Top positive review
An Incredible, if Sometimes Challenging, Read
Reviewed in the United States on November 17, 2016
For anyone wishing to begin to understand the atrocities of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, one might consider this as a useful primer. I say this not because what happened in the two regions--Poland, Ukraine, the western USSR in the mid to late 1940s; Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia during the post Cold War breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s--is related. Instead, one sees in the "The Reconstruction of Nations" the senseless, mindless, meaningless slaughter of groups of individuals (ethnicities) by neighboring groups when externally imposed controls are loosened--and even when such controls remain in place. One reviewer rated the book poorly, complaining of its Polish-centricity. Obviously, the reviewer in question understands little of Eastern European history between the two World Wars, during World War II, and in its immediate aftermath. No country in Eastern Europe suffered as much misery and betrayal throughout the years 1918 to 1946/7 as did Poland. Anyone who doubts this is free to delve deeper into the history of this period. This is not to say the Polish didn't commit their own share of atrocities and unforgivable acts. But to say that Snyder's book is merely an attempt to whitewash Polish sins and to praise Polish aims while denigrating those of surrounding countries is an intentional misreading of this text.
What country in Eastern Europe after being partitioned three times in the 18th century by her more powerful neighbors ceased to exist? Poland disappeared from the map of Europe from 1795 until 1918. After being given back a set of borders within which Poles (and others) lived in relative harmony for a mere twenty years, Poland was savagely attacked by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in 1939. Poles were sent as slave labor to Germany to work in place of Germans who were foolish enough to begin fighting on two fronts in 1941. The Soviets deported hundreds of thousands of Poles from the eastern half of what had been Poland to die in labor camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan. And those who were left? They enjoyed being treated as a sub-human race by their Nazi occupiers for almost six years. Even as Poles fought to free Warsaw, the Soviet Army watched from across a river as German troops viciously put down the Warsaw uprising before moving in, themselves, and cleaning up the survivors. And our patron saint of the New Deal, FDR, sold out our Polish allies to Stalin in return for nothing but lies from the most vile, untrustworthy, and insane Georgian to ever walk the earth.
Obviously, this book is about more than just Poland's trials and tribulations during its oft-interrupted history. If Belarus is considered by Snyder a "failed state", then maybe this is because it is. If Ukraine is somehow framed in a bad light, then perhaps Snyder understands, better than most, Ukranians' own faults and sins . . . especially during WWII. And if the histories of countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania aren't covered in as much detail as some might wish, then this might be due to the fact that none of these three nations are "Slavic" in origin (unlike Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus).
Don't misunderstand me, this book is not an easy read. Nor is it a book for the faint-hearted: Snyder's tales of OUN and UPA atrocities committed against Poles in Galicia and especially Volhynia are on the same reprehensible level as anything committed by Serbs in the 1990s. But Snyder doesn't sanitize a very cruel and destructive period in Eastern European history merely to spare the reader's feelings. What's more important, he casts light on a little known (at least to many) war that started during and continued through and after WWII: that of Poles and Ukrainians, who continued to fight and "ethnically cleanse" each other even as the German-Russian Eastern Front moved westward beyond their war within a war.
And I haven't even touched on so much of the cultural history that forms the beginning of the book--the beginnings of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of 1569 and its effect on the rise, fall, and (hopefully) continued resurrection of these two nations and peoples.
If you want to know Eastern European history, especially the later history of Poland, the Ukraine, and Lithuania, not to mention much of the hardship their peoples faced as a result of regular Russian/Soviet interference, then this book is as good a place to start as any (if not better). And for those who have read extensively on the subject, Snyder presents a slightly different view that will fill in the gaps in any amateur historian's knowledge. For what it's worth, I heartily recommend it (and I'm not being paid to do so).