A Portrait of a Central European City

The administrators of my institute at London University were far from happy that I was spending so much time writing the Oxford "History of Europe". They thought that professors should concentrate on projects that attracted research grants from which a juicy deduction of 25 percent could be made for the benefit of the professor's employers. At one point, the Director told me that my next 'research project' should focus on my 'area of appointment' namely on Poland. (My basic post at London was that of Lecturer in Polish History.)

The appointment to satisfy both my own and my employers’ inclination came in 1995 at a meeting with the Mayor of Wroclaw, the former Breslau. I had long been fascinated by Wroclaw's complex and terrible past, so when Mr. Zdrojewski (who was later to become Poland’s Minister of Culture) complained bitterly that none of the city's many historians had produced a book that he could use for the enlightenment of foreign visitors, I offered to fill the breach. Since German as well as Polish sources needed to be combed, we formed a research team headed by former pupil, Roger Moorhorse, who is an excellent Germanist, and a four-year endeavour began.(Roger advanced in due course to "co-author".)

To my mind, "Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City" is one of the most original books I've conceived. It plunged into the realms of multiple identity, and the ways that communities have to change and adapt in response to changing frontiers and governments. We manage to explode the myths that the city's character could be reduced to a simple confrontation between Polishness and Germanity.

A curious hitch appeared out of the blue in the final stage of editing. The English edition was being handled by Cambridge University Press, but my editor at Cambridge tried to insist that for marketing reasons the book had to be called "A History of Breslau". He was deaf to my plans that neither "A History of Breslau" nor "A History of Wroclaw" were acceptable. In consequence, I had to tell him one day that I was transferring the book to another publisher (Jonathan Cape.) The Polish edition came out as usual with the Znak Publishing House. Since then, several foreign translations have appeared. In 2012 a French edition is expected from a publisher in Wroclaw's twin city of Lille.

Check book translation:

see international editions
Microcosm - cs

The book is translated into: Česky.

ISBN: 9788073417994

Microcosm - de

The book is translated into: Deutsch.

ISBN: 9783426272596

Microcosm - pl

The book is translated into: Polski.

ISBN: 9788324001729

Microcosm - it

The book is translated into: Italiano.

ISBN: 9788842492535

Microcosm - ru

The book is translated into: Русский.

ISBN: 978-5-98856-184-2

English version details

  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape
    ISBN: 0712693343 | 9780712693349
    Cover: paperback
    Pages: 608
    Audiobook: Not available
    Ebook: Available

Reviews - Microcosm

read all reviews

Even the stones spoke German

Thursday 28 November 2002 London Review of Books, Brendan Simms

Travellers to the western Polish city of Wroclaw in the 1980s could still encounter Germans who had lived there before the Second World War.

The long journey from Wroclaw to Breslau

Saturday 25 January 2003 The Guardian, Nicholas Lezard

There is a lesson for us all in the thousand-year history of a central European city.