I read this again for the Allnonfiction reading group and got a fair bit more out of it on the second reading. I’ll have to up my rating some, but that’s about as high as I can honestly go. More photos in the book would have been appreciated, but there’s a limit on pages publishers are willing to print and there are a lot of them available online. My prior review: https://mybecky.blog/2019/05/28/the-last-palace-by-norman-eisen/
Also, on the second reading I found Eisen’s online Notes mentioned in the Notes section of the Kindle book and when I got to checking these I was really impressed and followed along for awhile and checking them after that. They are ordered by page number and the book has only a few of those available at the url above.
The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House
by Norman Eisen
2018 / 398 pages
read by Jeff Goldblum – 15h 36m
Rating: 9 / history
(both read and listened)
This time I came to thee realization Eisen has written a very good example of “creative nonfiction” which is what most popular history books are these days. Creative nonfiction is more like journalism in that it works to get and keep the reader’s interest via more literary techniques and devices than actual historians use. The authors of more scholarly reporting or history writing. Historians assume the interest is already there and stick to facts and arguments and until recently, historians have not been noted for their writing skills.
So I was impressed by the way Eisen provided tension and heartbreak throughout the book – this is NOT a compendium of facts. It’s a kind of literary nonfiction at its best. It’s a book which was written for popular consumption, but one where excellent back-up sources are provided (albeit on the web).
Some would call it a history book because it’s about about history, but it’s not “technically” a History book – one you would normally find as a basic text for a History class unless the class was specifically on this building and a few of its residents.
No one history book can be all things to all readers. Those who are getting an introduction to the material can’t make full use of extensive notes. On the other hand readers who are already knowledgeable in the subject can be quite annoyed without detailed source material. Some readers quite appreciate the human interest stories which documented by personal letters, journals, interviews, etc while other readers are put off by this sort of thingl. Finally, the style of writing Eisen uses seems to be aimed at the general public rather at the academic or armchair scholar.
Eisen tried for it all and succeeded to an amazing degree. It’s only too bad his “Notes” section was so condensed in the published versions. (Here’s the online url again: https://www.normaneisen.com/notes. ).
Also, Eisen provided only brief reporting on the actual background to the events he reported from personal accounts. This made it a bit difficult to understand the Warsaw Pact’s invasion or the Prague Spring and its aftermath. – I suppose that’s okay considering it was not the aim of the book but …
My “criticism” re the footnotes and publishing space constraints becomes moot when one considers the book is not really for historians at all. . Eisen dd put the complete notes online if someone wants them and one can do one’s own Googling for additional photos. So I’m giving the book a 9.95 this time. I personally think the publishers saw the makings of a hot seller and weren’t going to mess up that aspect by making the book appear to be a scholarly tome in any way. It wouldn’t be mistaken by actual academics – Eisen writes too well.
Other than that I have nothing to add to my first review, really. When you get into the lives of individuals involved in things like Nazi attacks and Communist politics against the people’s desire to be independent you get plenty of tension – it doesn’t have to be created. Personalities like Shirley Temple Black add to that – she was no retiring and do-nothing Ambassador when the uprisings came to town.
Bottom line – I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.