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Black Sea by Neal Ascherson
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Black Sea (1995)

by Neal Ascherson (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Best history book I've read this year (and the last, as it happens). Brilliant range of references covering 3000 years and more of history. Umpteen people, peoples, and places I've never or scarcely heard of as well as some good ecoscience thrown in. E.g. the Abkhazians who I proudly thought i knew included the charming Beria, but no, he was a Mingrelian. We get deep insights into Polish nationalism (its founding poet father Minkiewicz was exiled to the Black Sea). Ovid gets a mention (knew he was there but he springs to life in this account). the Pontic Greeks i'd heard of but here we get their whole flourish and fade and how they nurse their traditions still. Golden Horde and Mongol, Cossack, Kazakh and Tatar ride across the pages and seem to be different names for more or less one thing.(Side shots touch on Scottish nationalism, the Gaelic revival, the invention of the knight at arms, perestroika, Near the end we learn of Harald Hardrade (know him from Stamford Bridge at the margins of English history but hey! he was a commander of mercenaries for the Byzantine emperor and rammed his way out through the chain over the Bosporus. Here and there his first hand travel experiences: meetings with sad librarians, unfunded scientists, selfless archaeologists, a museum of sycophantic tributes to Brezhnev, a disabled girl's death on a bus. The book appears structureless; not a travelogue, nor a chronology, with so much going on and most of it new to me it should have been confusing, but themes are interwoven, sometimes reappearing, sewn together with such weightless scholarshop and seamless style, I was sorry to finish it. ( )
  vguy | Jan 1, 2013 |
I consider this as a companion to the massive and brilliant 750 page tome on the Mediterranean and its peoples I am currently reading by David Abulafia The Great Sea (http://www.librarything.com/work/11256104) but it is written in a lighter and more easily read prose … but none the less scholarly… because of Neal Ascherson’s journalistic phrasing. You would not find the expression ”muddy-arsed squireens” (p.231) used by many historians and it is Ascherson’s human touch that makes this book such an enjoyable read.

Both books are histories back to the time of Herodotus, and both are concerned with the anthropology of the settlers of these seas but while Abulafia covers the whole of those great seas that make up the “Med”, Ascherson concentrates his 300 pages on just the one.

But the Black Sea has had more head-spinning confusions, churnings and population waves that a washing machine! From early Greek, Iranian and Viking settlers through pogroms, communism and collapse to our modern concerns with the dangerous ecological threat this region has experienced constant – and for readers – fascinating turmoil.

Neal Ascherson is an author with a strong background career grounded in journalism and gives us, in this book, an eminently readable and very personal (his own father as a Royal Naval midshipman in 1920 saw the Russian fleet withdrawing) account of the trials and churning of the peoples of this region in their struggle and search for homeland and identify. I was recently (2012) in Ukraine and saw some of this whirlpool and that obviously added to my personal enjoyment of this work which is thoroughly recommended for those readers who enjoy history in a very readable form.
1 vote John_Vaughan | Jun 6, 2012 |
Interesting, synthetic account. I would have preferred more on the Anatolian piece. ( )
  timspalding | Jun 13, 2008 |
Travel, Eastern Europe, Caucasus
  aimo | Oct 26, 2007 |
Interesting, a description of recent tours along the black sea coast leavened with fascinating but unsatisfyingly brief historical vignettes, of Greek, Roman, Scythian and other times. His main journalistic concern seemed to be description of the fragmented Soviet Union. ( )
  neurodrew | Mar 5, 2007 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Although geographically centered, Neal Ascherson’s BLACK SEA is not primarily about geography; rather, it concerns the people who, over the centuries, migrated to the shores of this inland sea that separates East from West, “the largest mass of lifeless water in the world,” extending 144 miles from the Crimean peninsula to the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. There is life at the top, schools of dolphin and porpoise, the once- abundant Black Sea anchovy, and a kind of mackerel called the bonito, but 150 meters below the surface of the Black Sea “is the world’s biggest single reservoir of hydrogen sulphide,” and the deeper waters are therefore sterile.
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ascherson, NealAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0809015935, Paperback)

In a colorful, learned and wholly original chronicle, Neal Ascherson shows us the Black Sea and its place in the history of Europe and Asia, from Jason and the Golden Fleece to the fall of Communism and the new world disorder. In his exploration of the myths and realities surrounding this remarkable region, where ancient cultures collided and modern states - Russia, Turkey, Romania, Greece, and Caucasus - mingle, he discovers that the meanings of community, nationhood, and cultural independence are both fierce and disturbingly uncertain.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:12 -0400)

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