Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Attention, all you Poles and Lithuanians!

From the Medieval Review, an excerpt from a long and positive book review. I know some of my friends and readers will be very interested!
To see this review with the correct diacritical marks, please see the web archive:

Frost, Robert. The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, Vol. 1: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xxv, 564. £85.00/$135.00. ISBN: 978-0-19-820869-3.

Reviewed by Piotr Górecki

University of California-Riverside

This could (but will not) be a short review. Robert Frost has written an outstanding book, as good as it is big--a major contribution to the history of the polity linked by the hyphen in its title, and to the history of early modern Europe. The book is a major benchmark in Frost's distinguished output addressing specific aspects of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's history, situated in the broad context of its contemporary Europe. [1] It consolidates Poland-Lithuania's entrance into top-tier scholarship conceived and written in English over the past twenty years or so [2]--a process parallel, and related to, an analogous inclusion of Poland, Lithuania, and East Central Europe in the general historiography of medieval Europe. [3]

Frost introduces his book as an histoire événementielle, prompting my one (slight) disagreement with him. The tag is too modest and self-effacing. The book's story frames, and brilliantly develops, a wide range of subjects, all visible to the reader. This is in fact a profoundly thematic book. That said, it is indeed structured as one continuous, seamless narration, huge in its scope and its particulars. Its subjects are, so to speak, layered throughout the text, and developed in its course. As a result, the book is best read in its entirety, from beginning to end--a most worthwhile exercise, because Frost's prose is outstanding: tightly-packed yet translucent, highly engaging and interesting in basic storytelling terms, and witty. We have here a lovely example of the current return of "narrative" history at its best, into the core of what we do.

Especially conspicuous are three interrelated subjects: people, places, and constructs. The book is a biographical gallery of a huge number of individually etched actors: kings of Poland; dukes and grand dukes of Lithuania; contenders for those two offices; and a myriad other specific protagonists who made up the political worlds presided by these rulers. No less important is a collective generic actor: the political community, [4] above all the royal or grand-ducal "council"; the noble, or knightly, "assembly," or "general assembly"; and higher-level collectivities, such as the "nobility," "boyars," "Poles," "Lithuanians," and, perhaps most recurrently, "community of the realm." The places are: the major realms, or polities--Lithuania, Poland, Masovia, and "Royal" Prussia [5]--of which the first two formed the principal union, the second two joined it through unions with Poland; the localities where the major phases of the story occurred, and left a written record; and the localities relevant to the governance and administration of the four polities comprising the union.

And there is much more...

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