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Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus Paperback – October 23, 2001
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The master of the hardheaded travelogue, Robert D. Kaplan returns with a book on what he calls "the New Near East," an area stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia that "might become the seismograph of world politics" in the new century. That doesn't sound like good news: "The pitiless history of the Near East [is] dominated by marauding armies and earthquakes while peace treaties have merely formalized temporary stalemates on the ground." Kaplan has made a career of writing about the world's trouble spots "without illusions"--his books Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth are at once influential and pessimistic.
Eastward to Tartary is a fascinating exploration of places Kaplan has not written about in depth before: "Third World Europe" (Romania and Bulgaria), Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the confusing conglomeration of countries and peoples in the Caucasus. Smart observations leap off almost every page. "In every Arab city I have ever visited, people were polite and honest, running after you to return a loose coin you have left at a soft-drinks stand," he writes. So why hasn't democracy taken hold in the Islamic world? "The very perfection of the Islamic belief system begot a naive absolutism that made the compromises of normal political life impossible." In an aside on ancient Assyria, Kaplan notes, "The theme is always the same: Highly militarized and centralized states and empires, so indomitable in one decade or generation, hack themselves to pieces or are themselves conquered in another." Then he reminds readers that Assyria once bestrode present-day Iraq and Syria--a "hauntingly appropriate" coincidence. And surprising facts abound: "Turkey represents the most stable governmental dynasty in world history, with the Turkish soldiery able to trace the roots of its power to the Roman emperors." Fans of Kaplan's previous books won't want to miss this one, and neither will new readers interested in this part of the world. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In 1993, as the blood-letting in Yugoslavia's ethnic civil war entered its fifth year, Kaplan, a foreign correspondent, wrote a history of that tragic region that became an instant bestseller. The war and its elements of genocide paved the way for popular reception of Balkan Ghosts, but it is Kaplan's name that will secure readers for his newest travelogue. In many ways, this book is the sequel to Balkan Ghosts, telling the story of those other orphans of the Ottoman EmpireDthe lands of the Middle and Near East. Kaplan's intention is to introduce Tartary (known today as Central Asia) as a place that has more in common with the Western Balkan countries than with the Oriental images conjured up by its exotic name. Walking the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan, he sees images of the Romanian capital, Bucharest; both reside in the 100-year-old shadows of a cosmopolitan Ottoman boomtown, and in the more obvious decay and disenchantment that is the legacy of the shorter-lived Soviet empire. In relating his travels through Syria, Israel and Lebanon, Kaplan focuses less on the effects of communism and more on the way Turkey remains a historical link between Arab and European powers. Whether he is analyzing the basis for Turko-Israeli alliances or pondering the likelihood of an ethnic "Balkanization" of the Middle East, Kaplan is thinking in terms of a new "seismograph of world politics in the twenty-first century." His readers will be left with a rich supply of historic, geographic and cultural cross-references to apply when they read the news about some of today's most strategic hot spots. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Mr. Kaplan is a perceptive traveler who travels light, and has a sympathetic understanding of the travails and character of the people he meets. My wife and I have traveled much of the route he describes. While he is a reporter and is most interested in politics, our experiences as trekkers parallel his so closely that I tend to trust him, also, on those portions of his journey with which we are not familiar.
If there is a weakness to this book, it is that he is politically oriented. I wish the book were twice as long and that he had included more mundane, human experiences. That said, I found "Eastward to Tartary" to be educational and entertaining. He has encouraged us to continue our own journeys to more of those places that most Westerners have not heard of.
I recommend this book highly. If the reader gets nothing else out of the book, he will (at a minimum) gain an insight into a part of the world that may well be the subject of headlines in the next quarter century.
That was 1 full year to the date before 9/11. Remarkably, he was eerily prescient. He has a habit of being so.
When Kaplan travelled the Balkans in the late 80's, he foresaw the region lumbering toward war while the US and Europe seemed unwilling or unable to do anything meaningful but watch uneasily. Within a year of the publication his Balkan Ghosts, war broke out and occupied NATO forces and resources for several years before relative peace arose. Indeed, Clinton's reading of Balkan Ghosts has been rumored to have persuaded him that the US had to intervene.
Kaplan's Eastward to Tartary covers what he referred to as "the new near east": the region east of the newly expanded NATO borders, west of China, and south of Russia. Why did he focus on this region? Because 70% of the then-known oil reserves and 40% of the then-known nat gas reserves were located in the region. That makes the region inherently important to all powerful nations who need a secure source of energy, including the US, Europe, China, and India. Combine that with the fact that 50% of the population of the entire region was then under 14, and that there were negligible education, growth, and employment opportunities for the young in those same nations, you have the recipe for volatility that is difficult if not impossible to control. The unemployed young have no loyalty to the regimes therein, at the same time democratic reform is inevitable. That in turn signalled that bottom-up revolutions would topple reliable despots in the region on whom the US has depended for 60 years to secure access to oil while at the same time the Iranian revolution in 1978 proved that democratizaing alone need not result in western-friendly nations.
Kaplan predicted that the instability would run for 10 - 15 years. I write this review on the eve of Egypt's successful (at least temporarily) revolution. We know now in 2011 how prescient Kaplan was in 2000 and he merits reading and re-reading because we are not through this unstable period yet. I urge readers of this very current review to read the book to know how to assess whether the US policy is effective, but if you can't read the book, listen to Kaplan's presentation to the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Command and General Staff School, where American field grade officers are groomed for generalships. It can be found on C-SPAN's archives site under Kaplan's name and the title of the book.