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Black Sea: The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism
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Black Sea: The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism

3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  309 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
This title is a homage to the ocean and its shores, and a meditation on Eurasian history from the earliest times to the present. It evokes the culture, history and politics of the volatile region along these shores.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 11th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Jul 17, 2011 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2007
I am flipping through this book now and wishing that I remembered even a tenth of its contents. "Black Sea" is an amalgamation of travelogue and history, and an excellent narrative about the many peoples and cultures that have lived--and, in some cases, still live--on the shores of the Black Sea. The writer, Neal Ascherson, describes personal trips to different parts of the region, and incorporates these experiences with historical background that he has amassed over the years.

There are loads of
Charlene Mathe
Feb 07, 2014 Charlene Mathe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm only about a quarter-way through this book, but I am rating it now because there could be no better time to read it than now, during the Olympic games in Sochi! That is because Sochi is located on the Black Sea; and if you are like me, your knowledge of the peoples and historic drama of the Black Sea region is pretty thin. I think author, Neal Ascherson, does a wonderful job of bringing to life centuries of human drama in the context of the unique Black Sea habitat. You will have a much grea ...more
One of my most favorite books, Black Sea by Ascherson is difficult to classify. It's an examination of the layers upon layers of geography, civilizations, ecology and history of a parts of the Black Sea region interspersed with anecdotes of the author's travels in the area. In gorgeous prose, Ascherson, captures the essence of the Black Sea.
Jun 19, 2014 Antigone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
British journalist Neal Ascherson has produced a terrifically informative historical travelogue of the region surrounding the Black Sea. Written several years ago, it's a timely read for me in light of the current conflict between Russia and the Ukraine - in specific, the hot property of Crimea. As Mr. Ascherson relays:

"Crimea, whose beauty provokes almost sexual yearnings of possession in all its visitors...has always been a destination, the cliffs at the end of the sea or the shore where the w
Apr 16, 2011 Bob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up in an Oxfam shop as background reading before going to Turkey on holiday. Ascheron tells the story of the peoples living round the Black Sea in an interesting way, mixing history with anecdotes from his many travels there. I knew nothing about the geography of the area, and even less about the peoples before I started. But now I feel I have a bit of an understanding of both.
Sep 04, 2008 Lindsay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I lived in Crimea for a year. This book was a useful tool to learn about the cultures that settled there in the past. Neal really does a great job of writing about history in a poetic way.
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
I think this is a wonderful book about the Black Sea region. Well-written it compliments any study of Eastern Europe.
This is not a travel book in the conventional sense, nor is it a mere work of history. The best description that I can think of is 'a book of ideas', overwhelmingly erudite, an extended meditation on cultural identity and nationalism. Indeed, for me, 'Black Sea' is the finest book of ideas I've read since 'The Third Chimpanzee' two years ago, and in a whole different category from previous five-starrers like 'In Siberia' or Bruce Lincoln's book on the Russian Civil War.

I learnt such an in-CRED-
Michael Connolly
The Black Sea has been a meeting place of East and West, and Christianity and Islam. The author describes many ethnicities that are not well known, but which have interesting histories. The Hemsinli are a Muslim people who speak Armenian. Because their ancestors converted to Islam, they were not deported or killed during the Armenian genocide of the twentieth century. Another small group is the Lazi, who live in Turkey, but speak a language related to Georgian. They speak Lazuri at home and Turk ...more
Lyn Elliott
When I first read this fascinating book I was most interested in Turkey. This time it has been recent events in the Ukraine that prompted me to re-read it and I realise that I had forgotten its scope; the range of Ascherson's knowledge and the acuity of his perception about the politics of identity in the regions connected with the Black Sea, from Lithuania to Abkhazia.
Although he wrote this nearly 20 years ago, his observations are completely relevant today. This is a must-read for understandi
Jul 07, 2015 Cezar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book by luck in a cozy Goderich store, "The Book Peddler". Read it on a wild beach of Lake Huron - a kin landscape with the desolate Black Sea shores, those haunted by the old Scythians and Sarmatians. Neal Ascherson handcrafted a captivating mix of history, travel and anecdotes, mostly centered around Crimea, with some excursions to Constantinople and Trebizond. An easy but very consistent read. Recommended especially for those who see History in black and white, heroes and evils. ...more
Accessible, though sometimes slow, introduction to a part of the world rarely covered in American classrooms. My favorite is the lengthy explanation he gives of the Mixoparthenos, aka the Starbucks "not-a-mermaid-but-looks-like-one", just a few years before she makes it big.

I also like that Ascherson addresses larger trends -- cultural absorption, the roots of several concepts (barbarism v. civilization, nationalism, mounted knights), economic push and pull. They were lightly sprinkled throughou
Noel Hourican
Nov 19, 2015 Noel Hourican rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Superb. One of the most though provoking works that I've read. About more than just the Sea.
Fred Garnett
Nov 10, 2014 Fred Garnett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those deep-thought-provoking books that you might want to get round to reading one day, that day when you want to meditate on the origins of European Civilisations and the "Other' by which it was shaped. That day would be right now in March 2013 when the Crimean occupation, as a part of the Ukrainian crisis, makes these issues suddenly contemporary. By chance Ascherson, a wonderful British journalist and writer (and expert on Poland), was passing Gorbachev's dascha on Crimea in 1991 when ...more
Feb 11, 2015 Cindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I plucked this from the home bookshelves after reading much of the novel The Corn King and the Spring Queen, first published in 1931. Black Sea illuminates the area's history, showing how cultures have long swirled and mixed there. And to my great joy, Ascherson mentions "Naomi Mitchison's astonishing historical novel The Corn King and the Spring Queen."

As Edward Mortimer said in Financial Times, "All in all, Herodotus would be proud of him."
Aug 06, 2011 Andreea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though this book concentrates mostly on Russia/ Ukraine - as the author warns himself - and starts off with an archeological approach that stretches for some chapters, it is surprisingly full with interesting facts about the origins of various peoples around the Black Sea and random bits of history (e.g. Poland, whose only link to the Black Sea seems to be the Sarmatian origins of its aristocracy, but the author seems to be an expert on Poland, so I guess it had to be there :) interesting n ...more
If you are travelling, and only looking for a book to occupy your mind occasionally, this is not the right book. Exactly, for this reason I could not manage to complete reading this book because it requires a lot of attention and thinking. Full of facts about the Black Sea Region, the ethnicities that live in the areas surrounding Black Sea.

This book needs to be read very attentively and a background information about the region will be very helpful for the reader that is ready to open up to thi
Jan 30, 2014 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a little trouble getting into this one. It's a bit of a mix of travel writing and history and I think that structure made it hard for me to really dig in. Ultimately, though, it offers some fascinating information about how people have and continue to fashion ethnicities and nationalities.
Aug 14, 2014 Helpen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
well written
Nov 06, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of how the Black Sea has shaped the histories of the peoples and countries around it since ancient times. I've been there a few times, and on one memorable occasion sat on a huge rock at the head of the Bosphorus sipping black tea from a tulip glass and drinking in the vista. A relative used to have a villa along the coast, and one night I lay on my back staring at the incredible display of stars as the waters lapped against my feet. I was hopelessly intoxicated.
Jul 13, 2012 Pippa rated it it was amazing
Neal Ascherson is a truly magical writer. It might be non-fiction, but it is enchanting. I remember when I was 18 and I used to eagerly turn the pages to find his piece in the Sunday newspapers, and I still love his writing now. I just wish I could visit the Black Sea now, but his book is certainly the next best thing (or maybe better :D).
Aug 14, 2012 Bianca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastisch boek! Het boek gaat over de landen rondom de Zwarte Zee. De auteur neemt je mee naar de oudheid en weer terug; op een zeer toegankelijke manier wordt een groot deel van de geschiedenis van onder ander de Oekraïne, Turkije en Bulgarije beschreven. Ik weet zeker dat ik dit boek nog een keer ga lezen.
Andy Thornton
I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a fascinating insight into an area of the world that I know very little about, and also food for thought on how this world of ours might develop in the future. Some of the history of the area seems so resonant with what we see going on in Europe at the moment.
May 18, 2016 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I expected a travel account, but this book was much, much more. Ascherson discusses how civilizations, farming and nomadic, encountered each other, and the long term effects, and questions the concept of barbarian versus civilized groups. Every chapter was an eye opener.
Manuel Barrios
Jul 31, 2011 Manuel Barrios rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un libro magnífico, que explica muchas de las claves del siglo XX en Europa oriental. Francamente recomendable
Jul 04, 2009 Ns rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another must read about the Black Sea, its history, environs, and the myriad peoples that called this area "home."
Sanju Hans
Apr 10, 2013 Sanju Hans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spannende Darstellung einer Region von einem Journalisten mit historischem Fachwissen
Jul 20, 2008 Ike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gift from Matt Bushue.
Manuel Barrios
Jul 31, 2011 Manuel Barrios rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bryn Hammond
Jan 31, 2013 Bryn Hammond marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: steppe-history
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Charles Neal Ascherson (born October 5, 1932) is a Scottish journalist and writer.

He was born in Edinburgh and educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge, where he read history and graduated with a triple starred first. He was described by the historian Eric Hobsbawm as "perhaps the most brilliant student I ever had. I didn't really teach him much, I just let him get on with it."
More about Neal Ascherson...

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“All human populations are in some sense immigrants. All hostility between different cultures in one place has an aspect of the classic immigrant grudge against the next boatload approaching the shore. To defend one’s home and fields and ancestral graves against invasion seems a right. But to claim unique possession – to compound the fact of settlement with the aspect of a landscape into an abstract of eternal and immutable ownership – is a joke.” 6 likes
“History — the product, not the raw material — is a bottle with a label. For many years now, the emphasis of historical discussion has been laid upon the label (its iconography, its target-group of customers) and upon the interesting problems of manufacturing bottle-glass. The contents, on the other hand, are tasted in a knowing, perfunctory way and then spat out again. Only amateurs swallow them.” 2 likes
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