Top positive review
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Essential reading ...... the Caucasus.
on 29 July 2013
I am always very wary of reviewers telling their own story rather than providing useful comments for potential buyers/readers. However, here is what I believe is some necessary context.
In the early 1970s I took a Black Sea cruise with the travel firm Clarksons. Istanbul - Constanza (Rumania) - Odessa - Sochi and back to Istanbul. At Sochi the boat docked at a wharf alongside a main road. No fences or walls divided the town from the port. Russian soldiers put up low barriers around the boat and gangplank more to allow easy access to and from the boat rather than any secrecy. Sochi townspeople came to lean on the barriers and stare at us. The snow covered Caucasus mountains formed a dramatic backdrop to the town and port. Those of us with visas were able to go into the town. I returned with strange Russian cigarettes and chocolate. A short time later Clarksons went out of business and I gave no more thought to the Caucasus. I had no knowledge of the Circassians.
I came to this book with vague memories of the Black Sea, Sochi and the Caucasus but with a desire to further understand developments in and around Russia over the last 30 years. I had not appreciated how complex and important was and is the part of the world I had briefly visited over 30 years earlier. Oliver Bullough has written a wonderful book. In his book he is a travel writer, historian, political commentator and journalist. He has a sympathetic view of the peoples and cultures of the area, a detailed grasp of the history and a sharp assessment of the political involvement of Russia under the Tsars, Stalin and Putin with this mountainous pathway for Catherine the Great and the Tsarist dream of a warm water port.
He travelled far and wide to explore the stories of the Circassian families and others (Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Narts and Nogais to name a few) who suffered under Russian genocide, who fled in the various diasporas across the Black Sea to Turkey, Greece, Israel and further afield and those peoples who tried to maintain an independence from the Russian empire.
I compare this book with Misha Glenny's The Balkans. Both regions have a sustained impact on world affairs. Glenny gives a detailed but rather dry and turgid history of the region without the warmth, sometime humour and understanding that Bullough brings to an equally complex and unsettled region.
Of the 12 reviews only 1 is 1 star and that is because the Kindle version has no maps! Otherwise all are 4 and 5 stars. I recommend this for any student of history and any student of geo politics. I give it 5 stars.