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 cyclical tale of the triumph of liberal democracy through the lens of the titular palace and its various residents.
Eisen, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a meticulous researcher, and his fascinating book brings together new interviews, diaries, letters, archival research and freshly declassified documents ... Reading this book, you are reminded of the many missed opportunities that the United States and other Western allies had to encourage and assist democracy in Central Europe. It is not clear that we have learned from history as we are once again confronting nationalist, nativist and anti-democratic politicians and movements backed or amplified by Russia in Europe and beyond.
It’s a deft and fascinating narrative ... The Last Palace is steeped in politics, military history, architectural lore and anecdotes. Mr. Eisen has combed state, private and military archives across Europe, the U.S. and Israel for his material. He has employed teams of research assistants, interviewed dozens of witnesses and Petschek descendants, and read numerous memoirs and war-crime trial files. The Petschek family documents in Prague, scattered in various locations, occupy several hundred boxes. The book’s detailed source notes alone, downloadable online, run to almost 200 pages and are a proof of what there is to be found, in the telling of history, for someone with time, energy, resourcefulness, contacts and money. If it seems churlish to mention that, for all the vast scholarship, the narrative is peppered with historical details the author cannot possibly have known, it is also true that Mr. Eisen’s easy, fluid style and the richness of his material make for very pleasurable historical reading.
Eisen, ambassador from 2011 to 2014, has written a genuinely exciting history of the era, seen through the lives of Frieda and four people who lived in the mansion ... Based on voluminous research, the book offers a detailed, novelistic view of stirring times and impressive characters. For all his riches, Petschek is ultimately a sad figure, unable to understand the fragility of his world.