west to half way between Minsk & Moscow in the east: it was a huge, powerful social and political force during the 16th and 17th centuries, the history of which has profoundly shaped east European politics ever since. Snyder's history, however, is not one of the Empire, its growth and collapse but in many ways of what happened next, of the demise of the Empire and the emergence of modern nations - Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine & Poland: Latvia and Estonia barely rate a mention. But then the powerful parts of the tale lie in the complex area that is the Lithuanian, Polish, Belrussian and Ukranian border areas, which Snyder reveals by exploring in detail the area once known as Volhynia, and area of Germanic and Slavic language groups, of Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox and other religious meeting and tension, and an area of continuing cross border cultural exchange that challenges the 'uniformity' of both Polishness and Belrussianess. My principal concern is not with this Volhynian focus - it is an excellent way to explore the topic - but with Snyder's inability (depressingly common in post-Fukuyama studies) to distinguish the causes and effects of changes and politics during the Soviet and Nazi eras in places such as Volhynia with the effect that he comes close to equating Nazi era genocide with post-war Soviet era policies. I am not trying to deny the effects of mass post-war population transmigrations, of seeing them as actions that developed into what we now call 'ethnic cleansing' - an awful term, but they were not anywhere near genocide and their respective totalitarianisms were nt in any way the same thing. This weakness in the book (and some of Snyder's other work) is disappointing, because the book is in most other respects and theoretically and empirically rich exploration of an important (not only because forgotten) aspect of European history. It is, as far as I am concerned, vital for scholars of nations and nationalism - but be careful of the failures to adequately disaggregate the political forms of the mid 20th century.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Max Tang

    In this ambitious treatise, Timothy Snyder summarized the tumultuous evolutions in these four countries. Poland, as the regional hegemony, more or less served as an underlying narrative to the historical events: from the earlier Lublin Union, to the contemporary entry to the European Union and NATO. The book started with a discussion of pre-modern periods. Vilnius served as a telling angle of the complexity of national narratives. Vilnius is the current capital of Lithuania but has historically In this ambitious treatise, Timothy Snyder summarized the tumultuous evolutions in these four countries. Poland, as the regional hegemony, more or less served as an underlying narrative to the historical events: from the earlier Lublin Union, to the contemporary entry to the European Union and NATO. The book started with a discussion of pre-modern periods. Vilnius served as a telling angle of the complexity of national narratives. Vilnius is the current capital of Lithuania but has historically been under claims from various countries. It is by no means simply a Lithuanian city. In the middle ages, a third of the inhabitants were Jewish, and Lithuanian was in minority. Its current ethnic composition was more or less the work of the Nazi Germany, who killed almost all the Jews, and the Soviet Union, who forcefully migrated the Poles. By discussing the historical evolution of the city, the author presented a very strong argument against the metahistorical attempts of political interests. The author did a good job pointing out the linguistic undertone of social structures and historical events. For example, Polish has always been the language of culture and elitism; thus various nationalists from the early modern period faced challenges constructing a non-Polish culture. Also, Polish minorities failed to integrate well into the post-war Lithuania partly because it was hard for Poles to learn a Baltic language (Lithuanian). Belarusian was historically mostly spoken among the peasants and lacked its own cultural texts; thus its nationalists faced a distinct challenge when they tried to use the language to define their nation. Russian was later elected as an official language and easily dominated education. Some of the discussions on the role of religions were interesting. In earlier periods, unification with the Roman Catholic Church was always perceived as a way to the West, whereas the Orthodoxy was perceived as a turn towards the East. The Brest Union in 1596 established the Uniate Church, which shared communion with the Roman Catholic Church but preserved some of the Orthodox rites. Thus it partly served as Poland-Lithuania’s move towards the Western tradition. However, the role of religion started to decline, and the establishment of modern states without any strong religious statements was in itself a demonstration of modernity. The book was published in 2003 but its narrative largely finished at the turn of the century (1999). By then, the Soviet Union has disintegrated. Poland, Lithuanian and Ukraine started to seek European integration, whereas Belarus decisively turned towards Russia. By recognizing the status quo of existing borders and regarding each state as its peer - which was essential when it comes to issues with the policy to deal with minorities - Poland swiftly laid the groundwork for EU integration and served as a gateway to the EU project for other countries in the region. In 2004, one year after the book’s publication, Poland joined the European Union after years of work that paved its path. The author speaks highly of Poland’s Kultura vision which served as the framework for post Soviet affairs. Timothy Snyder narrated mostly with a political and cultural perspective. Maybe adding an economic perspective would render something afresh, but admittedly it was not the book’s objective. The book was a narrative about narratives, and did not attempt to be an encyclopedic discussion of this region’s history. One other minor shortcoming may be the language - some of which was rather figurative. The sentences are sometimes constructed in a way that does not flow well. At various points I thought it was written by a non-native speaker, only to realize that he could not have been more native. It is best to read an introductory book prior to this one. I personally relied heavily on internet especially Wikipedia (unfortunately) to get the context of the discussions, but it was an arduous read. Especially when it comes to the 20th century, the author often do not give sufficient introduction to the plethora of regionally prominent but internationally obscure politicians - which apparently could make it less than an engaging read for readers without prior knowledge.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Evgen

    In this book, Professor Snyder shows how the political identities of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus have formed starting from the foundation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Hardly any other author could have condensed the century-long history of the four nations into such a well-structured, detail-rich volume. Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in Eastern Europe.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    An excellent book. Insightful, subtle, clear. I learned an enormous amount about the history and politics of Eastern Europe as well as the evolution of nationalism and state formation. I read it slowly and got much out of it. The proofreader did not.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Lesson learned from this book: If you were "Ukrainian," "Polish," or "Belorussian," most of the 20th-century sucked for you. Also, trust no one!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrey Chu

    Clearly a must-read for anyone from Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania or Belarus with even minor interest in history. The book discusses the heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the process of building nations and nation-states it originated. It discusses the emergence of modern day's nationalism that substituted the hundreds-years old political and cultural tradition with spurious national myths and national pantheons. It deals with how the name Lithuania become unquestionably associated with Clearly a must-read for anyone from Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania or Belarus with even minor interest in history. The book discusses the heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the process of building nations and nation-states it originated. It discusses the emergence of modern day's nationalism that substituted the hundreds-years old political and cultural tradition with spurious national myths and national pantheons. It deals with how the name Lithuania become unquestionably associated with a tiny Baltic nation-state not just by Lithuanian nationalists but also by Belarusian, Polish and Jewish descendants of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It discusses how Adam Mickiewicz being born near Baranavichy and spending most of his life in emigration became a divided national hero for Poles and modern-day Lithuanians. It touches the topic of how the city that was home to thousands Polish and Yiddish speakers, surrounded by the villages where people called themselves 'the locals' in Belarusian (their native tongue) during the lifetime of one generation became Lithuanian heartland. It mentions how Commonwealth, the country of two nations started being perceived as a bigger Poland. It talks about nationalism in its worst and a mutual ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians and Poles in Volynhya and Galicia, where the whole notion of nationality was ambiguous. It speaks of the Russian occupation and Soviet ethnic politics and violent purges and how they influenced the self-perception of the people in today's Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. But even more than that, this book gives to an attentive reader an insight into those times between early-modern and modern history, where the whole concept of nationality, ethnicity and nation-state was forged.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John

    My paternal grandparents were Catholic Lithuanians who emigrated to the United States before the First World War. I have spent many years looking for a readable history of modern Lithuania in English, but was unable to find anything but dense self-serving histories written by opinionated Lithuanian nationalists. I am happy to say the Timothy Snyder has remedied that deficiency with "The Reconstruction of Nations". While his scholarly tone can make the book hard going at times, Snyder is admirably My paternal grandparents were Catholic Lithuanians who emigrated to the United States before the First World War. I have spent many years looking for a readable history of modern Lithuania in English, but was unable to find anything but dense self-serving histories written by opinionated Lithuanian nationalists. I am happy to say the Timothy Snyder has remedied that deficiency with "The Reconstruction of Nations". While his scholarly tone can make the book hard going at times, Snyder is admirably impartial when he evaluates the respective claims of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus to the so-called borderlands between Poland and Russia. As he did in "Bloodlands - Europe between Hitler and Stalin", written 10 years after this book, the author pulls no punches in depicting the spasms of extreme ethnic violence that characterized this part of Europe in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, and then during and after World War II. Snyder ably exposes the nationalist myths propounded by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians to justify their respective claims to the borderlands, and also highlights the rich and ancient Ashkenazi Jewish culture of these territories that was extinguished forever in the years 1941-45. He also depicts the political and cultural importance of Poland and ethnic Poles outside of Poland to the the life of this area. In terms of giving a good – and reasonably objective –overview the history of a corner of Europe little known to Western readers, this book for me was well worth the effort.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matt Schmalzel

    We are generally so conditioned to understand that nation = state = ethnicity = language = territory that we seldom pause to question the underlying assumptions and historical trajectory of this notion. This book does so with aplomb by taking as its subject the lands of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a political entity that was the largest country in early modern Europe and contained a startling diversity of languages, religious beliefs, and political realities. The historical deconstru We are generally so conditioned to understand that nation = state = ethnicity = language = territory that we seldom pause to question the underlying assumptions and historical trajectory of this notion. This book does so with aplomb by taking as its subject the lands of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a political entity that was the largest country in early modern Europe and contained a startling diversity of languages, religious beliefs, and political realities. The historical deconstruction of the Commonwealth by neighboring empires precipitated nascent nationalist movements centered on language groups with their own territorial ambitions based on perceived ethnicity rather than on shared political or religious realities. How this played out in the context of two world wars, the Holocaust, and the Soviet domination of their aftermath is skillfully explained in a balanced and forthright manner. It goes almost without saying that the Twentieth Century inflicted some of its worst wounds on this part of Europe, which makes the book's discussion of how several stable and peaceful nation-states emerged from the wreckage invaluable and a real contribution to a holistic understanding of a complicated region.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rahul Chatterjee

    In this fascinating book, Timothy Snyder traces the emergence of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Belarusian nationhood over four centuries, discusses various atrocities (including the first account of the massive Ukrainian-Polish ethnic cleansings of the 1940s), and examines Poland’s recent successful negotiations with its newly independent Eastern neighbors, as it has channeled national interest toward peace. An engaging, sophisticated, and highly readable study that we will be arguing with a In this fascinating book, Timothy Snyder traces the emergence of Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Belarusian nationhood over four centuries, discusses various atrocities (including the first account of the massive Ukrainian-Polish ethnic cleansings of the 1940s), and examines Poland’s recent successful negotiations with its newly independent Eastern neighbors, as it has channeled national interest toward peace. An engaging, sophisticated, and highly readable study that we will be arguing with and against for many years to come… . An ambitious and sophisticated work deserving a broad readership… . Few works provide such a compelling portrait of the complexity of modern national identity, its greatness, and its crimes. For anyone interested in the ‘lands between’ Germany and Russia, ethnic relations, or the history of modern nationalism, this book is required reading.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lesia Mandzevych

    A good piece of smooth and tolerant historical reading, suitable for large audiences. The biggest asset of this book is its "bigger picture" approach that allows readers to go beyond their national historical narratives, often too one-sided and opinionated. Mr. Snyder offers constructive, yet the empathetic way of understanding and acceptance of mutual history, very much needed nowadays in Eastern Europe.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marc Pearce

    This was a deeply academic, and thoroughly detailed presentation of the history of nations that arose from out of the remnants of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Not a quick, or light read by any means, but a very enlightening history, that's well worth the time spent absorbing it all. Simply excellent scholarship, that should not be passed over. Highly recommended reading!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    I read this book to prepare for an upcoming trip to Poland and Lithuania. It's an excellent, dense history. Some passages required re-reading because he's quite brilliant but not always that clear. He's a huge fan of early-1990's Poland. Not sure how he feels today. Relatively-little attention to the Jews but I know he's written other books.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Trachuk

    Great book about four nations formation. Especially for me, as I living in Precarpathian Galicia. A great honor to Giedroyc and his Kultura. The Polish nation was big minds in the 70-90-th of 20-th century. Now Poland, Lithuanian and Ukraine are the biggest friends. I see intelligence of Poland at the early 90-th, especially on the background of crazy today`s Russia. Great book about four nations formation. Especially for me, as I living in Precarpathian Galicia. A great honor to Giedroyc and his Kultura. The Polish nation was big minds in the 70-90-th of 20-th century. Now Poland, Lithuanian and Ukraine are the biggest friends. I see intelligence of Poland at the early 90-th, especially on the background of crazy today`s Russia.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Manners

    Simply outstanding in all respects. One of the best books on the history of the region I've ever read. In particular, his explanation of the development and changing forms of nationalism is extremely insightful and illuminating. Five stars are not enough for this book. I give it a six !

  19. 4 out of 5

    kmm1985

    Excellent! Comprehensive and very well-written.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John

    Very interesting look at the contemporary nation design from a common element and history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I learned heaps and this is obviously very well researched. Quite dense, it was a bit of a slog to get through.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Amazing and comprehensive review of Polish relationship with its 3 eastern neighbours. Won't learn that at school even in Poland. Very captivating style of writing. Loaded with impactful statements. I had something to highlight on every second page.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Olksndr

    A truly amazing and well written book. Man, the things in this region are way much more complex and interconnected than I've believed before

  24. 5 out of 5

    R.

    The short version of this is that after the emancipation of the serfs early modern nationalisms of the region (which primarily used Polish as the high literary language) began to use peasant languages (like Lithuanian) as a way to counter the cultural power of Poles, et al, and create a new modern linguistic nationalism. In some ways it seems organically drawn from these newly awakened former serfs in the age of Romantic Nationalism, and in others it seems to have been constructed by (local) eli The short version of this is that after the emancipation of the serfs early modern nationalisms of the region (which primarily used Polish as the high literary language) began to use peasant languages (like Lithuanian) as a way to counter the cultural power of Poles, et al, and create a new modern linguistic nationalism. In some ways it seems organically drawn from these newly awakened former serfs in the age of Romantic Nationalism, and in others it seems to have been constructed by (local) elites from the top down. Once people identify their loyalty as to the state of their nation rather than a multiethnic empire (the source of early-modern nationalism), then ethnic cleansing seems logically entailed in some capacity. And this is what happened all over the region, particularly between Poland and Ukraine. I can go into these sordid details but it's enough to say that the really interesting thing is that once Poland was in the process of leaving the USSR they were the biggest stalwarts in favor of maintaining the Soviet borders and supporting the independence of its neighboring nation-states rather than starting new national wars. If they were focused on the past, it'd be nonstop carnage, but it was more important to safely check the Russians and live in peace without being conquered once more, and rejoin Europe, and so the project was a big success. It's a fascinating book if you are interested in the region, though it is an academic text and not written as a popular history or anything so simple.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Turner

    interesting book about a region I knew nothing about. Did you know that Poland was the first democracy in Eastern Europe and that the Commonwealth of Lithuania had religious freedom and was a very tolerant place? This book is interesting but long and slow.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jane Fidler

    A scholarly, but somewhat difficult to follow, history of north eastern Europe States and and kingdoms. Post WWII history was new information to me. I thought it all ended in 1945. I read it to get information for genealogic research.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leopold Benedict

    Timothy Snyder is an incredibly intelligent writer. His writing style is more sophisticated than an average academic book, but you can still read it comfortably. The book filled a lot of gaps in my knowledge of Eastern European history. I will read more books by Snyder.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    An incredible book on the little know history of Poland and its imperial relations. It is also a fabulous study in modern nationality formation.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Very learned and intriguing perspective on the multiple overlayerede agendas and conflicts that eventually produced the Lithuania we know today

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Levine

    Snyder is one of the best on Eastern Europe. Highly recommended.

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