The Nobility of Poland
Xavier Jon Puslowski CreateSpace Publishing, 2011 Strony / Pages: 622, soft cover ISBN: 9781456488338
List price: $24.95(Save 15% off)Online price: $21.21

The upper strata in Poland have not been the subject of popular literature and drama or received as much attention as other European nobilities, particularly those of England and France. The Nobility of Poland is a successful attempt to fill this gap. Based on both primary and secondary sources, action-filled as any thriller, it brings to life a now defunct social order while providing a wealth of historical information. Chapters range from an analysis of Polish titles to detailed descriptions of the nobility's way of life over the centuries. Historical episodes are recreated by choosing a protagonist around whom the narrative turns, an effective technique to highlight major events in Polish history, such as the Sobieski expedition to lift the Turkish siege of Vienna, or the convolutions leading to the Partitions and Napoleonic rule. The book opens with an account of a shadowy, still unexplained murder, of a well known aristocrat shortly before World War I. The circumstances surrounding the event and the subsequent trial offer a snapshot of a society functioning under the restrictions imposed by Russian control. The narrative then shifts to a survey of Poland's history, from the legendary events surrounding the early formative period to developments in the medieval epoch, down to the seventeenth century. The survey continues on to the late 18th century, with the seizure of Polish territories by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The following chapter focuses on the interactions between Alexander I, Napoleon Bonaparte, and a nobility that remained lured by vague promises to restore a unified Poland. It ends with Napoleon's downfall after his invasion of Russia, which he had dubbed the Second Polish War. Next come several chapters that examine in some detail the life rhythms and customs of the landowning class and those of other groups, and describe how each fared under foreign rule. The consequences of disastrous rebellions were mostly suffered by the nobility, for whom Siberian exile was a common fate. A code of honor, its tenets never written or even fully articulated, was a guiding principle, often serving as a shield. The book then scrutinizes the 20th century, specifically the harrowing years of World War I, the fall of Empires and the sequel that lasted two decades: a free Poland. The period is marked by the contentious political rivalries of the Polish Republic, all the while bracketed by increasingly threatening neighbors. The end comes with the invasion of Poland by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in 1939, precipitating World War II. Polish activities during the war are a leitmotiv discussed throughout the book, but the final chapter caps the narrative and includes an account of a hazardous escape from wartime Poland.