British Studies Web Pages


Book Review

Davies, Norman. Złote Ogniwa. Rosikon Press. Warszawa 2004 (ISBN 83-88848-12-7

This review has been written by Małgorzata Zdybiewska, who teaches British Studies at NKJO Radom and is a contributor to the British Studies Web Pages.

Złote Ogniwa (“The Golden Links”) is an exceptional book written by Norman Davies, a British historian and writer famous for his studies on Europe, UK and Poland. First of all, it has an unusual form, being a two-volume album combined together by a map produced by Thomas Jeffreys, Geographer to his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. The map is “a new correct chart of Europe” which shows Poland of the 15th century at the peak of its power. In the first volume entitled “Poland” the author describes the role Poland played in Europe across centuries: from the medieval age to the present times. Poland is shown in the rich political, economic and cultural European context. Norman Davies focuses on those crucial moments in the history of Poland that crossed with the important moments in European history such as the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation or the Enlightment. The second volume gives its reader an insight into the key events in the history of Europe in which Poland played an important part, e.g. the Napoleonic wars.

Poland, being geographically in the heart of Europe has often been the link between the West and the East. Its geographical location has always been both a blessing and a calamity. Norman Davies, who describes himself as “ natione Britanicus, gente Anglicus, origine Gallicus, religione Polonofilus” is an authority on Poland’s complicated and sometimes painful history. In Złote Ogniwa he offers an insider’s/outsider’s perspective and demonstrates with a great clarity that Poland with its rich multinational heritage has indeed been present in Europe since the earliest days of its history.

The book is richly illustrated with maps, reproductions of paintings and photographs depicting crucial historic moments. The visual material in Volume One,  includes Jacek Malczewski’s and Artur Grotger’s paintings and also contemporary photographs showing for example soldiers in the streets of Warsaw after Martial Law had been declared in the country. There is a popular saying that “one photograph is sometimes worth a thousand words”. In this case Norman Davies’s vivid and lucid prose is in perfect harmony with the carefully selected and precisely described visual material. The high quality of illustrations adds new value to the publication.

Elżbieta Tabakowska’s translation is intelligent and it reads beautifully. I have only one regret as an English teacher involved in intercultural studies. I wish that Złote Ogniwa  had also been published in English. I think that an English version of this particular publication would be very popular among those of us who have been trying to explain the meanders of Polish history to their English speaking friends living all over the world. It could also become a very popular gift to numerous English speaking readers keen to gain some insight into the Polish history.

The Polish readers should indeed be grateful to Norman Davies that he focused his interest on Poland. Thanks to his books we are able to understand the history of our country so much better.

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2004. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.