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

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  230 ratings  ·  27 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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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
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-
Charlene Mathe
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.
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
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.
Zakariah Johnson
What at first glance looked to be a relaxed academic discourse on Black Sea history instead turned out to be an all-too-timely, wide-ranging reflection on the meaning of politics, nationalism, culture, and what might be termed the ecology of identity, something that time will always restore, albeit in a different form, whenever the balance is upset.

Ascherson is an academic who understands the necessary rigors of scientific proofs, but here he allows himself to speculate like an old don with a s
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.
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
Noel Hourican
Superb. One of the most though provoking works that I've read. About more than just the Sea.
Fred Garnett
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
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
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.
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.
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).
From the moment I started to read this book, I could not put it off my hands, so addictive was the storytelling Ascherson offered. A total 100% must-read for everyone who is slightly interested in Eastern Europe, might be it historical, political or just simply for the awesome amount of stories it offers. A big favourite in my bookshelf!
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.
Manuel Barrios
Un libro magnífico, que explica muchas de las claves del siglo XX en Europa oriental. Francamente recomendable
Another must read about the Black Sea, its history, environs, and the myriad peoples that called this area "home."
Sanju Hans
Spannende Darstellung einer Region von einem Journalisten mit historischem Fachwissen
Gift from Matt Bushue.
Bryn Hammond
Jan 31, 2013 Bryn Hammond marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: steppe-history
Yasir Husain
Yasir Husain marked it as to-read
Nov 27, 2014
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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.” 5 likes
“By the middle twentieth century, few European nation-states had not at one time or another figured themselves as 'the outpost of Western Christian civilisation': France, imperial Germany, the Habsburg Reich, Poland with its self-image as przedmurze (bastion), even tsarist Russia. Each of these nation-state myths identified "barbarism" as the condition or ethic of their immediate eastward neighbour: for the French, the Germans were barbarous, for the Germans it was the Slavs, for the Poles the Russians, for the Russians the Mongol and Turkic peoples of Central Asia and eventually the Chinese.” 1 likes
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