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Kosovo: A Short History Paperback – June 10, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kosovo, a 55-mile-long plateau in southern Serbia bordering Albania and Macedonia, should by all rights be a historical and political backwater. A Bulgarian geographer who visited Kosovo during World War I remarked that it was "almost as unknown and inaccessible as a stretch of land in Central Africa." The observation would prove ironically fitting by the '90s, as Central Africa and Kosovo both became sites of widespread genocide, fueled by ethnic hatreds, of the deepest international significance. Noel Malcolm, a British historian and journalist who has written extensively about the Balkans (including a companion volume of sorts on Bosnia), provides an overview of Kosovo's long-standing cultural divisions in his "short history" (although, at more than 500 pages, a not so short book).

Readers following the unfolding war in Kosovo through newspaper and television coverage may well ask why ethnic Albanians and Serbs are struggling so violently to command the small region. Kosovo, Malcolm explains, is the birthplace of Serbian nationalism; the defeat of Serbian forces there in 1389 by Turkish troops became emblematic of the fall of the Serbian empire, as it led to Turkish domination of the Balkans. Contemporary warriors of Serbia are, in Malcolm's eyes, evidently attempting to reverse the course of history by reclaiming the land from its Turkish conquerors--but in the absence of the Turks, they'll take it from the Albanians (the largest ethnic group among Kosovo's inhabitants) whose ancestors converted to Islam when the Turks ruled the region. Malcolm's lucid text shows again and again that the ethnic conflict in Kosovo is less a battle over bloodlines and religion than it is one over differing conceptions of national origins and history. "When ordinary Serbs learn to think more rationally and humanely about Kosovo, and more critically about some of their national myths," he concludes, "all the people of Kosovo and Serbia will benefit--not least the Serbs themselves." --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this awe-inspiring work, Malcolm has created a vital successor to his Bosnia: A Short History and an essential aid to anyone who wishes to understand this tragic region today. Through the dazzling use of linguistic evidence, Malcolm postulates that Albanians, whether their nebulous origins are Thracian or Illyrian, can reasonably be placed in the region as early as pre-Roman times. The historical description begins in earnest with the Middle Ages, with the advent of written records, and Malcolm appears to have ferreted out every one. His book is exceptional not only for his unimpeachable research, but also for his equitable examination of the conflicting ethnic views of what really happened in this contentious region, and his determination to debunk dangerous myths. If some will be shocked to learn that Serbian state policy mandated ethnic cleansing for more than 100 years, others will be equally amazed at the resilience of a people who for centuries have been caught in nationalistic crossfire. But probably the most important contribution of the book is its clear and thorough documentation of the legal status of Kosovo over time, and its compelling conclusions that challenge the accepted status quo. One can't help speculating on how a clear understanding of the information contained here might have affected the Dayton Accord and history.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 492 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st HarperPerennial ed edition (June 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060977752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060977757
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #425,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was not sure whether to give Malcolm's book a 3 or 4 stars but because it is such a well-researched book, I decided to give it 4, although I would probably agree with the overall rating for his book so far- 3 and a half.

As there is so much to say about his book, this will be a thorough review.

First of all, Malcolm has clearly gone out of his way to write the most extensive book on Kosovo's history of any Western historian. I disagree with the notion that he simply wrote this book to earn some money because the time, help and resources he would have required travelling around Europe to various national libraries, looking through archives from hundreds of years back, asking people for their opinions etc must have been at great financial, as well psychological, cost to himself.

Saying that however, one can see that he visited the Zagreb national library and the library in Tirana but did not visit any libraries in Belgrade, probably the largest city in south-eastern Europe and in this case for Malcolm's research, a vital institution of knowledge.

I reject the excuse that he did not have the time or that the sources in Belgrade's library would have been highly biased in regards to his research because the same could be argued about the sources in Zagreb and Tirana.

Another criticism that I would make is that all of the people that he acknowledges at the beginning of his book are non-Serbs, either Croats, Albanians, Bosnians or Westerners which raises questions about his objectivity.

Now, to the book.
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By A Customer on March 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a student of history, I have found most of the recent works on Kosovo to be far too one-sided (almost ALL demonize the Serbs and glorify the Albanians). This work attempts to walk the middle ground and, does so very well. Making few judgement calls, the reader is left to make their own decisions on right and wrong, good and bad. While I abhor the recent actions of some Serbians, I equally abhor the actions being taken by the Kosovar Albanians. A reading of this book puts into perspective however what is now occuring and, gives a glimpse of what to expect in the future. I only wish our government officials had been required to read this book before putting one foot into that icky mess we have now labeled KFOR. At least they would have had a better idea of what to expect once the NATO bombing had stopped.
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Format: Hardcover
Remarkable for its thoroughness in its research. Malcolm has dug up many documented sources that seem not to have seen the light of day for some time. According to Malcolm, "there is not a single library, in Western Europe or even in the Balkans, that offers all the relevant materials under one roof." That is a tragedy. But it goes along way to explaining the distortions of the region's history. The citation list for this book is a virtual tour of libraries and holdings in the cities and towns of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and those of the Great Powers of the 19th century. Again this isn't surprising as a great deal of the historical mythology was created during the last half of the 19th century.
"Kosovo: a short history" is remarkable in its clear, readable prose. This is not a dull text. And the region and its history should have been better known to the West. Right through the book, well-known historical figures make cameo appearances. My favourite was a fellow who in 1912 or 1913 was " shocked by the evidence he encountered of atrocities by Serbian and Bulgarian forces." The fellow would later become better known as Leon Trotsky. But the book is full of these oddities. It isn't surpising. Look at a map and Kosovo was an overland route to the Middle East - and a bulwark of the Ottoman Empire against Western and Central Europe: Christian Europe. I should have known all this much earlier, but - like most western educated historians - I didn't pay enough attention.
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Format: Paperback
Noel Malcolm's reputation as an authority on the Balkans has been established by his previous (and equally illuminating) studies of the region. In Kosovo: A Short History, Malcolm traces the origins of the myths that are relavant in regional conflicts today. But his book is more than just an explanation of historical fact: his prose and research are exemplary! Contrary to some other criticisms, his sections on ethnicity and linguistics are fascinating! The allegations of bias are valid but only in the intellectual sense that all history is subjective and therefore biased. I am Serbian, and I must admit that I approached this book with the same scepticism I approach all material relating to Serbia. Most of the content published today trivialises Serbian feelings towards Kosovo, and the Albanian's struggle for equality as well. This work is interesting and informative - a must for any student of history and anyone who wishes to understand the Balkans of today.
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