You know a book is good if it generates a substantial number of positive reviews and glowing blog comments. You also know it’s good if it’s been chosen by The Daily Show’s Reading Club. You know a book is REAL good if it shows up on such Goodreads lists like “Best Books of the Decade” and “Best Books of 2012.” With all that in mind, it was a pretty easy decision to grab Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 when I saw a copy sitting on the shelf at my public library. After finishing her 2012 book early this morning over coffee I’m very happy I grabbed her book. Not only do I think it’s worthy of all the hype, I think it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read over the last two years.
I think I liked Prague Winter chiefly for two reasons. One, it’s a nice blend of memoir and history. In telling us about the homeland of birth, Albright starts with the Middle Ages and end with the current post-Communist age. Of course as one could tell from the book’s subtitle, Albright spends the most time discussing the events before, during and after the Second World War. By recalling her life as a young child during those turbulent years Albright has helped assign a human face to one of history’s darkest and bloodiest eras. Through her words the past becomes personal and no longer cold and abstract.
The second reason I liked this book is it’s well-written. While Albright receives top billing nevertheless Bill Woodward is credited as being the book’s co-author. I have no idea to what extent Woodward contributed to the writing of Prague Winter but based on the final product I would consider this collaboration in whatever form it took to be a highly successful one. Not once did I find Prague Winter tedious or dry. It was a pleasure to read.
Inspired by this book and by Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, I’m excited to read other books about or set in Central and Eastern Europe. Reading Prague Winter has also inspired me to learn more about the dangers of modern totalitarianism. For several years now I’ve wanted to read Michael Burleigh’s Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror. Maybe now it’s time I did.