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on April 25, 2017
A far-reaching, intricate history. Casts the region as a major lynchpin for both World Wars, dissects the overlapping territorial claims and examines the troubles that have plagued the region. Examines the galvanizing forces of nationalism as something with both practical but all too often poisonous effects.People like myself with ancestral homelands featured in the book, or even just a cursory interest in the area will enjoy.
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on August 26, 2011
The great object lesson of this book is that the Balkans as a terms really is only appropriate in geography. Politically and socially it is a meaningless term. Misha Glenny's narrative begins around 1800 and continues through 1990s and provides ample proof of this thesis. The Balkans tended to function during this period as a area for influence contests involving the great powers of their day, be they Turkey, Russia, Italy, Great Britain, France, Austira-Hungary and Germany. This dynamic imposed itself on the nations in question who waged foreign policy as a zero sum game with implications down to the present day.

To begin with the Balkans are a mix of a variety of language groups, religions, and separate ethnic groups. It represents a fault line between the east and west, among Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam, as well as between the Slavic and Latin worlds. Conflict is more than a tendency, it is a way of life. The only way that peace is generally possible or at least since 1800 has been from the influence of outside forces gaining a measure of control over events.

The independence of the various Balkan countries occurred over a period during the first 70 years of the 19th century. Ottoman influence was on the wane, due to a failure of the central government to maintain control over the provinces. Initial rebellions against Turkish forces were against the local officials who were extracting high taxes from farmers who developed stronger commercial ties with Vienna than with Istanbul. Istanbul welcomed these uprisings and looked forward to displacing disobedient local officials with their own candidates. Imagine the surprise when the peoples of the Balkans failed to share this vision.

As Turkey continued to decline, outside powers such as Britain, France, Austria and Russia all tried to manage this process. The first nation to be created was Greece, followed by Romania, which took advantage of the Crimean War to play all four sides off against each other. Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro followed.

By the time of 1900, influence had passed from Turkey to the great powers, which by this point included Germany and Italy. The countries made up of the former Ottoman Empire had moved from fighting Turkey to fighting each other and the Balkan wars served as yet another instance of great power rivalry driven mainly by local conflict.

Both world wars were nothing short of horrific. The first of these wars began, aas Bismarck predicted "over some foolish thing in the Balkans." Serbia and Romania received the blunt of a combined Bulgarian, Austro-Hungarian, and German attack. Serbia evacuated the country to preserve the nation abroad. Romania was forced to withdraw its forces to the northeastern portion of the country, both sustained huge losses. After the war, Serbia was incorporated into a confederation of southern Slavs and Romania received Transylvania both at the Treaty of Versailles. Bulgaria, despite claims that it had in favor of Wilson's Fourteen Points all along, was given short shift. Athens, though given permission to pursue the "Great Idea" of an enlarged Greece, to include Ionia on the Aegean coast, was defeated by Ataturk, who recreated Anatolia into Modern Turkey.

The Second World War was nothing short of horrific where the Balkans became a theatre of conflict between both Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. The behavior by various nation leaders during the period was nothing short of shameful as they sought to preserve themselves in the face of such a titanic struggle. The Iron curtain era that followed, though stable was ultimately absurd, with nations subordinated to megalomaniac leaders who sought to gratify their vanity and Moscow.

If there was ever a place that gave lie to the expression "the end of history," it was, as Glenny demonstrates, the Balkans. The breakdown of communism coupled with the breakup of Yugoslavia "unfroze" history. The wars that followed were not so much a failure of policy as they were a failure to appreciate history. All of the fissions that had been hidden or swept under the table under communism suddenly appeared. The Balkans was not the only place to experience this phenomenon, but it probably was the bloodiest example.

Any book that can tell such a remarkable but complex story with full command of the facts is definitely worth reading. This work by Glenny is likely to be the definitive text of the subject for some time. It is worth reading by anyone who has an interest in the history of the region and the history of Europe.
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on October 12, 2012
The subject of World War I led me into Balkan history. I picked up several books on the subject. This was the one I enjoyed the most. It addresses a very broad spectrum of time and is quite detailed for such a large work. It could have covered individual subjects a little closer, but I suspect this was not the goal. Some may have been turned off by this But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a perfect gateway book, as I like to call them. We learn much about how outside forces affected the times and places. This opened me up to subjects I would probably not have thought to research otherwise. For example, it made me want to learn more about the Ottomans.

After reading this book, one gets a little better understanding of why this troubled area has been historically so troubled. One thing this does not cover, I felt, enough is the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Again I don't think this was the specific goal, and there are plenty of books dealing with just that set of events. So I still give this one 5 stars.

If you are interested at all in this part of the world, or perhaps 19th and early 20th century great power politics, then this book is for you.
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VINE VOICEon July 5, 2010
Glenny had an incredibly formidable task before him when he set out to write this dense history of the Balkan peninsula. It is one of the least-known and researched parts of the world, is relatively small, and is populated with different groups of people who are ostensibly similar but are separated by profound differences. It is a melting pot on mach-5, a tempestuous collection of countries and cultures prone to poverty and violence for a multitude of reasons and at any given time, as its ancient and recent history has reflected. Not to downplay its misfortune, but at the very least from a historian's point of view it would make for a fascinating subject and, hence, fascinating reading.

Unfortunately, the book is a collection of facts and quality reportage, but little else. The facts are laid out, the names, motivations, and consequences are delineated and explored, and a sound argument is made for the state of the Balkans in the modern world due to outside forces using the area as their private checker pieces, void of any respect for the region's individual and collective autonomy. But the book is too dry to make it as fascinating as it has every right to be. It doesn't breathe. Battles begin, end, perspectives change and heighten, but it's all written in a tone that is difficult to latch onto, making finishing the book an arduous task. And this is from someone who is highly interested in the area and did their best to pay attention throughout. Admirable in its intentions but too sterile in its execution, this is recommended for those already well-versed in the history of the area.
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on January 4, 2004
Misha Glenny attempts the unimaginable by trying to write a two hundred year comprehensive history of nationalism in the Balkans. Stunningly, his work is a tremedous success of epic proportions. His basic thesis is that the problems in the Balkans are not a result of the ignorance or war like nature of the Balkan people as many suggest but rather a result of the carelessness of Imperialism and the great powers.
Glenny's evidence is primarily drawn from the events leading up to and including WWI. Here lies the great strenght of the work. Glenny gives an in depth and accurate evaluation of the reasons for imperialistic expansion and how these actions affected the Balkan peoples. The overview of WWII is equally enlightening but not quite as impressive as that of WWI.
The book does have some minor shortcomings when it comes to the communist period. The chronological that Glenny keeps so nicely in place before beginnigs to break down. In addition, some areas lack in depth review. Most notalbly, there is very little of Bulgarian Strongman Todor Zhivkov. Most disappointing is dearth of information on the Bosinan War of 1992-5 and the war in Kosovo. It probably goes a little beyond the scope of the work which is primarily a backgroung to this situation. At 660 pages you cannot complain too much that he decided to end it but it does leave you wanting a little more.
Glenny was a correspondent for the BBC which makes the book a lot more accessible than most of the pedantic works put out by academia. His writing is entertaining enough with just enough anecdotes to keep the reader focused. Sometimes he feels the need to share his own personel views, like his opposition to the death penalty. (there is a slight European bias but nothing to be concern the average reader.) The work is comprehensive and easily the best read you will find on Balkan nationalism in general.
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on June 13, 2001
Glenny's The Balkans is easily the best work on the subject in print to date. While managing to stay above the fray of inter-ethnic rivalries, Glenny provides a clear picture of modern Balkan history, arguing that the troubles the region suffers from is not the result of years of mutual ethnic hatereds, but rather the result of constant interference by the Great Powers (whomever that may be at the time.) The book is just short of encyclopedic - its depth and scope can be overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, I found it a fascinating read. Glenny looks beyond "Yugoslavia" in his study of the Balkans, giving attention to Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania as players (and victims) in the "Eastern Quesiton." This is as it should be. His argument about "outside forces" interfereing with the nationalistic development of the Balkan peoples is convinving. Yet there are flaws. The Slovenes are hardly addressed at all; one would think they warrant at least some consideration in any discussion of the area. Comparitively little time is spent on Romania and Bulgaria after the Second World War, and even less is devoted to the sticky issues of the Vojvodina, Banat and Backa - all of which face similar issues with Serbia as Kossovo does. My final criticism is his all too brief treatment and hasty analysis of the "disintegration" of Yugoslavia in the early 90's. With that said, I recommend this book to the serious reader or student of the region only. The information is dense, the history is complicated, and the major players (within and without the Balkans) can confuse the uninitiated. I am confident you will enjoy The Balkans as much as I did.
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on January 7, 2013
probably one of the best historical accounts of the balkan states, from 1804-1999. explains in detail how the states formed, the ottoman empire`s influence on, their fight for independence, wwII, the communist rule and their road to the present day.
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on February 14, 2010
As I come from Macedonia,one of the most troublesome Balkan states, I definitively think that this awesome book should be use as a basic textbook in schools trough most of the Balkan states, because it is so precise, full of informations and history accounts. I was astonished of this work of Mr. Glennys', especially from the precise details of the history accounts, some of which are purposely (or unpurposely) omitted from the history textbooks in the Balkans.
Therefore I would definitively recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand the history of Balkan states, and, of course, the meaning of the present situation in this European region. And, I hope, that this book could give some hints in resolving the problems, or at least better understanding, in the Balkans.
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on March 5, 2001
Glenny has taken on a herculean task that only a kinder hearted approach would have worked. About every tenth word, Glenny shows off his knowledge of all the multiple languages spoken there. He gives the English word for them only once after their first usage! Better be prepared to enter these words in your palm pilot for when you need them again later in the book. I guarantee, you'll never need them anywhere else! Another major weakness, Glenny starts his history in 1815 after Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna divided the region. Unfortunately, one needs to know more about where and how the indigenous peoples came to be where they where and why they hated each other so much since the Roman Empire dissolved. You need to buy another book for that! Good luck! docv
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on June 9, 2000
As a student of international relations, if I had to recommend one book on understanding this sad and complex region, I would recommend "The Balkans." Misha Glenny writes with an authority that comes with having had a great deal of experience in the region. He eschews trite, simplistic analysis by tracing the region's troubles through the history of the Balkans involvement as a theater of intrigue for the great powers. An enormously informative and captivating read.
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