Review: GOD’S PLAYGROUND: A History of Poland Volume 1: Origins to 1795 by Norman Davies (1982)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 1982
Source: Library Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sometimes you want to write an epic fantasy steeped in its own history. But you’re not interested in British history and nobility, and the only framing you have for the history of your own land is that “it is so boring.” So, you find the most thorough volume you can, and wow, does it deliver.

I got so much out of this volume. From the organization of the social classes (which have nothing to do with economics) and the structure of cities and villages (which also have nothing to do with economics), this book covers so much ground. There are maps, there are charts, and the anecdotes and famous-to-Poland historical figures help create a complete image of this land without national borders as it expands, contracts, and disappears off the map altogether.

What really drew me was the humility Davies shows from the very beginning. He admits that he cannot possibly know as much as someone whose lived experience is Poland. It’s an energy we can all stand to embrace a bit. As such, he also fully recognizes that the lens through which most of his readers will understand European history is through the crown, family lineages, and colonialism of western Europe. There are charts, there are some anti-parallels drawn, with enough repetition to make international relations salient and easy-(enough)-to-follow. What fascinated me the most was how much was considered international in terms of what’s encompassed by the shield-shaped borders seen on contemporary maps. I found it interesting, but that’s probably because I sought this information out myself as opposed to having to learn it for school exams.

Highly recommending this tome if you want a quick overview of the structure of Polish society and culture up through the 18th Century.