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European History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



A History of Hungary: Millennium in Central Europe by Laszlo Kontler (Palgrave) provides an up-to-date and comprehensive survey of Hungarian history, from the pre-historic age to the present day. László Kontler adeptly steers the reader through ancient times, the great migration of peoples, and the creation and troubles of a Christian monarchy that arose in the region wedged between the Germanic and Russian lands. The factors involved in the centuries-long process which has put Hungary at a disadvantage in coping with the challenges of modernity are also explored; including the country's economic backwardness, the social structure, revolutions, wars of independence, and territorial losses.

A History of Hungary “was originally written at the request of Atlantisz Publishing House ( Budapest ) to answer the interest of non-Hungarian readers in Hungarian history. It is not primarily intended for a professional audience, but for the general educated reader of average knowledge in the humanities, though keen on maintaining high intellectual standards: present, past or future visi­tors to the country who wish to explore its peculiar identity in greater depth than found in guide-books, foreign students of diverse disciplines studying in Hungary, or undergraduates anywhere who follow a course in Hungarian or Central European history.

Most of this audience contemplates A History of Hungary in terms of convenient stereotypes. Even if the crudest associations of Hungarianness (csikas, gulyas, puszta, gypsy music etc.) are discounted, schematic simplifi­cations - partly inspired from Hungary itself - dominate the Western European and North American picture drawn of Hungary's place in the world. In Central and Eastern Europe, Hungary's one-time status as a medium range power, her subsequent reduction in size as well as inter­national importance, and the resulting impulses have evoked equally sim­plistic and emotionally coloured assessments of her role in the region's history. The models of 'a nation making ceaseless (and perhaps laudable) efforts at emerging from (half-) barbarity to the fold of Europe', or 'a small nation struggling and surviving against the odds', or 'a nation of oppressors turned troublemakers' and their likes offer stereotypes which the book intends to dispel or - since some of them, as most distortions, contain a grain of reality - fill with sound content.

In order to succeed, I have attempted to combine narrative and analysis, in the conviction that while telling a story (and telling it well) is indispens­able to have an appeal to any readership, the audience described above is best served if it is provided with an occasion to examine that story against the background of the growth of historical 'structures' (social hierarchy, sol­idarity groups, religious and political ideas, material and spiritual culture, legal and political relations and institutions, systems of production and habits of consumption etc.) in a comparative framework. I have proceeded from the (supposedly better) known to the unknown, and recalled, when­ever relevant, some aspects of the development of the Occident from Charlemagne to the European Union. At the same time, for the most part I endeavoured to avoid the quite general practice of chopping such compre­hensive histories into chapters or sections on politics, economic develop­ment, culture etc., and tried to integrate these topics or to switch from one to the other within the same breath at the points which seemed suitable. I hope that what emerges is not an incomprehensible chaos.”

From its beginnings in the Ural Mountains through the Soviet occupation and the subsequent inception of a democratic regime, A History of Hungaryis a remarkable reflection of world events. Laszlo Kontler adeptly steers the reader through this history, beginning with ancient times, and moving through the creation and troubles of a Christian monarchy that arose in a region wedged between Germanic and Russian lands. A History of Hungary also explores the factors that have put Hungary at a disadvantage in coping with the challenges of modernity, including the country's economic backwardness, social structure, revolutions, wars of independence, and territorial losses. For the first time, there is a detailed discussion of the "socialist" period, while a brief epilogue looks at Hungary's present process of transition to democracy.

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