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Publisher's 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.

©2018 Norman Eisen (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“A deft and fascinating narrative...The Last Palace is steeped in politics, military history, architectural lore and anecdotes.... Mr. Eisen’s easy, fluid style and the richness of his material make for very pleasurable historical reading.” (Wall Street Journal

“The book’s main characters are captivating. The palace itself has a ghostly allure.” (The Economist

“Meticulous...fascinating.... 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.” (Washington Post

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The arc of history in a great curve...

Norman Eisen's epic, intimate opus follows the inhabitants of one extraordinary villa in Prague through a century of tremendous change for the Czech people and for the world. He weaves the story of his own mother, a Holocaust survivor and a formidable woman, into a complex historical tapestry full of coincidence, wonder, and tiny miracles. Portraits of decent leaders, of madmen, of resistance both quiet and deafening. The story of the 20th century, with its slow and constant arc toward better liberal democracies, is a welcome dose of hope for the future.

Jeff Goldblum's performance is a treat for the listener. He swells with emotion and discovery, reading every page as though he's learning the information for the first time. Magnificent.

And Eisen, reconstructing the most personal moments of his subjects--from Otto Petschek to Shirley Temple Black--suffuses his nonfiction with a sweeping artistry. It's a historical volume treated with a novelist's voice. Best of all, for us readers who count themselves among the 'watchers of Prague' Eisen describes, The Last Palace brilliantly captures the impression of the great city and its people. The vibrations, the energy, the myths and the magic. The unbreakable spirit.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Amazing

Amazing story, great performance. A truly great story about the Czech Republic, and what happened to the country during the 20th Century.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Lots of history little heart

Agree with another reviewer who said the same. Lots of historical detail but almost detached in the delivery. I would’ve liked more depth of character and more human side of the story. It was a bit of a trudge to get through it. Not a huge fan of the narrators lilt & voice variation.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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One of the best books I have ever read/Listen to.

One Of the best books I have ever read/Listen to, truly a Awesome read it gives you historic reference and family history at the same time. I will read it again, and Again.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book despite goldblum’s narration

Story is great. I just went to Prague and this book enriched the experience. Not even Goldblum’s atrocious narration managed to ruin it. By the way, somebody give him a TUMS. There were parts where it sounded like he needed to burp. When narrating children and women, he sounded like somebody just kicked him in the privates. Every Czech, German, and Hebrew word appeared to give him seizures. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE = just because someone is famous, it does not mean they will be good narrators (the opposite is more likely).

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  • Vicki
  • Montpelier, VA, United States
  • 01-04-19

Reasonably boring story narrated to make it worse

I was looking forward to reading this book because I know very little about the history of Czechoslovakia. So the first point that needs to be made is that this is not the story of Europe's Turbulence. It is barely a history of Czechoslovakia. The premise is that this is the history of Europe told through the history of the inhabitants of this one palace. It is the story of the man who built the palace, the author's family, the Nazi and then Soviet occupation of the country and of some of the US diplomats who lived in the palace. I felt short-changed on all fronts.

The main bit of information that I took out of it is that an early diplomat fell in love with the palace and through his machinations we, the US taxpayers, are funding the maintenance and upkeep on an obscene 100 room palace to house our diplomats.

As to the narration, it's horrible. Jeff Goldblum reads this novel the way that an adult reads a children' book with exaggerated intonation. His voices for female characters are ridiculous and almost offensive. I hope he sticks to acting. I had to listen at 1.3 speed to get through it.

I did finish the book but didn't really learn much new except about the man who built the house and how he destroyed his family relationships in the process. That's not a particularly unique story among the super-wealthy.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fantastic book

However I did not appreciate the voice of the narrator trying to imitate a woman, a child, singing etc. Beneath the narrator’s ability and our intelligence. We understand a book narrator cannot be expected to sound like a child or a woman so why try! Annoying and distracting!!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Amazing! Loved everything about it!

Great story! Great performance! Jeff Goldblum was perfect for this book. It could have been twice as long!