Czech Wild Swans?
January 29, 2010 1:55 AM   Subscribe

Quick! I need to buy one book which best captures the history, culture and people of Central Europe!

So early tomorrow morning I'm heading off for a 10-day trip around Poland, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I'm looking for a single book, either fiction or non-fiction, that will give me the best possible insight into this region. 'Wild Swans' did this very nicely for China. I'll be popping into the book shop on my way home and buying the best recommendation, so advise me well!
posted by greytape to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That's a tall order. The Good Soldier Švejk is a satirical novel that gives some insight into the history and character. It's a cracking read, and goes through many of those countries at the time of the first world war. Here's a map of Švejk's route.
posted by handee at 2:11 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's some good recent stuff on all the former Communist states you've listed in Victor Sebestyen's book Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. Recent history, but very readable.

Single-country filter: Norman Davies's The Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present gives an excellent insight into the history of Poland, which didn't exist on the map from 1795-1918. The fact that the people held together despite not existing as a nation is telling of the history of the region.
posted by sagwalla at 2:42 AM on January 29, 2010

Magris's Danube.
posted by orthogonality at 2:45 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Patrick Leigh Fermor "Between the Woods and the Water "

and "Fifty Years of Europe", Jan Morris
posted by runincircles at 3:37 AM on January 29, 2010

A micro-level view of the peoples, places, border changes, and history of the region can be found in Norman Davies' Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City, all about the city now known as Wrocław.
posted by mdonley at 3:43 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Along with the book, you better pack some extra warm clothes, recently our weather dipped to a biting cold -27C and the wind conditions can hinder traveling (late trains, etc..). Stay safe.
posted by ruelle at 4:50 AM on January 29, 2010

Postwar (2005) by Tont Judt is an excellent survey of the history and cultural developments in Europe since 1945 to the present. It covers the fate of Central and Eastern Europe in great detail.
posted by vkxmai at 5:31 AM on January 29, 2010

I'd bring Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being.
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:50 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Between the Woods and the Water - but I'd start with the first volume, A Time of Gifts.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:24 AM on January 29, 2010

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