The Last Palace: Book summary and reviews of The Last Palace by Norman Eisen

The Last Palace

Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House

by Norman Eisen

The Last Palace by Norman Eisen X
The Last Palace by Norman Eisen

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Book Summary

A sweeping yet intimate narrative about the last hundred years of turbulent European history, as seen through one of Mitteleuropa's greatest houses - and the lives of its occupants.

When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador's residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture in his new home. These symbols of Nazi Germany were remnants of the residence's forgotten history, and evidence that we never live far from the past.

From that discovery unspooled the twisting, captivating tale of four of the remarkable people who had called this palace home. Their story is Europe's, and The Last Palace chronicles the upheavals that transformed the continent over the past century. There was the optimistic Jewish financial baron, Otto Petschek, who built the palace after World War I as a statement of his faith in democracy, only to have that faith shattered; Rudolf Toussaint, the cultured, compromised German general who occupied the palace during World War II, ultimately putting his life at risk to save the house and Prague itself from destruction; Laurence Steinhardt, the first postwar US ambassador whose quixotic struggle to keep the palace out of Communist hands was paired with his pitched efforts to rescue the country from Soviet domination; and Shirley Temple Black, an eyewitness to the crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring by Soviet tanks, who determined to return to Prague and help end totalitarianism - and did just that as US ambassador in 1989.

Weaving in the life of Eisen's own mother to demonstrate how those without power and privilege moved through history, The Last Palace tells the dramatic and surprisingly cyclical tale of the triumph of liberal democracy.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This action-packed yet lyrically written page-turner confers a fascinating human understanding of Europe's past and present." - Publishers Weekly

"A well-told story for readers interested in Czechoslovakia, its creation, its fall to fascism and then communism, and rescue from both." - Kirkus

"Norman Eisen has written an enthralling history of a palace and its very real ghosts. By telling the story of the Prague mansion where he resided as America's ambassador, Eisen provides a poinant reflection on the haunting twists of the past century, including his own very American family tale." - Walter Isaacson

"Moving, engaging, and elegantly written, The Last Palace wears its erudition lightly, casts its radiant intelligence fearlessly into the darkest corners of the twentieth century and, effortlessly, reliably, breaks your heart again and again." - Michael Chabon

"Combining both the personal and the historical, Norman Eisen's remarkable book transports us into the battle for democracy through the lives of people who fought to save it and those would seek to destroy it. The Last Palace is not only a first-rate work of history, but a call to action written at a time of urgent need." - Madeleine Albright

"Eisen has written a pearl of a book...The Last Palace is a great read and a stirring reminder of the importance of decency in public life." - Samantha Power

"As America's Ambassador in Prague, Norman Eisen had an extraordinary relationship with the Czech Republic and its history: his mother said the Nazis took her family out in boxcars and her son came back on Air Force One. The Last Palace combines human drama with geopolitical and historical sweep and does it with evident love and painstaking investigation." - John Kerry

"Norman Eisen pulls back the curtains to reveal history's secrets in this rich, personal, and wise book." - Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money

"What a revelation! With this moving memoir and history, Norman Eisen enters the front rank of writers.  A truly riveting read." - David Axelrod, author of Believer

"Enchanting and fascinating, The Last Palace is a splendid journey through a century of modern European history, and a love letter to liberal democracy...Norman Eisen brings the inhabitants of a storied residence, and their tumultuous times, to life." - Chris Whipple, author of the New York Times bestseller The Gatekeepers

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Author Information

Norman Eisen

Norman Eisen is a senior fellow at Brookings and a CNN commentator and chairs the watchdog group CREW. He served as US ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014, and as President Obama's ethics czar from 2009 to 2011. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and many other publications. The Last Palace is his first book.

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