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Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans,…

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the… (2000)

by Robert D. Kaplan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Robert Kaplan is a traveling writer/journalist who tries to interpret what he sees in the wider context of the World. He has long been one of my favourites, although his later books are becoming more and more something of a Tour de Force, trying to prove some grand, preconceived idea through going places, and then fit the observations to the idea. The Lebanon chapter (and the Turkey and Syria ones, for that matter) in “Eastwards to Tartary” (2000) is also somewhat disappointing. Compared to William Dalrymple, for instance, who visited the same area round about the same time, Kaplan doesn’t get nearly as much out of his journey, and remains stuck in the observations that Syria controls and dominates, and that Lebanon has embarked on a post-war consumer spree. I

NB: The comparison between the Brit Dalrymple and the American Kaplan is an interesting one. Where Dalrymple describes the history of Lebanon from the perspective of his observations, and is clearly on a journey of discovery, Kaplan travels with the usual American confidence, knowing it all, never doubting his conclusions. The word “perhaps” you won’t find in Kaplan’s books. Both writers meet Wahlid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, but Dalrymple somehow comes up with a much more interesting account after seeing the man for less than an hour, whilst Kaplan had a whole afternoon lunch with the man, without generating much insight.

The section on the Balkans, and Romania and Bulgaria, is also rather disappointed by the lack of depth, and lack of detail – perhaps inevitable, as this book, touted as Kaplan’s first book since Balkan Ghosts to focus on a single region again, in fact takes the author from Hungary via Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey into Armenia and Azerbijan to end in Turkmenistan, meanwhile taking a sidetrip to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. So much for a ‘single region’… Like Lebanon, Romania and Bulgaria are covered somewhat hastily in this book. The story is low on travel observations and experiences, and heavy on interviews, whereby Mr. Kaplan has now acquired sufficient international fame to get access to presidents, mayors and professors, which leaves less time for discussions with the common people he so effectively used to paint a picture of a country in transition, in his earlier books. I can also not escape the impression that hope has been replaced by despair, as far as Romania and Bulgaria are concerned. ( )
  theonearmedcrab | Jan 13, 2016 |
An engaging travelogue, spanning the east-west extent of Ottoman dominion. Along the way, the author talks with writers and politicians to divine the current states of affairs, while giving us insightful historic perspectives. I'm so glad I read this, as it helps me see the highly unsettled conditions of Eastern Europe and the "near east" at the turn of our century. A black market, even mafioso-style, economy is a common theme. I learned a great deal about "Greater Syria", Turkey, Ajerbaijan and the post-soviet hangover that was then infecting many of these nations. Certainly dated, as everything is that came before 9-11, but a fine, approachable work in any case. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Oct 3, 2015 |
Fascinating! Launched my interest in Central Asia and the Balkans and made me want to read books again. Kaplan is among my favorite authors. ( )
  ORFisHome | Jul 13, 2009 |
Since writing Balkan Ghosts — which was reputedly very influential in the Clinton White House during the Balkan conflict — Robert Kaplan has become famous for writing travel literature that is part travelogue and part foreign policy briefing. Most of his books are about parts of the world most Americans couldn’t pick out on a map, let alone say anything intelligent about. Even the supposed educated elite would be hard pressed to name a single factoid about places like Azerbaijan. The same can’t be said for someone who has read Eastward to Tartary.

In Eastward to Tartary, Kaplan starts off in what is often euphemistically called “New Europe,” otherwise known as “Eastern” or, perhaps more accurately, “Central” Europe. In Budapest he meets an eccentric man who posits the idea that the amount of democracy and “civilization” present in a country today is directly related to how close the country was geographically, socially and politically to Europe during the enlightenment. This theme, amended to include the influence of the Ottoman and Soviet Empires, is woven throughout Kaplan’s travels through Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Armenia.

To read the rest of this review, click here ( )
1 vote fernrichardson | Jan 19, 2009 |
I liked this book a lot. Kaplan's writing is best when he travels across territories and compares one with the others. This book is a lot like Ryszard Kapuscinski's writing. ( )
  dickcraig | Aug 18, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Like V. S. Naipaul in his pessimism, Niccolo Machiavelli in his realism, and Herodotus in his Eurocentrism, Kaplan is an able practitioner of the travel literature genre.


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Robert D. Kaplanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bordwin, GabrielleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fuentecilla, EricCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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...it appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real

truth of a matter than the imagination of it; for many have

pictured republics and principalities which in fact have

never been seen and known, because how one lives is so far

distant from how one ought to live...
--Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
To know the worst is not always to be liberated from its

consequences; nevertheless it is preferable to ignorance.
--Isiah Berlin, "The Originality of Machiavelli"
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375705767, Paperback)

The master of the hardheaded travelogue, Robert D. Kaplan returns with a book on what he calls "the New Near East," an area stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia that "might become the seismograph of world politics" in the new century. That doesn't sound like good news: "The pitiless history of the Near East [is] dominated by marauding armies and earthquakes while peace treaties have merely formalized temporary stalemates on the ground." Kaplan has made a career of writing about the world's trouble spots "without illusions"--his books Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth are at once influential and pessimistic.

Eastward to Tartary is a fascinating exploration of places Kaplan has not written about in depth before: "Third World Europe" (Romania and Bulgaria), Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the confusing conglomeration of countries and peoples in the Caucasus. Smart observations leap off almost every page. "In every Arab city I have ever visited, people were polite and honest, running after you to return a loose coin you have left at a soft-drinks stand," he writes. So why hasn't democracy taken hold in the Islamic world? "The very perfection of the Islamic belief system begot a naive absolutism that made the compromises of normal political life impossible." In an aside on ancient Assyria, Kaplan notes, "The theme is always the same: Highly militarized and centralized states and empires, so indomitable in one decade or generation, hack themselves to pieces or are themselves conquered in another." Then he reminds readers that Assyria once bestrode present-day Iraq and Syria--a "hauntingly appropriate" coincidence. And surprising facts abound: "Turkey represents the most stable governmental dynasty in world history, with the Turkish soldiery able to trace the roots of its power to the Roman emperors." Fans of Kaplan's previous books won't want to miss this one, and neither will new readers interested in this part of the world. --John J. Miller

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:00 -0400)

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