The Palace Complex:
A Stalinist Skyscraper, Capitalist Warsaw and a City Transfixed
The Palace Complex is my first English-language monograph, published in 2019, the result of many years of ethnographic research in, on and around Warsaw's mostly beloved (occasionally detested) Stalinist skyscraper.
The Palace Complex received sole Honorable Mention in the 2020 William A. Douglass Prize for Europeanist Anthropology, awarded by the Society for European Ethnology of the American Anthropological. Association.
Reviewers on The Palace Complex
“The most brilliant book on a building in many years, making a case for Warsaw’s once-loathed Palace of Culture and Science as the most enduring and successful legacy of Polish state socialism.”
Owen Hatherley, author of Trans-Europe Express, in The New Statesman’s “Books of
the Year” list
"The author of this remarkable work left Warsaw at six years old (in 1990) and has frequently revisited his birthplace. His book, the outcome of a Cambridge PhD, magnificently illustrated, often with the author’s own photographs, traces the controversial history of its central building.”
Anthony Kemp-Welch, author of Poland Under Communism: A Cold War History, in Slavic Review
"[Murawski's] approach is thoroughly anthropological, but also historical. ... The result of this research, and the rich source materials referred to by Murawski, is a colourful, dense and ambiguous history of relations between the city and this huge – and yet for many somehow still embarrassing – gift of Stalin. ... The book is structured into 11 chapters that often show Murawski's witty linguistic creativity. ... Thinking about the Palace relationally – as a product of practices, trajectories and interrelations – is one of the book's major achievements, standing out in a field of dozens of other Palace-based publications in Polish. ... The Palace Complex is a brilliant example of both place-making and re-making, enabling us to see the discrete spaces of vibrant configurations of ‘permanences’ within the spatio-temporal dynamics of Polish society.
Mariusz Czepczyński, author of Cultural Landscapes of Post-Socialist Cities, in The
Journal of Urban History
While the book has several theoretical interventions and themes (the gift dynamic, Althusser's work on ideology, debates on urban centres and periphery, to name a few), it is first and foremost a detailed narrative about the Palace and its extraordinariness. The author keeps introducing new exciting stories, details, characters and developments in the Palace's life (even in the Conclusion) and then some more come in the Epilogue, which focuses on the most recent relations of the Palace and the emphatically antipost- communist political regime of the 'Law and Justice' party.
Anna Zhelnina, Anthropological Journal of European Cultures
“Warsaw has developed a very complex love-hate relationship with this astonishing building. In his Palace Complex Michał Murawski, a British leftist social anthropologist of Polish extraction, analyzes this relationship with great sophistication, playing on the double meaning of the word complex that signifies both something multifaceted and comprehensive and something indicative of a deep emotional entanglement that is only partially conscious… [an] excellent book.”
Konstanty Gebert, Gazeta Wyborcza, in American Ethnologist.
[Murawski] makes a novel argument that departs from anthropologists’ frequent focus on architectural failures, positing instead that the skyscraper can be seen as a case of a resounding success. This provocative argument, going against the received (or perceived) wisdom that socialism produced only unlivable and ineffective environments, rests on the persistence of the Palace’s public character, in contrast to much of its urban context, which since 1989 has undergone a thorough (re)privatization… The Palace Complex is a clear, engaging, and, at times, quite entertaining read.”
Vladimir Kulić, curator of Towards a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia,
1948-1980 (MoMA, New York, 2018/2019), in Journal of the Society of Architectural
Michał Murawski's book is an ambitious anthropological biography of Poland's tallest and most infamous building, the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. ... It is a truly fascinating story that challenges a tenacious stereotype, and Murawski tells it brilliantly, judiciously layering literatures from multiple disciplines, his own ethnographic work, and personal anecdotes.
Patryk Babiracki, author of Soviet Soft Power in Poland, in H-Net History
“Very funny but also serious.”
Owen Hatherley in London Review of Books