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Greek War of Independence: The Struggle for Freedom from Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation Paperback – March 25, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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At the beginning of the 19th century, the Ottoman empire extended far into Central Europe, occupying nearly all of the Balkan Peninsula. Three decades later, it would lie fragmented, thanks to the efforts of Greek patriots who, after a bloody struggle, forced their Turkish rulers to acknowledge Greece's independence. Classics scholar David Brewer tells that story in this comprehensive account, the first on the subject to appear in many years.

The Turkish empire, Brewer writes, was "one of the most impressive that the world has ever seen," the product of generations of conquest and control. By 1800, however, it had declined in power and influence, and, lacking wealthy client states to feed its treasury, the Ottoman government inaugurated a severe program of taxation on such essential Mediterranean goods as sheep, olives, honey, and grapes, compounding the injury by drafting young Greeks to serve in the imperial army. Resistance grew, especially as Ottoman functionaries such as the Ali Pasha (whom Lord Byron, the British poet and champion of Greek freedom, called "a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties") carved out bits and pieces of Greece as private fiefdoms. Inspired by the American and French revolutions, the Greeks finally revolted, touching off a terrible war that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives, involve the major European powers (which, as in later troubles in the Balkans, proved ineffectual), and hasten the downfall of the Ottoman empire.

Brewer takes an evenhanded view of the struggle, noting acts of heroism, cruelty, and treachery on both sides. Students of modern European history will find his study of a largely forgotten conflict to be of much interest, especially given recent events in the region. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1821, Greek revolutionaries began a War of Independence fueled by longstanding grievances against their Turkish occupiers and Enlightenment ideals. In 1833, Greece became the first nation-state to win its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the centuries-old nemesis of Christian Europe. This volume is former Oxford classics scholar Brewer's detailed narrative of this achievement. Brewer effectively employs historical analogies to place the struggle within an understandable context. For example, he likens the popular support of Europeans, if not their governments, for the Greek struggle to 20th-century support during the Spanish Civil War, and he describes the effect on European public opinion of a vivid painting by Delacroix, based on the Turkish capture and pillaging of Mesolongi, a Greek fortress town, as similar to that of Vietnam War-era photographs that aroused antiwar passions. Brewer comprehensively describes the military campaigns, but he is most engaging when examining the internal and external political factors that influenced the war's outcome. Both the difficulties in forging a coherent Greek effort (despite deep divisions among Greek factions) and the complex set of historical relationships that informed the political stances of European governments are set out in close detail. The latter factor was pivotal, as it was the joint intervention of England, France and Russia that finally forced the Ottomans to accept Greek independence. At times, the details are too dense; although it is no fault of Brewer's, the betrayals, massacres, impalements, decapitations and mutual depredations of the combatants will leave readers profoundly depressed. Nonetheless, Brewer's effort will be worthwhile for those interested in European history. Illus. and maps.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Press (March 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585673951
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585673957
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,763,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
In a possibly apocryphal but highly instructive story a traveler asks a nineteenth-century Balkan peasant if he considers himself mostly Bulgarian or mostly Greek. The peasant answers that he has no idea what the traveler is talking about and goes on to say he is Christian, by which he means he is not a Turk. (He had no clue about being of either nationality.)
Most people in the Balkans at that time had no sense of belonging to a nation but they knew they were part of a non-Christian empire and that they were an oppressed people. Little wonder, since the notion of nation-state with a common language, religion, ethnicity, was still largely a Western idea of which the Greeks and their neighbors had little practical sense. For most of their long histories empire and foreign domination was the political and economic reality. This means that any account of the beginnings of modern Greece has to deal pretty heavily, perhaps insistently, on the whole issue of "nation building." David Brewer does an admirable job of weaving this theme into his account of the Greek war of independence.
The situation at the time was a general disaster of decline and decadence in the Ottoman Empire, warlords and ignorant peasants in the homeland, bandits in the mountain passes, and wealthy Greeks who wanted the Turks out so they themselves could take over as oppressors of the have-nots.
Brewer begins with a brief description of the church and its hierarchy as unifying elements in the struggle against the oppressors, and then moves on to the more interesting (because less well-known) intellectual underpinnings of the war.
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Format: Paperback
On a whole, the book does a decent job in laying out the picture of the Greek War for Independence. We understand where the Greeks were coming from, as well as how they achieved ultimate freedom. Additionally, we are given many decent character chapters on many minor players of the war. The battles themselves are outlined as we move in a somewhat linear fashion through the years.

But there are several factors that prevent this from being a recommendation. First off, this is an english language book, written, presumably, for people who can read english. Seems obvious, but this isn't so for Brewer. Throughout the book he throws in phrases, sayings, nicknames, poems and so on written in Greek, Latin, French or Russian. But rather than explain their significance, i.e. translate them to english, he leaves it just as is, leaving you wondering. He will say, the Russians nicknamed Kolokotronis "russian language". Or he will state in french what so and so thought of him, with no translation! How about a whole poem that Brewer says portrays someone perfectly, but it will be recited in the greek language! This goes throughout the book, constantly using foreign language anecdotes and descriptions without translating their meaning.

Secondly, he starts the book off telling about this secret society that set about Greece's revolutionary war, and then doesn't even so much as mention them after he tells us everything about them. I can understand that the war was bigger than this group, and so was lost after the war began and more Greeks became involved, but shouldn't you at least give a parting note or mention as to what happened to them? Not even a mention. Brewer himself just forgot to write about them, which is why I can't even remember what their group was called?!?!?
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Format: Hardcover
I knew next to nothing about the Greek war to separate itself from the Turks before reading this book. Only the highlights were in my mind, so I was very pleased to learn much more about this most interesting modern struggle. The author does his best in telling a very confused tale, although his habit of occasionally skipping back and forth, and some repetition, bothered me a bit. He also would give a quotation in its original language, and then fail to tell the reader what it said in translation! Unfortunatley, English is my only language, so I took umbrage at this lapse. The work itself moves fairly smoothly, introducing a vast number of people, and occasionally I got lost in all of the unfamiliar names and places, but that's my fault, and not the author's. All in all, this is a book that is well worth reading if you are interested in learning about its subject, as I was.
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Format: Hardcover
Most amateurs (I would consider myself one) go into a history book with a slight apprehension - because you don't know what pre-assumed knowledge is there, or if you'll be lost at the end of the first chapter. Rest assured - not so here. Although this book is quite difficult to find, I received mine from my grandfather, who purchased it at an Athens bookshop -- his place of residence.
The citings are numerous but appropriate and yet not overwhelming, and the level of reading is not unbearably high. I, in all of my ignorance, had no idea what century the Greek Revolution was in before this work, and still found everything readable and comprehensible. The major players are emphasized, and gladly Brewer stays away from the unnecessary tangents that plague a lot of other writers. His narrative is focused and precise, and not disguised in the detail that we as readers don't want to know.
I found this highly enjoyable - and one gets a true sense of what a mangled and disorganized "revolution" Greece really had, and how close the campaign was to defeat on numerous occasions. As in all history, the fate of men hangs by but a thread, and such a piece could be the difference between life, death, left, right, up, down, or nothing at all. It remains true here.
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