Adam Zamoyski

Poland was no walkover for the Reich

‘The victor will never be asked if he told the truth,’ Hitler remarked on the eve of invading Poland in September 1939. Nobody believed his claim that Germany was acting in self-defence; but they did believe his carefully crafted propaganda to the effect that the Poles were so dumb they used cavalry armed with lances

Autocracy tempered by strangulation

‘It was hard to be a tsar,’ Simon Sebag Montefiore writes in his opening sentence, and what follows fully bears this out. In his thought-provoking introduction, he stresses the unique nature of Russian autocracy and its perverse contradictions; the tsar was absolute ruler, yet he was bound by a tangle of restrictions. His subjects were

The men who invented Napoleon

Writing about Napoleon is a risky business. It exposes the author to the brickbats of the blind worshippers for whom he is a numinous hero and the equally challenged detractors who see in him only the petty tyrant. By the same token, most historians find themselves negotiating a slippery path between approval and censure of

Ghostly traces of a vanished land

This is an entirely pointless but curiously engaging and even tantalising book. A youthful love affair in Montreal with a girl of Latvian descent plants the word ‘Courland’ in the author’s mind. He finds it mellifluous and somehow magical. The girl’s beauty and otherworldliness add a sense of mystery. An Alsatian cousin whose father, drafted

Fatal entrapment

I am no great fan of spy thrillers and positively allergic to conspiracy theories, but I found this book difficult to put down. In an earlier study, Edward Lucas examined Russia’s use of energy as a weapon against the EU and the Atlantic alliance. In this one, he dives below the surface into the murky

The end of the affair | 28 March 2009

Given the anti-Americanism displayed on every possible occasion by the French since the days of De Gaulle, and the crudely expressed contempt with which Americans have responded, particularly over the past decade, it is easy to forget that the two nations once enjoyed a relationship even more ‘special’ than the supposedly exclusive one between Britain

Obsessed by Ukraine

This is the story of a very unusual man. ‘Wilhelm von Habsburg,’ Timothy Snyder tells us, ‘wore the uniform of an Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and, every so often, a dress. He could handle

No redeeming features

Until fairly recently, the name Thyssen-Bornemisza held generally positive associations — with vibrant German industrialism, responsible capitalism, pan-European cosmopolitanism, artistic connoisseurship and philanthropy, all tinged with a pleasant whiff of Hungarian nobility. Just how deeply erroneous these are revealed to have been is staggering. August Thyssen, who created the family fortune in the second half

Correcting received opinions

Norman Davies is always at his best challenging received ideas and inherited perceptions, and the areas covered by these essays provide him with rich hunting-grounds for both. The title is misleading in that he ranges around Australia, California and Siberia, not to mention the Middle East, as well as Europe, and takes swipes at prejudices

A long losing run

This is indeed a story of war, passion and loss. But those looking for a bittersweet tale of romantic Polish aristocrats stoically facing their doom at the hands of the Nazis and Soviets will get a great deal more than they bargained for. This is Gone with the Wind scripted for the Addams family. The

The Schleswig- Holstein Question answered

To anyone who enjoyed Fernand Braudel’s masterly work on the Mediterranean or Neal Ascher- son’s wonderful Black Sea, the idea of a book on the Baltic is an appealing one. It is Europe’s other great inland sea, fed by the snows of Scandinavia and rivers such as the Elbe, the Vistula, the Niemen and the

Grande horizontale et verticale

One of those little footnotes to history that has always intrigued me is that the Bolsheviks planned and carried out the October Revolution in the palace of the Tsar’s mistress. The idea of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and the rest of them strutting about the marble-clad halls and damask-swathed boudoirs of the great courtesan’s mansion in

Solving the Polish conundrum

The Warsaw uprising of August 1944 was one of the most tragic episodes of the second world war, resulting in the destruction of the city and some 200,000 of its inhabitants. It is also one of the least well known. The fact that the Red Army had stood by while the city was pounded to