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61 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This provides a thorough and often insightful account of the recent history of today's five Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The main focus is on the post-Soviet history of the new nations, but Hiro begins with an introductory chapter on the history of the region, starting from the earliest times and then providing increasingly detailed coverage through the Tsarist and Soviet periods up to 1950.

Each of the five nations is then covered in its own chapter, starting with its development in the final years of the USSR, then with its leap to independence, and then the subsequent years of nation building. There are many common themes, including the struggles to reassert (or create) a unifying national identity, to create functioning economies after the post-Soviet economic collapse, the tensions of overlapping ethnic groups, the resurgence of interest in traditional Islam, and a strong tendency towards authoritarian one-party rule.

The last twenty years have not always been easy in this region, and Hiro is willing to be fairly hard-hitting in discussing some of the difficulties, including the outright megalomania of Niyazov's personal rule in Turkmenistan, the regional rivalries behind the Tajikistan civil war, and the allegations of high-level corruption in Kazakhstan. He explains the background and consequences of ethnic tensions and Islamic movements in the Fergana valley, including the tensions that led to the tragic Andijon incident.

As well as the chapters on the five Central Asian nations, Hiro also includes chapters on Turkey and Iran. These are both useful short histories in their own right, but unfortunately the Turkish chapter is mostly unrelated to Central Asia, other than a few paragraphs noting Turkey's limited influence. The Iranian chapter is much more relevant, with an insightful explanation of how shared fears over the rise of the radical Sunni Taliban led to rapprochement between the generally secular Central Asian regimes and the strongly Shiite Iran.

While I found this work generally useful and readable, there are also some weaknesses. The writing quality is sometimes rather uneven and I got the impression that various parts of the book may have been written at different times, for different purposes. Especially in the chapter on Turkey, Hiro sometimes wanders off into strange side topics, such as the introduction of yogurt to 15th c. France. The two included maps are very weak (Kazakhstan's current capital is missing from both!).

But these quibbles aside, this is generally a very readable overview of the region. This is an area with a complex recent history, so having a single tightly written account is valuable.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I read Dilip Hiro's "Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran" because I wanted to get a solid introduction to this region, and to this end the book was successful. Although Hiro discusses seven complicated countries, he manages to provide a very comprehensive and detailed overview. Some countries are discussed in greater detail than others (e.g., Uzbekistan gets 73 pages, Kyrgyzstan and Iran each get about 30) but all chapters provide a good starting place for those interested in studying any one country in greater detail. The "Summary and Conclusions" chapter was particularly useful.

Hiro's choice to include chapters on Turkey and Iran was logical, given the immense importance of these countries on the past, present, and future of the central Asian republics. Russia (and the Soviet Union), Afghanistan, the United States, and China are not given their own chapters, but they are intimately involved in all of the book's chapters. This is especially true of the Soviet Union, whose policies profoundly shaped Central Asia. The Soviet Union is discussed in detail, and I came away from the book with a much better understanding of its history and policies in the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Hiro explains how Russia continues to loom large in its so-called "near abroad" (especially relevant given the large number of Russians who migrated to the region during the Soviet era). The United States enters the picture forcefully after 9/11, and its often ambiguous relations with the nascent republics, primarily concerning military bases and human rights, are well discussed. American relations with repressive regimes are especially complex and distressing, as America often turns a blind eye towards--or financially rewards--authoritarian abuses so as to secure reliable military partners in the "war on terrorism." In the troubling case of Uzbekistan, this relationship explodes following the mind-boggling Andijan massacre of 2005.

On that note, this book is also a useful study of how corrupt autocrats achieve and hold power through internal and external maneuvering. With the possible exception of Kyrgyzstan, all of the Central Asian Republics have been and still are ruled by strongmen who--having come to power during the collapse of the Soviet Union--have enriched themselves while oppressing dissent, religion, and anything resembling real democracy. Hiro provides interesting portraits of these leaders, who range from megalomaniacal and often amusing (Niyazov "Turkmenbashi" of Turkmenistan) and wildly corrupt (all of them) to utterly savage (Karimov of Uzbekistan).

My main gripe is that, despite its title, the book is primarily concerned with the politics rather than the cultures of this region. The role of religion in politics is discussed extensively, but, as another reviewer has mentioned, most cultural lessons take the form of sudden asides on this or that feature of Central Asian life. However, Hiro does a good job discussing the importance of national myth and history (fictive or otherwise) on the nationalist projects of different regimes. My interest occasionally flagged when Hiro presents detailed discussions of Soviet resource production, membership in political parties, and a sometimes bewildering parade of politicians in each country. Also, I couldn't help but notice that Hiro once inexplicably cites Wikipedia for a note on Iranian Jews (note 5, Chapter 7)! I would have liked more discussion of China's influence in the region, especially given that its sizable Xinjiang Uyghur population is frequently included in discussions of Central Asia (the Uyghurs are only mentioned once). Nevertheless, on the whole the book appears well researched and reasonable in its arguments.

Generally, if you are looking for an up-to-date and in-depth overview of contemporary Central Asia, "Inside Central Asia" delivers.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I know very little about Iran and Turkey and so I got this book to provide a base of knowledge, especially in geographical context. However, throughout the sections where I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the history (I have lived in Central Asia for most of the past 4 years) there are enough strange errors that I can't find myself vouching for the author's reliability. There is nothing egregious, but bits here and there that suggest a lack of research or exposure.

-The first is his labeling of those living in Kyrgyzstan as 'Kyrgyzes." Never have I heard of this label before, talking to both foreigners and locals while in Kyrgyzstan. A better term would simply be "the Kyrgyz" or "Kyrgyz people." Could he have written the book without traveling there?

-a statement like: "The endless empty spaces of the steppes of Kazakhstan provided the Tsar with an opportunity to channel ethnic Russians and Cossacks to the area and encourage them to grow crops, particularly much-needed cotton. In 1891, more than a million newly arrived Russians and Cossacks took to farming land in Kazakhstan adjoining Siberia" suggests that Russians and Cossacks were sent to northern Kazakhstan to grow cotton. Cotton has never been grown that far up in the country, and much of that land wasn't really claimed by Kazakhs anyway.

-placing Astana along the irtysh river.
-suggesting sausages play a significant role in Kazakh cuisine (I've never experienced an indigenous sausage in all my years there, both in rural and urban settings throughout the country.)
often referring to Russians/Slavs in a slightly derogatory manner, ie "[following the breakup of the soviet union] The disheartened Slav settlers came to accept stoically their secondary position." Can a second or third generation immigrant still be referred to as a settler? Are most Americans still "settlers"?
-The irritating trope of referring to the United States plainly as the superpower "America"

These may seem like petty concerns. But because there are so many of them I am inclined to believe that at least when it comes to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the author doesn't know what he is talking about. I assume he is an expert in Iran and Turkey, but do those sections have the same errors as well? I have no idea! I suppose one can conclude that this book is a good exercise in questioning the validity of everything you read.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 22, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"Inside Central Asia", by Dilip Hiro, provides a good account of the "Stan" nations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There is a chapter on each of these nations. Each chapter gives a short history of the nation, but the focus of the narrative is on post World War II era politics and Post Cold War politics. It highlights the influence of the Soviet Union on the Central Asian nations while they were a part of the USSR, and their attempts to find individual paths after the fall of Soviet government in Moscow. It details the struggle of each nation's leaders with the renewed growth of Islam, and the influence from the Taliban in Afghanistan. He gives an excellent account of the mostly corrupt doings of the nation's leaders. Mostly, it explains the constant struggles between Russia, Turkey and Iran to wield overall influence in Central Asia. The book ends suggesting that Russian influence is again on the rise. While Turkish influence was greatest after the fall of the Soviet Union, their power to influence Central Asia waned as Islamism grew stronger in Ankara. Overall, this is a good read to understand modern Central Asia and its politics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
The author has clearly done his homework as the historical information was precise and unbiased. The book seems like a dense read, but isn't - the author creates an atmosphere for every area he visits with vivid descriptions, which makes it as much a storyline as a historical account. This was a pleasure to read. The only thing I didn't enjoy as much was that some of the chapters were uneven - for instance, way too much information on Turkey where I would like to have seen more on other countries.
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on December 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
Shedding light on this area of the world can be a mighty task and kudos to Mr. Hiro for the attempt. Note, I did not include the adjective successful in my previous sentence. Mr. Hiro is an expert on this region, but it seems he is just recycling old information; most of which was available during the Soviet era. I have not read Mr. Hiro’s Between Marx and Muhammad: the Changing Face of Central Asia (1995), but I am willing to bet that mid-nineties book is a close cousin to this book. Mr. Hiro has updated Washington’s response to the happenings throughout the region since the Soviet breakup. The most interesting portion of the book deals with Iran’s flirtation with the semi-dictators/presidents-for-life, especially in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. I wish Mr. Hiro had included a section on Afghanistan as well because the Taliban and post-Taliban era of that country has had a profound impact on the entire region. Mr. Hiro’s sections on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan could have really used more background instead of plunging the reader into the middle of contemporary events. In the end, Mr. Hiro’s book provided useful post-Soviet information on a complex region, but for the most part the book mostly feels uninspired.
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on December 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
I bought this book as I have always been fascinated by Central Asia. From Alexander and the Scythians on down, it is definitely one of the most enthralling parts of the globe. Inside Central Asia is a good book for those who are interested in understanding the recent political history of the region and how the players on that geopolitical stage interact. The chapter on Turkey was especially illuminating for their efforts at regional hegemony. All in all, Dilip Hiro makes a good attempt at summing up a very complicated and complex region of the world. I only wish he had included Afghanistan and the effects it has had on the region.
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on June 7, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Hiro makes the point early on that in order to understand the Central Asian Republics (which gained independence from the Soviet Union), one must also look at the three neighboring nations which most closely shaped their formation and existence. That would be Russia (aka The Soviet Union), Turkey, and Iran. The interwoven histories and political happenings in these countries very much mirror the "influencers": ethnic and border disputes, the overwhelming presence of Islam, a tendency toward dictatorial government, and a blessing of natural resources (from cotton and melon production to natural gas and oil reserves). This is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the heart of the big continent. One drawback: lots of typographical errors scattered through the writing which make one wonder who was doing the editing.
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on November 11, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Very informative but extremely tedious reading...I would not recommend this to anyone who is not doing detailed research on the recent politics of the region.
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on July 13, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Met expectations.
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