In the 1920s, Józef Piłsudski was a household name not just in Poland, but across Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean as well. Yet this complex and contradictory figure – a socialist and a nationalist, a clandestine agitator and a legendary military strategist, protector of Jews and other national minorities on Polish soil who was nonetheless often accused of imperialism – has eluded serious biographical treatment in English until now. Yeshiva University professor Joshua D. Zimmerman offers a nuanced, readable, and definitive account of the man who re-founded the independent state of Poland in 1918. Jozef Pilsudski: Founding Father of Modern Poland (Harvard University Press, 2022) could not be more timely, given the lessons to be learned from Piłsudski’s career by today’s opponents of far-right populism in Eastern Europe, and even more urgently – by English-language readers seeking to understand the imperative of preserving an independent Ukrainian state in the face of Russian aggression.
Piotr H. Kosicki is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Catholics on the Barricades (Yale, 2018) and editor, among others, of Political Exile in the Global Twentieth Century (with Wolfram Kaiser).