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The Caucasus: An Introduction [Paperback]

Thomas de Waal
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Sep 2010
In this well-researched and fascinating book, noted journalist Thomas de Waal—author of the highly acclaimed Black Garden—makes the case that while the Caucasus is often treated as a sub-plot in the history of Russia, or as a mere gateway to Asia, the five-day war in Georgia, which flared into a major international crisis in 2008, proves that this is still a combustible region, whose inner dynamics and history deserve a much more complex appreciation from the wider world.

In The Caucasus, de Waal provides this richer, deeper, and much-needed appreciation, one that reveals that the South Caucasus—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and their many smaller regions, enclaves, and breakaway entities—is a fascinating and distinct world unto itself. Providing both historical background and an insightful analysis of the period after 1991, de Waal sheds light on how the region has been scarred by the tumultuous scramble for independence and the three major conflicts that broke out with the end of the Soviet Union—Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. The book examines the region as a major energy producer and exporter; offers a compelling account of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the rise of Mikheil Saakashvili, and the August 2008 war; and considers the failure of the South Caucasus, thus far, to become a single viable region. In addition, the book features a dozen or so "boxes" which provide brief snapshots of such fascinating side topics as the Kurds, Turkish-Armenian rapprochement, the promotion of the region as the "Soviet Florida," and the most famous of all Georgians, Stalin.

The Caucasus delivers a vibrantly written and timely account of this turbulent region, one that will prove indispensable for all concerned with world politics. It is, as well, a stimulating read for armchair travellers and for anyone curious about far-flung corners of the world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (9 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195399773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195399776
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Nobody has dealt with today's Transcaucasia as lucidly as Thomas de Waal. (Donald Rayfield, Times Literary Supplement)

Astute...Lucis and scrupulous account...De Waal [is] among [the region's] best interpretors. (John Lloyd, Financial Times)

As a clear, brief guide to the countries of south Caucasus, it would be hard to do better than this book. (The Economist)

A compact but rich book. (C. J. Chivers, New York Times Blog)

It is refreshing - almost starlting - to read a book of the Caucasus with such a cool, dispassionate take. (C. J. Chivers, New York Times Blog)

About the Author

has worked as a journalist and expert on the Caucasus and Russia since 1992 for, amongst others, the BBC, the

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Necessary, important and ground-breaking 5 Jun 2011
I think (as the previous reviewer with his concern about the Georgian diaspora appears to have done) it is easy to forget how ground-breaking and important the whole of Tom de Waal's book is, and just get wrapped up in the details. The group of writers doing serious research into the Caucasus who present their findings in a neutral, clear and reliable way is minute, and he is at their centre. He wears his huge knowledge very lightly and most readers would gain no idea from this small, excellent book how much serious work has gone into it.

His previous books have focussed on specific parts of the region (Chechnya and Nagorny-Karabakh), but this time he has taken on the whole South Caucasus and thus given a secure foundation for anyone wanting to find out about the region, or to do further research into it. Almost all other works that I know are either biassed (pro-Soviet, anti-Russian, pro-American), good but spread too thin (Charles King's the Ghost of Freedom) or just rubbish. His patient debunking of myths and establishing of narrative may not seem a glorious task, but it is necessary, and extremely useful to anyone coming to the Caucasus for the first time.

Nationalists from all three (or six?) countries of the region will hate it, since it skewers their favoured myths and gives fair hearing to the complaints of the opposite side. But if the countries' politicians really wanted to help build a war-free future, they should translate this into Abkhaz, Armenian, Azeri, Georgian, Mingrelian, Ossetian, Russian and Svan and use it as a textbook in every school and university they have.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Caucasus an introduction 11 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought the book accidentally, while looking for something else in a London bookstore. Although I grew up in Georgia and now work in Azerbaijan, the book has fascinated me. I have actually witnessed significant part of the action and appreciate the authors description of the events in Georgia from late 20th century to these days. I greatly enjoyed the writing style, accuracy and analyses of events.
I am buying a few more copies for presenting to friends.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Voice of Reason 15 Mar 2012
This book, and most of the author's writing, is fair, intelligent and enlightening. He is the voice of reason. Articulate, with a sound grasp of culture and history, the author steers his way through the minefield of the region's history, and allows outsiders to gain a better understanding of the region and the peoples who inhabit this part of the world. Inspirational.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As it into. but for me a good one! 2 July 2012
By Cruz 67
I have recently had to do some work related to the Caucasus region and for someone with little or no knowledge of the area this is a great book. A very interesting and easy to follow read, about the people, politics, industries etc. of a very diverse part of our plant. I now feel much better equipped to deal with the work I am doing and any conversations that I may get into about the region. So for me 5 stars, a real help!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to the region 27 April 2014
By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent introduction to the complexities of a little-known region. Parallels can be found with the Balkans - a rugged topography, ethnically heterogeneous and history of intra-communal strife. But the Caucasus are a lot more complex: at least 10 major ethnic groups with many subdivisions and among them, and dozens of mutually unintelligible languages. But there are degrees of mutuality, such as the shared legacy of Russian/Soviet rule and, in some places, the glue of Islam. These commonalities mean that the Caucasus is not just an arbitrary geographical designation, unrelated to facts on the ground. This ought to be a basis for some sort of consensus among political actors for compromise but it isn't. Instead, the author laments, `zero-sum thinking prevails. The region suffers from a lack of inclusive thinking.' (p. 226). So what is perceived to be an opportunity in one part of the region is perceived as a threat elsewhere. For instance, the beginnings of a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement in 2009 provoked anger in Azerbaijan, which promptly stopped selling Turkey gas.

What is the root of all this? The old chestnut that used to come up in discussions about the wars in the ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s was `ancient hatreds', the incorrigible tribal irrationality of the peoples themselves. In relation to the conflicts described in this book, de Waal shows that relations between communities were often cordial. In the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, Georgian and South Ossetian villagers had cordial relations based on networks of mutual interests, right up until the 2008 Russian-Georgian war; Azeri-Armenian community relations in Nagorno-Karabakh record a great deal of concord.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good introduction 11 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this book prior to travelling in the region to understand more about the history and culture of the region.

The book itself focuses on the 20th Century, with more limited information on previous times. It looks at the Caucasus region and its varied issues. Mr de Waal does a very good job at discussing what is a very complex region in about 200-pages. He looks at Soviet times and the more recent regional conflicts in some detail. There are also many very interesting facts throughout the book.

The one down side to the book is that there are various spelling and grammar mistakes. That is simply not acceptable for OUP, especially considering the price of the e-book (NB - I bought the Kindle version).

I would recommend this for anybody travelling to the region or anybody who wants to find out about the region – probably the best introduction to Caucasian history available.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and engaging
Excellent well written book that, like the other work by Thomas DeWaal, is easy to read.
Published 27 days ago by Mr R W Warrington
5.0 out of 5 stars For this part of the world, Thomas De Waal is the expert
I AM coming to love this man's straightforward writing, and his explanations of very complicated issues. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Craig Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid, Balanced, Relevant and Well Informed.
The caucasus - an unknown and exotic area, but still part of Europe; we should all understand it better, I told myself. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Nicholas Rees
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched and readable
Authoritative and accessible introduction to a complex but strategically critical region. De Waal writes confidently and convincingly, and his book should be compulsory reading... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Small Wombat
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Guide to Political History of the Region
The politics and history of this region are complicated but De Waal guides you through in a very readable and engaging style. Highly recommended. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mike
5.0 out of 5 stars Discovering something about The Caucasus
A deep yet concise and very readable account of the recent developments in the Caucasus Region with all its complications. Read more
Published 13 months ago by REVD W B BEER
5.0 out of 5 stars The Caucasus
I bought this book, having been fascinated by the author's previous book, The Black Garden. This one takes a broad look at the whole of the Caucasus and is just as well written... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Mr. John F. Burton
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