Twice in this century, Germany initiated wars of unimagined terror and destruction. In both cases, defense of the “Prussian” realm, the German homeland, was the perceived and vilified perpetrator. Few today understand with any precision what “Prussia” means, either geographically or nationalistically, but neither would they deny the psychic resonance of the single word. To most, it means unbridled aggression, the image of the goose-stepping Junker.But what was once Prussia is now a significant portion of Eastern Europe, a contested homeland first won by Christian knights of the Teutonic Order. For centuries thereafter its terrain has been crisscrossed by war and partitioned by barbed wire. In its final catastrophe of 1945, nearly two million German refugees fled the region as Russian armies broke the eastern front, perhaps the greatest dislocation of a civilian population at any time during World War II. With the Berlin Wall now a memory and the Soviet Union in a state of collapse, this remains a geography in shambles. Modern travelers can now, for the first time in decades, see and ponder for themselves what Prussia really was and now is.James Charles Roy and Amos Elon, two writers noted for their inquisitive natures, have gone to search through the rubble themselves. They intermingle present-day observations with moving vignettes from the German and Prussian past, sketching a portrait of the Europe we know today. The story is spiced with interviews and reminiscences, unforgettable in their sadness, of people looking back at a life now gone, a life full of turmoil and heartache, memories both fond and tragic. The final result: a far deeper understanding of the tattered lands of today's Eastern Europe.
About the Author
James Charles Roy has been a peripatetic "independent scholar" since 1970, when he left Time Inc. He has written innumerable articles on Irish history and five distinguished books, including The Fields of Athenry and Islands of Storm, a Book-of-the-Month and History Book Club selection. He divides his time between Moyode Castle in County Galway and his home in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had to do this English project on my cultural heritage, and I chose this book because we had to choose a book. Although I never finished it, I can tell Roy put a lot of hard work into it. It's got LOTS and LOTS of detail on everything he explains. For me, a high school student, it was a bit boring and hard to get through because of it (also because I ran out of time before my project was due). If you're a history fan, you will love it. A bit of previous knowledge of Eastern Europe history and stuff is recommended, because I had to keep looking things up that I didn't know about. Overall: Good work, I don't want to bash it because I can tell he worked hard, but I found it too muddy with details. 4 stars because of respect for the work he put in it, but know that it's closer to 3 than 4.
From start to finish the book is a huge disappointment. For a region like Prussia, that was changing it's borders at least twice in a century the author is providing only one map from 1939, and even that is full of mistakes - rivers that don't exist, Kulm in East Prussia instead of in Poland, major cities misnamed. For the very unique and controversial subject of the prussian history the author chose the long discarded even by German historians, 19th century 'Borussian Myth' - drawing a straight line from the Teutonic Knights' rulership, through the Hohenzollern rule to the unification of Germany. All the elements of Polish history of the land are carefully omitted. Author interviews members of German nobility, aristocracy and German historians. When it comes to the Polish side he talks to car dealers, street drunks and other incompetent sources to show polish ignorance and lack of deep insight. Entire two chapters are devoted to an interview with a Jewish conentration camp survivor and an anti-Polish fanatic. This part is completely irrelevant to the subject of the book (Prussia), it just allows to show Poles in the worst possible light and portray them as primitive, blood thirsty, genetically anti-semitic beasts, responsible for entire Jewish holocaust in WW2. 'Germans were killing Jews only when they were ordered to, but Poles killed Jews whenever they had an opportunity, just for plain joy and pleasure, to satisfy their animal instincts' - that's basically the message contained in the book. There is no mention in the book about the 300 year history of Royal Prussia - a Polish province from 1454. The consistently pro-Polish loyalty of the people inhabiting the Prussian Provinces, even through the difficult war times, never appears in the book. The 15, 16 and 17th century symbol of Prussia - the Prussian Liberty and Priviliges, provided by the King of Poland, and brutally liquidated during the Partitions of Poland - all of it was not worth discussion in a book supposedly devoted to 'travels through history of Prussia'. This might be a great book for a nostalgic Germans of East Prussian descent, but never to somebody, who would like to learn something about a twisted, complex and controversial history of Prussia. However, the exceptional writing skills and author's ability to play with reader's emotions will make this book very hard to put down.