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on July 31, 2005
THE BALKANS: A SHORT HISTORY by Mark Mazower is part of a lovely series of small, attractively designed and published books by Modern Library called Chronicles. This book, while short (156 pages), is chock-a-block with information on the Balkans going back to the beginnings of the Ottoman empire in the region, and including not just the former Yugoslavia, but also Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. (It also includes a handy timeline in the beginning in 330 C.E. with the founding of Constantinople and ends in 1999 with the war in Kosovo between NATO states and Serbia.) The chapters, while assembling information on the history and region chronologically, also provide thematic studies on religious life, national identity, crime, politics and the effects of Empire in the Balkans (there's that word again!). "The Land and its Inhabitants" is the first chapter and goes back to deal with foundational issues of regional politics, religion and custom. "Before the Nation" is about the self-identities of Balkan residents before nation states separated people by ethnicity (and some of Mazower's assertions are surprising if seen through today's anti-Turk frame in the region, that Balkan Orthodox peoples felt more loyalty toward the Ottoman regime than toward Catholocism). "Eastern Questions" deals with the end of both the Ottoman empire in Europe and the end of the Habsburg dynasty, and "Building the Nation-State" sees the course of these non-nationalist people through to the Croatia-for-the-Croatians type of mentality in the region of the 1990s.

The book's jewels, I think are the introduction, "Names" and the epilogue, "On Violence" which seek to catch the reader in Balkan assumptions, shattering them and facilitating real learning. In the latter, Mazower asserts that it isn't age-old prejudices that caused the Balkan war of the 1990s, and that Balkan people are not a thing apart from Western Europeans or Americans. Mazower cautions that dismissing Balkan violence as isolated to the Balkans is self-serving for Westerners as well as blinding.

I think this is a good, but densely packed, work on the region's history, with new insights and supporting information. Mazower makes fine use of observations by travelers of the time in the Balkans to support the lens through which he views the region and make it lively. I recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon June 2, 2003
In approximately 185 pages, the author manages to convey and briefly analyze significant historical events in the Balkans in a disciplined scholarly manner. I found the book very engaging and readable. I was amazed at the broad scope of information covered. It was not dull, dry or filled with boring details. He begins to unravel the "mystery" of the Balkans by a description of the land and terrain from which the word "Balkans" originated, few people realize the term was coined only about 200 years ago. For human interest, the author intersperses descriptions from diaries written 150 years ago or so by travelers to the region. We have been led to believe the regional conflicts have been ongoing since the beginning of time .. not so, and the author tells us why! Mark Mazower tells us when the conflicts started and who the major players are. The natural environment, mountains and valleys, created a lifestyle which is mostly agrarian and land-locked. The mountains made the area isolated and almost impenetrable both physically and ideologically to the more "civilized" ideas and industries of the more progressive Westernized European nations. One can understand how the region catapulted into an urbanized industrial complex *only* within the past 200 years. The author clearly writes about the social and political impact of the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans. I was impressed how the author could connect the "peasant values" and lifestyle with the political forces which constantly shaped and redefined the area. The migration of people and their adaptability to the imposed changes due to wars and conflicts is totally amazing. The impact of the decisions of the Great Powers on "nation-building" in the region was explained with erudite precision. The importance of the Greek language in the region due to the past is brought to light. The author's ability to tie ancient history to current events is quite remarkable. This book is highly recommended to anyone who has a desire to learn more about the people and history of the Balkans. It is written by a highly knowledgeable author, former Princeton University professor, who has no personal agenda or ties to the region.
Erika Borsos (erikab93)
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on December 24, 2000
Mark Mazower's The Balkans, A Short History, is the third in the series of books in the Modern Library Chronicles. Each is a very short history of a area or theme by a renowned historian (or writer) with a knowledge in that area. The small size (usually aroung one hundred and fifty pages) means that these are obviously not comprehensive histories. This is quite true of this particular volume on the Balkans. There is a brief chronology at the beginning but the book itself does not provide any narrative history at all. Instead the book is separated into themes allowing the reader to understand the complexity and personality of this complicated region. In that it is quite effective. It debunks many of the myths about the Balkans that have grown in this century but also leaves many questions. In a work such as this, that is a good thing as questions lead to further study and greater understanding. This will not give the reader a complete knowledge of this region but will serve beautifully as a jumping off point for further exploration. A very interesing read.
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on May 31, 2006
The region known as the Balkans is the proverbial red-headed step-child of Europe. It has been looked upon as backwards, violent, and primitive by many in the Western world for some time. In recent years, the region has earned a reputation of violence, ethnic cleansing, and nationalistic strife. This compact little book set out to discern fact from myth concerning the history and people of the Balkans. It also outlines the crucial role the region has played not only in European, but in world history. One example of this is the region's role in the First World War. Not only was the war started in the Balkans-with the assasination of ArchDuke Ferdinand-it was also virtually ended there also-with the Bulgarian collapse of September 1918.

The author debunks the myth that ethnic and religious differences alone are to blame for the current chaos in the region by pointing out that for hundreds of years, the many religions and ethnic groups of the region lived side by side in relative harmony. The now fragmented Balkans were once part of the Roman and Ottoman empires, and until relatively recent times, enjoyed a semblance of stability. It wasn't until the last century when nationalistic and ethnic ambitions surfaced,(with the encouragement of the Great Powers) that things turned ugly.

In the epilogue, the author (somewhat repetitively) argues against the view of the Balkans as being inherently violent and chaotic. While his point is well-taken, this chapter comes across as more of an exercise in political correctness than anything else. Nevertheless, this is a solid overview of the the Balkans that I would definitely recommend as a starting point.
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HALL OF FAMEon August 25, 2005
This small pungent read is packed full of information weaved together masterfully in a way that the reader will enjoy. Although some prior knowledge is assumed, for instance an idea of the difference between Islam and Christianity, an idea of what a German is and a Latin. However in general this concise read covers the ground well and unlike other books doesnt telescope the history to the present, allowing the reader to take in the last three or four centuries and not spend 2/3 of the book on the crises of the last ten years.

The Balkans is complicted and complex, hence the word 'balkanization'. I would have liked to see more religious, ethnic history. For instance more information on linguistic differneces and the shifting pattersn of migration. However this book is a tour de force, beggining with descrptions of the landscape it takes the reader from the 4th century to the most modern one, showing the complex history of this complex region.

Seth J. Frantzman
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on November 24, 2000
This Balkans book is truly a "Short History" as it is labeled, only 156 pages, but it packs a lot of information into its pages. It has a wonderful chronology of history and seven useful sequential maps of the Balkans at the beginning. It incorporates geology of the region to good purpose. It fills in the Byzantium and Ottoman history in a fine academic way, putting one into the structure of life under those eras. It challenges the idea of Ottoman rule as somehow backward or primitive, repeatedly comparing the tolerance of three religious groups, and freedom of peasants under Ottoman rule with far less "modern" or tolerant attitudes in Western Europe at comparable times. But 150 odd pages is just too little to get to the end, when Princeton history professor Mazower tries to tackle the violence of the 20th century. He has built a good case for nationalism rather than religion taking over people's sense of themselves, and lays blame on the great powers for introducing it without the structure to control it. The final chapter "On Violence"is only 9 pages long. This book starts off better than it ends, but it is a nice companion to Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan, which is more personal, and less academic, though still filled with historical information. But Mazower's academic is helpful in understanding geology, sociology, history, religion and government in a way which fills in the pieces, like a good college introduction should, even if too short.
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on October 22, 2008
For someone who's quite interested in the Balkans, I've started but failed to finish a distressing number of books on the topic. I though the problem is that the topic is too large for one book until I found Mark Mazower's The Balkans: A Concise History. In less than 250 pages Mazower covers not just the basics but the major issues as well. He also manages to upend a few long-held but factually unsupported beliefs.

The outline is simple, first cover the land and the people, then life under the Ottoman Empire, then the struggles for "independence" (definitely a relative term in this instance) and finally the events of the 20th century. By the end I understood just how empty the concept of nationalism truly was in the Balkans in the 19th century, the roles of the Greek Orthodox Churches, the Austrian Empire and Russia, and the allure that fascism held for these newly emergent nations in the 1930s. That's a lot for 250 pages. That Mazower also manages to take on the myths of the "violent" Balkans and how swell it was to be a non-Muslim in the Ottoman Empire is truly impressive.

Mazower isn't doing narrative history here. His focus is on themes so the events aren't related in a straightforward chronology. I found it easy enough to follow but if you prefer chronology to themes this book might not work for you. For me this one's a winner and I'm definitely going back for more Modern Library Chronicles and more about the Balkans.
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on December 11, 2011
Travelling through the Balkans, I was looking for an easy to read book that would give me an overview on the history of the region. A tall order for a slim book, and I wasn't expecting to get the grand tour. I didn't. But I didn't expect the book to be so dry and difficult to read as it was.

A little too academic for my tastes and nonlinear in structure, The Balkans reads like a thesis - not exactly enjoyable to read, but it does make you think well past the final chapter.

The author is generally sympathetic to the Balkans, arguing (fairly successfully) that the region is not a hotbed of simmering violence and that nationalism was not part of the agenda for many until the late 1800s.

But in the end, The Balkans can only offer a glimpse of a very complicated region, and doesn't touch on modern times quite enough.
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on July 8, 2005
This is a terrific little book. I thought it did an excellent job of presenting the history of the Balkans in a way that helps the reader understand the present situation but without making the outcome out to be inevitalbe. There is a lot to cover in a small number of pages so it does take some work to keep all of the parts in one's mind. But, it's worth the effort. It also does a good job of showing how much discussion of nationalism by political philosophers such as Will Kymlicka is, at best, much too simple and rose-colored. I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting a nice overview. Unlike some other reviewers I also thought it was written in a nice, readable style. It also contains several useful maps.
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on November 26, 2013
Mark Mazower provides a concise but accurate description of Balkans. He provides details when important. The book provides a good analysis of the various countries that constitute the Balkans and a good discussion of the ongoing quarrels and wars.
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