Damn Fool Business in the Balkans

For someone who's quite interested in the Balkans, I've started but failed to finish a distressing number of books on the topic: Misha Glenny's 700 pager, a two-volume history of Serbia, a book on Greece's wars of independence, etc. 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.

(That last one has always amazed me. It's one thing to rightly point out the relatively better treatment the Ottoman Empire afforded to non-Muslims compared to non-Christians during specific periods of history but the sugar-coating that's gone on in the last 10 or so years is just ... lame, not to mention uninformed. It requires total ignorance of the whole picture and takes portions of society out of context thus draining them of meaning. I really hate "histories" that insist on having "heroes" and "villains", no matter who's occupying either category it's bad scholarship. /rant mode off)

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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