Tuscany

History as Fantasy

Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and NationsBy Norman Davies (Viking, 830 pp., $40)  There is a well-worn story that is told in one form or another in all European history textbooks. In 824, ten years after the death of Charlemagne, Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon, hailed a new Christian imperial ambition to unite all the peoples and lands of the Western Holy Roman Empire by reformulating Galatians 3:28: “There is now neither Gentile nor Jew, Scythian nor Aquitanian, nor Lombard, nor Burgundian, nor Alaman, nor bond, nor free.

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As I was working on my last column, "On the Making of a Durable World," another instance of that rare aesthetic experience of transcending the distance that separates one generation from another, creating a common, enduring world, unexpectedly visited me. This time, it wasn't so much my own personal sensation as it was the vicarious experience of reading about a writer's intense awareness of seeing and feeling what an artist, centuries before, had seen and felt.

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Resistances

The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 By Robert Katz (Simon and Schuster, 418 pp., $28) Click here to purchase the book. THERE WAS A BRIEF PERIOD  in European history, roughly from the beginning of the eighteenth century to 1941, when it was easy to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants; when wars were fought by soldiers clothed, equipped, and trained by the state; when men trained to be murderers on behalf of the state were severely punished if they tried to use the same methods when not in military service.

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