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Among ‘Vanished Kingdoms’, whose is next?

By RAYMOND ZHONG [Wall Street Journal] – “People don’t see very often their death coming. . . . Look at the French Revolution: The king of France was thinking in the 1780s, ‘We’re doing rather better than my father in the 1770s.'” Few saw the end of the Soviet Union coming, either.

That’s the key, [Norman Davies] says, to coming to terms with the euro zone’s mess. He borrows a metaphor from skiing. “It’s like an avalanche, where you’ve got a huge frozen snowfield, which on the surface looks absolutely ideal. . . . All the changes in the ice field come from the sun shining on them, and the water melts underneath. But you can’t actually see it. And you equally can’t see which part of the snowfield is going to move first.”

He adds: “But it happens in a second. Before the avalanche, the sun shines, it looks beautiful, and there’s a sound like a gunshot, where the ice cracks. And the whole damn lot falls into the valley.”

For even the mightiest sovereigns, eventual collapse is a safer bet than indefinite life. But there is a line separating awareness of unpleasant historical facts from fatalistic acceptance, and Mr. Davies, both in conversation and in his work, treads it watchfully. Still, for his coldly analytical eye toward transience and national decline, reviewers have called Vanished Kingdoms pessimistic, even apocalyptic.

Mr. Davies resents the charge. “Any historian worth their salt should be aware of wars, conflicts, catastrophes,” he says. “They happen. This is part of the panorama.”

Continued at The Wall Street Journal | More Chronicle & Notices.

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