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Black Sea Paperback – September 30, 1996

4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In a colorful, learned and wholly original chronicle, Neal Ascherson shows us the Black Sea and its place in the history of Europe and Asia, from Jason and the Golden Fleece to the fall of Communism and the new world disorder. In his exploration of the myths and realities surrounding this remarkable region, where ancient cultures collided and modern states - Russia, Turkey, Romania, Greece, and Caucasus - mingle, he discovers that the meanings of community, nationhood, and cultural independence are both fierce and disturbingly uncertain. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

If Ascherson (The Polish August) cannot pinpoint precisely where Xenophon's 10,000 soldiers were when, lost on the march home from Persia 2600 years ago, they saw the sea and thought they were home, there is little else he does not tell us in this exotic and seductive history of the Black Sea. From his tales of its peculiar composition?in the depths beneath its upper stream of living water, it is the world's largest dead sea?to those of the myriad of peoples who have inhabited its coasts throughout time, his stories seem more fabulous than the Arabian Nights. Ascherson tells of obscure tribes, familiar heroes, lost languages, current politics and ancient hostilities as poisonous as the depths of the Black Sea itself. Around the once "monstrously abundant" Black Sea, peoples who disliked each other lived together, at best uneasily, at worst at war: Goths, Romans, Germans, Greeks, Turks, Jews, Russians, Persians, Asians and others. "My sense of Black Sea life," concludes Ascherson, "a sad one, is that latent mistrust between different cultures is immortal... not a helpful model for the 'multi-ethnic society' of our hopes and dreams."
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st Amer. edition (September 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809015935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809015931
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a bold and imaginative look at an area critical to the development of Western culture.Ascherson takes us on a remarkable tour through geography and history, and one comes away with much of the excitement of a real traveller. If the book stumbles on occasion I think it should be forgiven given the complexities that the author is willing to address (and the remarkably few stumbles that he has made. I particularly enjoyed Ascherson taking us more or less up to the present, as the spectre of modern environmental collapse joins the never-ending wars whose origins become more understandable after one has read this book. I wish it were longer, I wish there were more obvious references to take us further once we were done, but this is a real gem even if you never get east of Long Island Sound.
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Format: Paperback
The style is journalistic which makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The author can tell a story convincingly and he tells many. The subject matter is extremely exotic for an American reader. I have no way to know how reliable this author is as a historian. I am always suspicious of first-person journalistic history. Unlike other readers, I enjoyed the bits about Poland. But I think he is at his best in the lengthy ancient history parts. The best thing I can say about this book is it left me wanting to learn more.
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Format: Paperback
Part travel book, part history, part natural history, this is a miscellany of fascinating stories about a fascinating region woven together into a single, tight narrative. There's a great deal of learning lightly worn and tremendous technical skill involved in the organization and writing. Those reviewers who criticize it for not conforming to a standard template have a point, but what they're really complaining about is its originality.
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Format: Paperback
I have read many travelogues, for example ones by authors such as Lawrence Durrell, Rebecca West, and Jan Morris. I found this book to be of similar high quality. The author gives information in an enjoyable format that relates to his own personal travel in the region. His anecdotes on the retreat of the White Russian army from Novorossisk are interesting. The book gave me new information for an area that is often left out of other histories I have read about Byzantium and Eastern Europe. Information about the lucrative Venetian slave trade operating out of Tana was new to me and has never been mentioned in any other book about Venice or Byzantium that I have read. The story of the Pontine Greeks living in Trebizond and their "Katastrofe" exodus from there filled in gaps of knowledge for me. His discussion of Catherine the Great and her use of Cossacks and Jews to settle and develop the Don River region is fascinating. The book does dwell quite a bit on Polish involvement in Odessa, but his digression on the existence of a Polish and Lithuanian federation that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea was an esoteric and curious pleasure for me to read. I am passing the book along to several of my friends.
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By A Customer on July 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ascherson's style is constantly engaging and provocative. He asks probing questions -- e.g. not only the genetic/ethnic question "who are these people?" but the often ignored further question, "who do these people think they are?". The answers diverge more often than one would expect. His coverage and command of 3000 years of jumbled ethnicities is impressive. My one complaint lies in his treatment of the point that forms his subtitle: that the Black Sea area is the "birthplace of civilization and barbarism". The essential point here is that one cannot participate in both "civilization" and "barbarism" at once. The support for this claim is not sufficient, and indeed seems to run counter to the theme of intermixture that animates the rest of the book. Nonetheless, the book is fantastic and well worth the read. We are deeply in Ascherson's debt for this wonderful work.
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Format: Paperback
Black Sea is a gem of a book: it is a wonderfully written, sophisticated combination of travelogue and history by a fair-minded humanist. In my opinion, it stands with Claudio Magris's Danube as among the best books of its type. If you are interested in the Black Sea, I recommend this book. Even if you're not, however, I suspect that on trying Ascherson's prose, you will be... I have given five intelligent people I know copies as presents: all have enjoyed it immensely.
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Format: Paperback
Read as preparation for cruise of Black Sea and found the book highly relevant and a good read. Thought clarity and usefulness would have been tremendously enhanced if Ascherson had included maps for each chapter showing locations being discussed as well as current and ancient place names.
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Format: Paperback
Neal Ascherson deftly pulls the reader along for the ride as he explores the lands around the Black Sea, a region packed with legends (The Golden Fleece, for one) and a part of the world where different peoples and cultures have been mixing, not always successfully, for thousands of years. The soil was so fertile and the fish so abundant that even fools could have made a success of living here. The Greeks initially built farms and cities to transport food back home. Later on, after Genghis Kahn had conquered the east, the Black Sea became a focal point for traders. Ascherson is particularly good at exploring what happened when different cultures, as well as different kinds of cultures, met for the first time. Settlers and farmers used to living and working in one place didn't know what to make of nomads, who never stood still for more than a season or two.

Empires and cities rise and fall with bewilderingly great speed and it becomes increasingly tough to work out who conquered whom and when. Ascherson really wanders off track when he focuses a chunk of the book on Polish patriot Adam Mickiewicz, who spent some time on the Black Sea. Dozens of pages fly past and still we're focused on the most intricate details of Mickiewicz and his intrigues and lovers and none of it really has more than a passing connection to what Ascherson -- a huge Polonophile -- is supposed to be writing about. Eventually he breaks free from his fetish and continues along the Turkish coast towards the former Soviet Union, where he uncovers some of the ethnic tensions still so prevalent in Georgia.

Ascherson writes delightfully and digs deep into history as he strives to provide the context to show why the Black Sea was and is still so important. I just wish someone had urged him to cut out the Polish chapters, which detract from what is otherwise a most enjoyable book.
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