(Richard J here - I promised Jamie this in his holidays, but work, and no home broadband got in the way.)
"The voice of theorists of nationalism can be distant and ironic; they see that the apparently obvious is obviously mistaken, that the emperor has no clothes. The question is why naked emperors get to rule. Part of the answer is the deceptively soporific nature of irony. [...] It might also seem ironic that [...] the one line of poetry that every Pole can recite is "Lithuania, my fatherland!". If we experience irony as an invitation to investigate, we find that variants of the early modern nationality of the Commonwealth survived its demise by more than a century. In this study, irony is a way to ask questions, not a substitute for answers."
From the preface to Timothy Snyder's Reconstruction of Nations, and I think a handy summary of the book as a whole. When one looks at the awkward separation of the utterly intertwined senses of national identity in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an ironic tone is hard to avoid - that Wilno was less than 2% Lithuanian as late as World War II, or the nested chauvinisms inherent in modifying Lithuanian orthography by using Czech orthography as a basis, rather than Polish, even though Polish itself had originally based its spelling on Czech (the Czechs having in the meantime changed their orthography to purge it of German influence.)
And for a lot of the book, the able and clear way in which Snyder disentangles the squabbling and competing claims as Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian identities consciously created themselves (or failed to do so) is lighthearted knockabout fun. Until, of course, it all changed, when, for example many Lithuanians welcomed the takeover by the USSR as finally allowing them to take Vilnius back into the homeland it had never been part of, or the petty squabbling over whether a village was full of Ukranians with a misguided belief that they were Polish, or just misplaced Poles, became, literally, a life or death question.
In the West, I think we tended to view the Banderistas through a cold war prism - doomed romantics fighting against both the Germans and the USSR for an independent Ukraine (with a vague nagging doubt about what they got up to in the Holocaust) - what this book really brings out is their parallels with the Ustashe - their main targets were neither the German, nor the USSR, nor even the Jews (albeit mainly because they were already, in the main, dead, before they got fully active), but Poles - the descriptions in the book of the UPA wiping out Polish villages in Ukraine to purge Ukraine of 'alien' elements are chilling (as are, with Snyder's trademark scrupulous fairness to all sides, the retribution carried out by the Poles and the ensuing cycle of violence).
Which leads onto the book's last section, the dog that didn't bark - why did a newly free Poland not seek to recover the lost territories, and manage to avoid entirely a Yugoslavian type situation so effectively that (myself included) most Westerners aren't even aware there were such lost territories - here, the book becomes perhaps less convincing, but its core argument is that a small group of emigré Poles single-handedly steered the discourse away from lost hurts and focussing onto establishing a bulwark of friendly and stable neighbours as being in Poland's own self-interest, no matter whether Vilnius, as a city, was in living memory about as Lithuanian a city as Warsaw.
Soldaten, however, oh Soldaten. What can I say? The virtue of the book and its biggest flaw are precisely the same, and stem from the primary sources behind it all - the secret recordings of mostly unacquainted German soldiers, pilots, etc. stuck in a room together, and left to their own devices. The virtue lies in the unguarded nature of the conversations, and the further demolition of the idea of the Good Wehrmacht. This is also, paradoxically, its biggest flaw, in that people stuck together with nothing to do will bullshit and tacitly avoid calling people out on it, particularly in recordings from earlier on in the war, where, after all, admitting to being anything other than ardently pro-Hitler might cause problems once the 4th Panzer's dramatic sweep through from Camber Sands liberates you. Ultimately, despite the seductive appearance of the honest truth in these transcripts, disappointly we have to admit we're no further in understanding wie Sie eigentliches gedenken.
(The book itself is apparently translated from the German, rather than being written by the (German) authors in English. You could have fooled me. Other than that, it's fine - my vague sense of anti-climax is due to the sources themselves, not the book.)