I did a really stupid thing over Christmas: I bought a Norman Davies book. I compounded that error over the weekend by reading it.
It was the Vanished Kingdoms book, the one about European states that didn’t quite make it. I mean, that’s a great idea for a book. So is a book on European history that pushes the centre of gravity eastward. So is a history of Breslau/Wroclaw as a cosmopolitan enclave. And yeah, I’ll take another chunky Warsaw uprising history. I don’t know why I bought The Isles. I used to go to Waterstones after lunchtime sessions in the pub. That may have been it.
This is why I do it, keep handing my own money over to Norman Davies and his publishers. You get these really great, engaging ideas and they carry you so far into the book before you notice that you’re having a really horrible experience, a sort of history as bulimia: facts, factoids, anecdotes all gobbled down together without discrimination and then honked up in a great foetid mass. As storytelling goes, as a narrative history of events, it’s like watching someone retrace their steps to the pub by following the piles of sick they left on the pavement last night. Compounding that is his talent for the irrelevant anecdote and the boring detail; the way in which google is his friend and counsellor, but not a very knowledgeable one. Why, here’s a folk song. Here is a brief, but nonetheless all too long, account of local geological formations. And here is something that appears to come from a Chamber of commerce press release, or perhaps a brochure he saved when he visited the Kaliningrad tourist authorities. The cranky transferred Polish nationalism has also gone beyond charming. Have I told you how evil the Russians are? Very evil. That’s how evil.
Anyway, this is an aide memoire. Never again. Norman, you’re history. Crap history.