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Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550804X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508042
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,134,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many recent travel memoirs have focused on the personal minutiae of a journey, but Atlantic Monthly correspondent Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts) is a breed apart. Similar to classic writers like Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller, Kaplan relates only a scant amount of detail about himself and why he's traveling. Particulars about quirky characters and minor annoyances are rare. Instead, he uses graceful prose to describe the history of the ground on which he walks and his absorption with events that happened centuries before he bought his first plane ticket. A visit to Carthage isn't merely a cozy ride through a pleasant landscape; as his train surges forward, he summons up the first foreign invasion from the Phoenician city-state of Tyre. With his lyrical writing style, Kaplan makes factual summations into slowly unraveling, luxurious tales. "The founding of Carthage is clothed in sumptuous myth," he writes. Sometimes, however, this approach interferes with coherence. The richness of the prose and the depth to which Kaplan delves into the past can make his actual travel experiences somewhat jarring. (When he collects a $40 check for freelance work from the Christian Science Monitor, it's as if Hannibal had suddenly strolled into the American Express office.) But generally, the discord between Kaplan's everyday reality and his intellectual wanderings makes for a sweet mix. And because he dips so liberally into history and goes into such detail about ancient peoples, it doesn't matter that Kaplan's visits to the Mediterranean actually took place in the 1970s. His love for antiquity, much like his writing, is timeless.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Kaplan was an unknown freelance writer 28 years ago when, fresh from college, he embarked on the journey this volume chronicles. The author has since worked his way to the summit of the travel-writing business through such works as Eastward to Tartary (2000). The newness of the travel experience, and discovering ways to best digest it, is, therefore, a theme in Kaplan's recollection of this formative trip, which runs parallel to his description of people and places. Unerring avenues into a locale's historical and contemporary personality are works by other travelers. Thus allusions to titles ranging from antiquity (Sallust's Jugurthine War) to the present are interwoven with Kaplan's itinerary, which culminates in meeting, in a remote part of Greece, with British travel author Patrick Leigh Fermor. Kaplan observes that "real adventure is not about risk but the acquisition of knowledge." That comment may well stand as the precept of this mellow, evocative tour of the Mediterranean in the off-season. Sure to delight Kaplan's many fans. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mark E. Baxter VINE VOICE on July 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is travel writing the way it was meant to be - Informative, concise and illuminating.

Kaplan relives his journeys from many years ago as he first travelled through the Mediterranean struggling with being a free-lance writer. Most of the book is recollections from more than 20 years ago although there are comments from recent trips back to some of the locations and a wonderful recent interview with Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of A Time of Gifts, and other well-known travel books.

The down-side of reporting on these decades-old journeys is that some of the spontaneity and opinion is lost. I find that sometimes I learn more from disagreeing with a travel writers' hasty opinion than in boring, well-edited neutral reporting. However, in this case, I think that the elapsed time has given this account nuances and a filtered content that add to the writing. It's as if the ensuing decades have concentrated the meaning and subtleties of the journey.

The part on Tunisia was replete with history of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Berbers, and Carthaginians. Sicily was filled with the Greek influences on this place. Dalmatia, in previous Yugoslavia, and Greece were well-represented.

I confess I particularly enjoyed the recent encouter with Patrick Leigh Fermor who in his 80's is working on the last book of the trilogy about his travels in the 30's on foot from Holland to Constantinople. If you haven't read his first two, you need to.

Kaplan also includes a list of books that he considers essential to understanding these regions. It is excellent and is a good start to understanding these areas in depth.

Overall, excellent and gripping - which is hard in travel writing.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. R. de Villiers on June 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have become quite accustomed to reading insightful and throught provoking works by Robert Kaplan, but this one caught me by surprise. This work is an amazing achievement. Technically the book chronicles Kaplan's first venture into the Meditteranean, but it does much more than that. We see the Mediterranean through the eyes of a young man on eager to discover the world. What we also get however is the insight of a man who made this region his base for many years. The prose of journalist who has honed his craft for over twenty years. The reflections of a scholar who seems to have absorbed everything ever written in the english language about the places he visited.
We learn a great deal in this book. As is always the case with Kaplan we get an historical understanding for why a certain people are the way they are. It is astounding how much is commented upon and discussed in this slender volume. Kaplan has packed every page with his observations and reflections and while they are complex and replete with references to other works he somehow manages to keep his prose light and fluid. It is difficult to explain, but if you buy the book you will know what I am talking about.
Read this if you love the Mediterranean. Read it if you are fascinated by history or if you really enjoy profound lyrical prose.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on April 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Robert D Kaplan's latest book, "Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece," is written in the tradition of what was known in the 1930's as "landscape companions." The most well-known practitioners of this lost art were Robert Byron, David Talbot Rice, Lawrence Durrell, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.(They were all children of the British Empire.) This book recounts a journey Kaplan took shortly afer graduating from college in the mid 1970's. Kaplan writes: "With this journey, I acquired the habit of searching books linked to landscapes and seascapes through which I traveled. Reading became surgery; a way of dissecting the surrounding landscape and may own motivations for being there."

This is not the tourism of our present age, which is an escape from the drudgery of work; this is travel as work. Every landscape, every ruin suggests a book or an author. Every train trip or boat ride fills another notebook with observations and reflections. Travel teaches us about history - the rise and fall of civilizations, the ebb and flow of empires.

Kaplan's prose is on overdrive when travels through northern Tunisia. He recalls on a bus trip: "...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By T. Ryan on March 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This historical essay by Kaplan which flows along a geographic journey from North Africa, to Sicily, Italy, Croatia, and Greece is a great read for anyone interested in the history of the Mediterranean. The book is part travelogue, part history, and part philosophy. The key test I have with this type of writing is whether the book leaves the reader with a nice roadmap for further in-depth exploration of the subject matter or some nice sideroads for further exploration...and this book gets five stars because it excels at just that. For example, I may be showing my ignorance but although I was aware of Lamb, and Byron, I had never heard of Fermor; although having read Norwich on Venice, I was ignorant of the Norman invasion of Sicily, etc. There is probably something like that for every reader who is not an expert in mediterranen history. It's easy to read, flows nicely, and worth one's time.
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