Monday, September 12, 2011

Review of "Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City" by Norman Davies & Roger Moorehouse

Another work featuring the second place he calls home, Norman Davies returns to Poland with Microcosm:Portrait of a Central European City, this time bringing the expertise of Roger Moorehouse along with.  Not always known by the name we currently use, Davies and Moorhouse explore the evolution of Wroclaw through the ages, from small river village in European no-man’s land to modern day Polish metropolitan city. 

What makes the history of Wroclaw’s development interesting is its location.  Set nearly at the geographic heart of Europe, the city has had many claimants over the centuries, the modern day Polish occupation of the city mere decades in age.  Prussians, Germans, Piasts, Bohemians and Russians, Habsburgs and Napoleons, and a host of other dynasties and noble families have at one time or another called Wroclaw their own, signs in Germany often still using the name ‘Breslau’ from when the city was their own.  Readers of Davies other tomes, like Europe or The Isles, will find this work not only lighter in weight, but in tone.  Information is still delivered both prosaically and technically, but at the same time in more manageable pieces, closer to general overview than detailed exposition.  The duo’s (and their respective team’s) research is extensive and (as far as I, a non-scholar) can determine, comprehensive. 

Though focusing on German, Polish, and Jewish interests, the stories of the afore-mentioned groups and their roles in shaping the city are well defined, rendering Wroclaw's history a multi-cultural skein.  And despite being sponsored by the city, Davies and Moorhouse include enough negative reports of Polish occupation to lend the work credence.  Certainly not as fascinating as the histories of Paris or Rome, that Wroclaw has constantly been a footnote in the major events of European history has not done anything to prevent it from being an integral part of events as a whole, and by writing Microcosm, Davies and Moorhouse have proved just that.  Recommended for anyone interested in the Central Europe has played in the larger European arena, or someone who has interest in knowing how one city could have been called so many names over the years, Vratislavia, Presslau, Wroclaw, Breslau, Vretslav…

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