Thursday, December 21, 2006

Eastward to Tartary by Robert D. Kaplan

A few years ago I read The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War by Robert D. Kaplan. I had never heard of him and it just looked interesting (and was a free library discard, so how could I resist?). It was interesting, and presented me with an unconventional approach to the world. It reminded me of what little I'd read of Niccolò Machiavelli (which wasn't a lot): a pragmatic, not idealistic, view of politics and world events.

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus has a similar underlying view of the world, but is a solid travelogue focused on the author's travels through Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Most of those places he'd visited before at least once, so he was partly comparing his experiences in those places during the 1970s or '80s to the late 1990s, close to 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The writing is lucid and does a good job of evoking the places he's visiting. Kaplan also ties in historical events, discussions he had with scholars, old friends, people he meets, etc., and some tentative prognostication for the future. He also notes where his previous expectations were off base.

I mainly enjoyed the closer view of some places that I haven't been, some of the people, and how countries and peoples relate to each other through similarities and differences in government, religion, wars, natural resources, and culture in general. His discussion of Armenia and the 1915 genocide by the Turks was insightful; he does a good job of showing how it differed from the Jewish holocaust, though at the core all the ethnic purges aren't too dissimilar.

Kaplan has written many other books, and I'm not sure I'm in a huge hurry to read them all, but I really liked this and am interested in his other travelogue books.

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