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Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus Paperback – October 23, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

The master of the hardheaded travelogue, Robert D. Kaplan returns with a book on what he calls "the New Near East," an area stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia that "might become the seismograph of world politics" in the new century. That doesn't sound like good news: "The pitiless history of the Near East [is] dominated by marauding armies and earthquakes while peace treaties have merely formalized temporary stalemates on the ground." Kaplan has made a career of writing about the world's trouble spots "without illusions"--his books Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth are at once influential and pessimistic.

Eastward to Tartary is a fascinating exploration of places Kaplan has not written about in depth before: "Third World Europe" (Romania and Bulgaria), Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the confusing conglomeration of countries and peoples in the Caucasus. Smart observations leap off almost every page. "In every Arab city I have ever visited, people were polite and honest, running after you to return a loose coin you have left at a soft-drinks stand," he writes. So why hasn't democracy taken hold in the Islamic world? "The very perfection of the Islamic belief system begot a naive absolutism that made the compromises of normal political life impossible." In an aside on ancient Assyria, Kaplan notes, "The theme is always the same: Highly militarized and centralized states and empires, so indomitable in one decade or generation, hack themselves to pieces or are themselves conquered in another." Then he reminds readers that Assyria once bestrode present-day Iraq and Syria--a "hauntingly appropriate" coincidence. And surprising facts abound: "Turkey represents the most stable governmental dynasty in world history, with the Turkish soldiery able to trace the roots of its power to the Roman emperors." Fans of Kaplan's previous books won't want to miss this one, and neither will new readers interested in this part of the world. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1993, as the blood-letting in Yugoslavia's ethnic civil war entered its fifth year, Kaplan, a foreign correspondent, wrote a history of that tragic region that became an instant bestseller. The war and its elements of genocide paved the way for popular reception of Balkan Ghosts, but it is Kaplan's name that will secure readers for his newest travelogue. In many ways, this book is the sequel to Balkan Ghosts, telling the story of those other orphans of the Ottoman EmpireDthe lands of the Middle and Near East. Kaplan's intention is to introduce Tartary (known today as Central Asia) as a place that has more in common with the Western Balkan countries than with the Oriental images conjured up by its exotic name. Walking the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan, he sees images of the Romanian capital, Bucharest; both reside in the 100-year-old shadows of a cosmopolitan Ottoman boomtown, and in the more obvious decay and disenchantment that is the legacy of the shorter-lived Soviet empire. In relating his travels through Syria, Israel and Lebanon, Kaplan focuses less on the effects of communism and more on the way Turkey remains a historical link between Arab and European powers. Whether he is analyzing the basis for Turko-Israeli alliances or pondering the likelihood of an ethnic "Balkanization" of the Middle East, Kaplan is thinking in terms of a new "seismograph of world politics in the twenty-first century." His readers will be left with a rich supply of historic, geographic and cultural cross-references to apply when they read the news about some of today's most strategic hot spots. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 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: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705762
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Cole on December 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This latest effort by renown travel journalist Robert D. Kaplan is, as should be expected from him, a timely, incisive and at times alarming look at the "ideological geography" which is bound to create conflict and instability-the likes of which we have seen in the Balkans-in years to come. This is a book that dares to go to places where the electronic media has very little (if any) interest in. Besides presenting us with places we'd heard very little about, Mr. Kaplan clearly shows us how the old imperialistic foundations, like plate tectonics, are sometimes coming back to haunt the region (this is something he'd pointed in The Ends of the Earth). The fear of Russian "hegemony" is palpable, and oftentimes the urge for Western capitalism enters in conflict with age-old ideologies which are still very present today.
The book also leads us to understand that the "democracy at all cost" approach, so much vaunted by the West, is more often than not the wrong way of assisting countries which for decades found themselves under the unforgiving rule of totalitarianism, with no democratic foundations to start with. Failure to grasp this reality leads to a widening gap between the population and the few cronies who, opportunistic as they are, were able to seize the various help packages that were injected (blindly) into the region after the fall of communism (and other forms of totalitarianism, such as the Ottoman Empire). What, Kaplan asks, is the solution, then? Jordan, he argues, is a good place to start.
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70 of 78 people found the following review helpful By L. Feld on December 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In "Eastward to Tartary," Robert Kaplan, author of the classic "Balkan Ghosts" and several other excellent books, doesn't sugarcoat things, that's for sure, as he explores the "New Near East" (the corpses of two major empires -- the Ottoman and the Soviet) and writes back to inform us how the rotting is going. Personally, I think we should all be thankful to Kaplan for traveling to some of these hellholes and reporting back to us so, if for nothing else, so WE don't have to go there ourselves (just kidding)! We are also lucky that Kaplan, with his keen eye, tenacity, persistence, courage, and fine journalistic skills, is there to give us the uncomfortable truths that most of us would prefer to ignore or gloss over. As Kaplan modestly puts it, his goal is to "discover the obvious" - obvious, though, only if you are willing (and skillful enough) to really look for it, and most Western journalists aren't willing or able. Luckily for us, Kaplan is both!
"Eastward to Tartary" is bracing, as have been all of Kaplan's books, and not for the weak of stomach! Whether or not you like what he has to say, you have to admit that Kaplan has vast knowledge and wisdom and cuts right to the chase - no bull. Reading Kaplan, I kept thinking: this guy is the anti-Friedman! No cloying cuteness, no wonders of globalization for Kaplan, and no rhapsodizing over the wonders of shopping malls and McDonalds either. Thank goodness! Instead, Kaplan writes clearly, brutally honestly, without sentimentality, glibness, or cuteness. Kaplan is NOT an optimist, and I mean this as a compliment. Instead, Kaplan is a clear-eyed realist, and, as Michael Ignatieff calls him, a "travel writer from hell" (that's a compliment, too, by the way!
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have read several of Kaplan's books and he continues his winning streak in this one. Unlike many travel writers who merely offer westernized descriptions of people and scenery in places that are already well known, Kaplan covers areas that most of us in the western world are unfamiliar with. Interesting places in this book include Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. He also focuses on history and politics, and has remarkable insights into the possible futures of the regions he visits, and how the past influences the present and future to a much greater extent than in the West. Some key insights offered by Kaplan here include the notion that Europe is currently splitting into regions that are eerily similar to the Ottoman and Holy Roman empires of ancient times, with the collapse of communism and the weakening of NATO. Kaplan also predicts that the next Yugoslavia-style bloodbath, which will drag in the rest of the world, will occur in the Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan). Tellingly, Chechnya is not too far away. Kaplan knows what he's talking about, as he predicted the Yugoslavia disaster back in the late 1980's. And throughout the book Kaplan proves that the collapse of communism and the rise of so-called democracy is only a good thing at a high level of international politics. But for millions and millions of regular people, life has become far more dangerous and miserable.
Since the portion of this book covering Romania and Bulgaria is meant as a sequel to Kaplan's earlier "Balkan Ghosts," and since some of the other areas covered are also featured in "The Ends of the Earth," this book is slightly weaker than those two masterpieces. Kaplan also occasionally stumbles into cultural arrogance when dealing with non-Western people and politics. However, these are slight weaknesses in a very strong book that offers highly enlightening insights into the history and peoples in areas that Americans should stop ignoring.
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