Robert D. Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History stands out to me as a book of surprising intensity and grand scope. That said, the author pulls it off. The part travel saga, part historical analysis works well, and Kaplan generally illustrates a kind of balance in his discussion. Where he really seems to fall from that, is any time the concept of collectivization arises. For Kaplan, it would seem, there is an a priori bias there. When discussing a region that had gotten the rotten end of the big-state socialist experiment for so long, one can see why he might approach it that way; however, it does tend to slant his overall discussion.
That reality aside, Kaplan’s book is an amazing feat. He was traveling and writing in a region that was virtually unknown outside of itself. At the time he was traveling through these places, he was experiencing the end of one social experiment and the beginning of another. As a piece of history, it is a great find.
The image above is from worldatlas.com and is a good representation of the Region Kaplan discusses. His book includes Moldova in the northeast and even bits of Hungry and Austria. One of the amazing things about the book is the changing nature of the region.
This book has been in my bag being read in snippets for about a month. That’s my fault. Kaplan’s text is engaging and thought-provoking. Maybe for this new year I should take my wife’s advice and only read one book at a time, rather than 4 or 5. That way I can finish something in a reasonable amount of time. We’ll see. Maybe, as the cold wind of a new year blows into Pittsburgh, it’s a good time to look at our history, and plan for the best year we can make to come.
-Eric (who is trying to stay warm, and blast through some books, look at maps, and maybe even keeping track of what he’s read this year)