The Last Palace by Norman Eisen

The Last Palace

Norman Eisen

When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador’s residence in Prague, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture. The Last Palace tells the dramatic and surprisingly cyclical tale of the triumph of liberal democracy.

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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.

Advance Galley Reviews

The Last Palace Norman Eisen Due to computer failure, I was unable to finish reading this book, but I did manage to get about three-quarters of it read. I was expecting a story of someone moving into the Palace and finding things that related back to WWI. Instead it was a historical story about the man who built the Palace and the things that happened to it and Poland over several decades, including visits by Shirley Temple Black . Although was a lengthy book and quite wordy, I did find it interesting.

To be honest, I did find this book to be a bit boring. I wanted it to be more interesting than it wound up being but I do appreciate well done research. I'd give it a 3 star.

I found this book excruciatingly boring. The initial present day framework established in the book was soon abandoned, and I wanted to come back to that in order to understand the historical information better. I would not recommend this book to others.

This is a thoroughly researched, yet very entertaining history of Czechoslovakia told through the lens of a building that served so many purposes and masters. Although there is some repetition and some understandable tangents to illustrate key parts of Czech and the author’s family histories. This is a fascinating story and interesting approach, and the author’s personal experiences as ambassador at a critical point is especially enlightening and provides a great ending. The author does a great job setting the stage with the context of the political/geopolitical events.

If these walls could talk......That is exactly what the last palace built in Europe did. The current US Embassy in the Czech Republic is that palace. The history of the palace is divided into four sections. The first being the original Jewish owner's story of building the palace. The palace was an obsession with Otto Petschek. He was a Jewish financial banker who made his fortune in coal after World War I. The second being, the German General, Rudolf Toussaint who occupied the palace after the remaining Petschek family members fled the then Country of Czechslovakia. The third section is about the first US Ambassador sent to Prague, Laurence Steinhardt. His journey was one to keep the palace out of the Communist hands and to find a way for the US to own the palace. The fourth section centers around US Ambassador, Shirley Temple Black and her fight to end totalitarianism. This book took so much research to put this history together by Norman Eisen, Obama's US Ambassador of the Czech Republic. It was so educational. I learned so much thanks to First To Read and Penguin Random House. Thank you for the ARC.

This was so amazing written that the story flows easily and wraps you up completely. I love that although this is a nonfiction, it reads like a fiction and the author’s research shows. I love getting see a century of Prague unfold and I learned a lot. It was also interesting to see history from so many different perspectives. It’s a dark story but one that I truly had trouble putting down and I recommend this to anyone interested in history. I loved it!

Warning: this book will trick you - in all the best ways. Look at the cover and assume it's a straightforward account of one specific 'palace' in Prague; yet within two pages, Eisen has already worked in personal elements of family storytelling and turned a simple nonfiction into a memoir, as well. Ready to be lectured with dates and names? Eisen sneakily layers geopolitics and art and religion into the text, until you're not getting a history lesson but falling into a multi-generational saga just as good as any made up by a fiction novelist. The number of times I found myself reading interesting facts aloud to my boyfriend indicates just how much I enjoyed this book. "Get this!" "Did you know that..." The Last Palace informed and intrigued in a perfect balance - I only wish Eisen had dwelt more on his mother's experiences after leaving Europe (though understanding that those memories may be too private to share).

I was a child born in the aftermath of 1968 Czechoslovakia and lived through the events of 1989 in Prague as a college student. Yet "Petchek Palace" as a name has sent me to Google, to be honest. The former Petchek bank building is known as that in Prague, Czechs call the Palace from the book Petchek Villa (or U.S. Ambassador Residence). What a well-researched book though! I connected the most to the story of Ambassador Eisen's mother. She gave me some chuckles as well when she was sharing her opinions on some more current Czech political figures with her son. I was truly disappointed that her own story didn't continue and we didn't find out if she was finally open to a visit or not. In a way, it felt that Ambassador Eisen did a great job gathering all the stories and info of some previous residents, yet wasn't willing to uncover more about his own family story and their life at the embassy. What a pity. I will definitely recommend this book to my friends. I only hope that a native Czech editor was hired to proofread before the book was published. There are so many Czech words and names, most of them are spelled correctly, yet some major mistakes slipped through here and there. Thank you Penguin Random House for the advanced copy of this book!

The Last Palace chronicles the history of Prague through the last century. I found this to be a highly readable book and I learned so much about Czech Republic. The chapters on Shirley Temple Black were especially entertaining and it was wonderful that the author had such a personal connection to the palace. 3.5/5 stars

I generally enjoyed this book; I thought Ambassador Eisen's writing about his mother, in particular, was fantastic. As a historian, I did find his written history a bit prosy and I wanted a lot more about the palace itself. I also thought there would be more of Eisen's personal experience as Ambassador interwoven with the history of the palace. I wish Eisen had opened up a bit more and written a little more self-reflectively; in that case, the book would have been five stars instead of 3 or 3.5.

Excellent history of the Czech Republic during the 20th century after WWI. History is told through the occupants of the current US ambassador's residence. Because the story is told through the lives of several different people, I found some of the stories more interesting than others. Overall, this is a well researched, well written history. It was dry in some places but usually moved along very well.

I was excited to receive my Advanced Reader Copy of The Last Palace from First To Read, however I was ultimately disappointed in this book for two main reasons. First, its cover and summary had given me the impression that the incredible house itself would be a character in the book, or at least a focal point, but that turned out to not be the case. I felt this book turned out to be more of a history of Prague from the 1920s to the 1960s and the house served as very loose connective tissue. Beyond the chronology of the palace's construction, which is shared at the outset of the book, this story is much less about the palace than it is about the political and economical timeline of Prague within the context of European and world history. Second, I had an expectation that the author, Norman Eisen, would be more present in his own book. Given the fact that he lived in the palace as the U.S. ambassador to Prague and had firsthand knowledge of the residence and of the city, I had expected his own opinions, insights and anecdotes to be injected throughout the narrative. However, only the first and last chapters were written from his point of view and the rest of the book was written in a style that to me was much more like the nonfiction narrative in a history textbook. In fact, the book left me suspecting that Eisen had contributed the opening and closing chapters and used a ghostwriter for the vast middle, which is never what you want as a reader. (Nor as an author, I would imagine.) With all of the above said, I did appreciate how well researched the content seemed to be, even if it was delivered in a manner that was way too dry for my taste. Ultimately, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who normally enjoys commercial nonfiction or commercial fiction. I think The Last Palace is better suited to academics and universities' required reading lists.

This was an interesting account of some of the most turbulent times in Czech history, and the narrowed viewpoint (showing events through the eyes of the occupants of Petschek's palace) worked really well, at times even adding an air of suspense. Otto's story was my least favorite. He was willing to pay far too high a price for the completion of his magnificent palace. Touissant was interesting as a man who thought he could remain part of the German army and yet keep his hands clean of Hitler's filthy acts. My favorite section was the one about Shirley Temple Black. Overall, this was an interesting read that I would recommend to anyone interested in European history. Thank you Penguin Random House First to Read for the ARC.

The Last Palace is a fascinating account of 100 years of European history from a unique perspective. Otto Petschek's palace in Prague, and its construction, serves as the backdrop for the tumultuous story. Being a former ambassador gives Norman Eisen the knowledge and access to give us this interesting account. His family's own history plays a part in the story and I really enjoyed how he connected it all together. Any fan of Erik Larsen would enjoy this book.

This is an excellent book, a meticulously researched and detailed work of non-fiction that is written with the pace of a thriller. Spanning more than a century, the historical events related here are inherently gripping. The people who built, inhabited, occupied, preserved, and labored in “The Last Palace” come alive on the page. And laced throughout the book are two important themes: the importance of moral integrity and the precariousness of freedom. Highly recommended.

I loved this book!! I enjoyed the history lesson told through the history of a remarkable house. palaces are built when people feel safe enough not to need a defensive home (castle). I wish this was true for the builder of this house. I would have loved to have drawings of the layout. i did not know much about the history of Prague and was very happy to find such a readable history. If you like to learn about lesser known historical figures, read this.

I had a slow time getting started, but this book was worth the little struggle. The history of the palace and the families that lived there through the decades was written well and kept my interest, to the point that the last 200 pages I read in less than two days. The author has done so much research and I especially liked the various perspectives offered during the turbulent periods. I would recommend this book and now I want to visit Prague more than ever.

This book covered an interesting expanse of the history of one palace in Prague. For me this book took a little bit of time to get into and want to continue reading. The stories were all very interesting and well written. However, the book is very long and towards the middle of the book I kept wondering when the book was going to end. With this in mind I would suggest the book to those who enjoy reading long history books, or are interested in the history of Prague. It isn't a book for everyone and I would think about how likely you are to be interested in the topic before starting.

I chose this book, as it looked interesting, but I just couldn't get into it. I didn't finish it.

This is an interesting story of the history of the palace in Prague. The history surrounding its creation and importance in political and world history is fascinating. The text is a bit dry, more a textbook than a novelized history. This does not diminish its impact, but is worth noting for those who do not prefer that type of a read.

This was a fascinating story by the former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Every US ambassador lives in this beautiful palace in Prague and have done so for many years. THE LAST PALACE takes the reader through the history of this famous building; we learn about its creation, role in World War II, and how it came to be the residence of the US Ambassador. Norman Eisen also weaves in the story of his mother's life as she was a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia. This is not the history of one person though, THE LAST PALACE allows the reader to experience the changes in the country though the eyes of the different residents of the palace. The beginning took me a bit to get into, but I found myself moving quickly through this rather long book. Norman Eisen does a great job of fully immersing the reader in what is happening in Prague at different moments in history. Otto Petschek is the original builder of the house and we see as it falls into the hands of the Nazis, Communists, and eventually the United States. As interesting and heartbreaking as the chapters on World War II and the German occupation of Prague were, I found myself enjoying the later chapters on the US ambassadors and recent history a bit more, simply because I hadn't read much about this before . From the Soviet occupation to the student led protests, it was eye-opening to watch these citizens who had already been through so much take a stand for democracy and freedom. I also knew very little about the role Shirley Temple Black played in US government. I knew she played a role in diplomacy, but had no idea just how much she was able to accomplish and experience as US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. I am also interested in reading more about her role as Ambassador to Ghana in the future. At the center of THE LAST PALACE is, of course, the palace itself and it was an experience to be able to see how the palace survived and endured through all those years of history. I wish that the ending was a little less.. abrupt? It did feel as though the book ended rather suddenly and I was interested in getting more closure on his mother's story. All in all, I found this book to be an extremely well-written and researched story about an unusual subject- a building. I definitely recommend this to any history or political buff.

THE LAST PALACE by Norman Eisen tells the history of Czechoslovakia primarily through one building and the people who made it their home. The book was inspired by the author when he was the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic and finding that the furniture that had resided in the building bore the imprints of ownership from its architect, through the Nazi confiscation, to a more modern barcode relating to its ownership by the United States. This book tells more than just the history of a building and it's occupants, it also tells the struggle of the Czech people in finding their voice. Risen brings a unique perspective since his mother is Czech and suffered under the Nazi regime. The beginning was a bit slow as the author talks a lot about the architecture and furnishings of the home, but the pace picks up with my author's mother's story. The story of Jewish persecution that the Petschek and others endured is not New although the author does take the time to give the Nazi Wehrmacht, Rudolf Touissant officer his due for Jewish books being kept in the library and his efforts to save not only this palace but Prague and its other buildings themselves. The story then follows Laurence Steinhardt, the U.S. Ambassador immediately after World War II, who salvages the palace in some very sketchy dealings and Shirley Temple Black and her ties to the Czech Republic's fight to regain their freedom. This was an interesting take on history and memory.

The Last Palace presents the history of Prague and Czechoslovakia through the lens of the Petschek Palace and the residents who occupied it. The palace, the most opulent in Prague, was built after WWI by a wealthy Jewish businessman, Otto Petschek, to his unique and demanding specifications. When the Nazis come to power, the Petscheks escape, leaving the palace to the occupancy of a Wehrmacht commander. Finally, thanks to the efforts of the post-War US ambassador to Prague, the Palace becomes the property of the State Department and the home of the US Embassy. At the same time that we learn about the Palace, we are introduced to the author’s mother, who grew up in a religious Jewish family in Czechoslovakia and, with three of her siblings, survived the concentration and work camps. Through the author’s mother and the residents of the Palace, we get a personal look at the past 100 years of history. Really enjoyed this book. The author did a masterful job of presenting this history not just as events, but how the individuals in his book -the residents of the Palace and his mothers family - reacted to the events.

Norman Eisen’s The Last Palace is a beautiful and personal story of Czech history over 100 years, told through his perspective and that of four previous occupants of the Petschek palace (later home of American ambassadors to the Czech Republic) as well as his own mother. It starts with the early life and then adult successes of Otto Petschek, a Jewish business magnate in Prague. His financial success leads to his decision to build his own personal palace. The Petschek family flees when the Nazis take over Czechoslovakia, and a representative takes over occupation of the home. When the war ends, Communism takes hold of the country, but not before a brief period when the United States purchases the Petschek palace. The story then transitions into telling the fight against Communism from the forties into the late eighties before concluding with a brief peek into the author’s term as ambassador. This is a fantastic peek into the turmoil that the Czech Republic has battled through in the past century. While it shows the ultimate triumphs of its citizens in having a voice, it is definitely a reminder of how hard it is fought for, and how tenuous it can be.

3.5 stars There were a couple reasons I was interested in reading this book. The first being I got to visit Prague a few years ago and it really is a beautiful city. Second, back when my husband and I lived in Germany, we loved going to see the different castles and palaces so I was intrigued by the description of this particular palace being perhaps the last one built in Europe. Sadly, I do not remember if I saw this one during my trip to Prague, at most it would have only been a quick glance during our walking tour. The author, a former ambassador to the Czech Republic under the Obama administration, lived in the Petschek palace while working in Prague. Otto Petschek, a Jewish man whose family was among the richest in Czechoslovakia, had the palace constructed in the 1920s much to the chagrin of family members. After the family fled due to growing anti-Semitism in the 1930s, Rudolf Toussaint, a top German officer, occupied the palace and it became home to many meetings with Nazi leaders. After the war, the palace has been a home or meeting site for many U.S. ambassadors including Shirley Temple Black. The palace is certainly rich in history and although Otto Petschek died many years ago I think he could at least appreciate the fact that if his descendants weren't living in the massive home he created, at least it was occupied by the author who is Jewish and whose mother grew up in Czechoslovakia. By far the parts of the book I was drawn to the most was the story of Otto and how the palace came to be and the author's mother who survived the concentration camps and later was forced to leave her homeland. While the book was a good history lesson in what has taken place in Prague from the early 1900s to the current decade, I just care more in non-fiction books the parts that focus on people rather than events. This book had a fairly equal mix of both. One slight criticism I have is I didn't care for how the author ended the story in regards to his mother. The author did a fine job in telling his mom's life story and you end up feeling this emotional connection to her. I just wish a little more could have been added about whether she actually followed through and made the trip. I do think this book will appeal to even casual non-fiction fans. It certainly was more fascinating than the last few books I have read in the genre. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy!


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