Magazine April 30, 2012, Issue

What Lies Beneath

From the cover of Vanished Kingdoms (Viking)
Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations, by Norman Davies (Viking, 830 pp., $40)

How to make a nation? In Vanished Kingdoms, his fascinating — and characteristically hefty — new book chronicling the rise and fall of 15 European states (from Visigoth Tolosa to the good-riddance empire of the Soviets), historian Norman Davies offers a number of suggestions. They include “good fortune, benevolent neighbors, and a sense of purpose.” There are nods to the power of a common language and a shared myth, and an implied recognition of the usefulness of conquest (where now are the Baltic people, the Prusai, whose land formed the core of ascendant Teutonic Prussia?), but little focus on the

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