The Will to Survive

A History of Hungary

February 2011 9781849041126 600pp


The Will to Survive describes how a small country, for much of its existence squeezed between two empires, surrounded by hostile neighbours and subjected to invasion and occupation, survived the frequent tragedies of its eventful history to become a sovereign democratic republic within the European Union. The Mongol, Ottoman, Habsburg, Nazi and Soviet empires have all since vanished; but Hungary, a victim of all five and on the losing side in every war she has fought, still occupies the territory the Magyar tribes claimed for themselves in the ninth century.

The author, whose interest in Hungary stems from his service there as British Ambassador during the declining years of Kádár’s Communist regime, traces Hungary’s story from the arrival of the Magyars in Europe to the accession of Hungary to membership of NATO and the European Union. The eleven hundred years covered by this stirring account embrace medieval greatness, Turkish occupation, Habsburg domination, unsuccessful struggles for independence, massive deprivation of territory and population after the First World War, a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany motivated by the hope of redress, and forty years of Soviet-imposed Communism interrupted by a gallant but brutally suppressed revolution in 1956.


‘Though this is a political history, the social and economic aspects are well covered. Cartledge has … a perceptive eye and an elegant pen. The Will to Survive is set to become the standard work on Hungary.’ — International Affairs

‘The best history of Hungary in the English language’ — John Lukacs

‘There are occasions when the sympathetic and interested eye … of a foreigner may penetrate the jungle of confusing events and complicated sentiments with a clarity of vision … amounting to something more than the antiseptic desideratum of “objectivity.” … Such is the case with The Will To Survive … Many professional historians, including Hungarians, could learn from the judgements of this former guest in their midst.’ — Harper’s Magazine

The Will to Survive is not only a labor of love but also a thoroughly scholarly work that should be on the shelves of experts and interested readers alike.’ — Gabor Vermes, H-Net Reviews

‘the most detailed and balanced narrative of Hungarian history currently available in English.’ — Franz A.J. Szabo, Canadian Journal of History


Bryan Cartledge joined the British Diplomatic Service in 1960, subsequently serving in Sweden, the Soviet Union and Iran. He was seconded to 10 Downing Street as Private Secretary for Overseas Affairs to James Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher and served as British Ambassador to Hungary from 1980 to 1983, and to the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1988, when he left the Diplomatic Service on his election to be Principal of Linacre College, Oxford. He was knighted in 1985.

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