"Some of the problems Central Europeans have with themselves and with one another," writes the author, "are related to the fact that their history haunts them." To an American it may seem improbable that an event in 1415 would still resonate in the popular memory of Czechs, or that a battle lost in 1526 would still haunt Hungarians as the seminal tragedy of their history. Johnson has written this book to explain to a general Western audience why history matters so intensely to Central European countries, a cluster of states extending from Germany to Belarus.
He starts with Charlemagne and the tenth century and finishes with our own day, slighting none of the main periods in between. As he notes in his preface, his organizing interest is in "historical patterns of conflict, cohabitation, and cooperation in Central Europe," and, by keeping his eye on this target, he manages to make an enormous expanse of history accessible to the average reader in very few pages. There are not many books that set the historical context for this part of the world so well.