Reading about Poland

For shame, it took me a month and half to get through this. I will NEVER take as long to read a book for this blog again. I am dedicating myself to a quicker pace. Summer got in the way, but the seasons are changing and the couch in front of the fireplace is ready to facilitate many hours of reading…

Anyway. Poland is cool! I’ve learned so much and am walking away very impressed; a visit is now solidly on the to-do list. Previously, most of my knowledge of Poland was within the context of World War II. And hey, I live in a country that came out on top, so we end up owning the narrative. And no matter how you spin it, the Poles were not winners in that conflict. It’s almost incomprehensible how much they suffered, and then when it was over they had the Soviet Union to deal with. But that’s not the whole story of Poland. It’s not fair to see any culture just through the prism of suffering and war, which the Poles have had more than their fair share of.

The book I read was The Polish Way: A Thousand Year History of The Poles and Their Culture by Adam Zamoyski. It’s a bit of a textbook (seriously), and as the title suggests it covers a lot of ground, but Mr. Zamoyski is an engaging writer and the history is much more interesting than what I expected. More than once while reading this book I sat up and said “I DID NOT KNOW THAT”. Your view generally depends on where you’re standing, and as an American…well…very few of us know as much as we think we do. Just how Anglo-American can my consciousness be? Very, apparently. But I stand corrected, and am also now a formidable addition to any trivia night team – call me…

A Polish Landscape
(image by By Irrka2003 at lt.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)
But as fascinating as I found it all, I haven’t been able to sit down and summarize what I learned. I’m obviously NOT a disciplined writer yet, am I? So forgive my laziness, and thank a reviewer on Amazon – this is better than I can do right now.

Most US readers will probably be surprised by what a powerhouse of forward thinking Poland was, and in many ways, how it’s systems were prototypes for those which created the USA. This is certainly the case in the way Polish rulers made possible a tolerant multi-racial society when Europe was doing the opposite, in the way freedom to vote was seen as a virtue and in the way it organised itself along its own model rather than allow itself to be influenced. The way the Commonwealth with Lithuania was governed was very advanced for its time, it was far removed from the more typical conquer-and-rule way of expanding borders, bringing advantages to both sides through co-operation.

In the end the country fought for its right to survive and lost when its three larger neighbours conspired to divide and plunder it. The dynamics involved in Poland’s fall, from memory, were also well explained and interesting in the way the it becomes clear that the virtues of the Polish way, were also the source of its weaknesses when confronted with more belligerent neighbours. The events after WWII created an artificially divided Europe commonly referred to East and West. This is being corrected now that the EU is poised to expand its borders to include Central Europe. This book is essential reading for those that want these current day events put into a clear historical context. 1000 years of history can never be adequately covered in one small volume, the main faults are of omission, nevertheless I suspect this book is the nearest to describing the essence of Poland that is available in the English language. “

See, I told you. Pretty cool, huh?

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