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Where the West Ends

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  330 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Prize-winning author Michael J. Totten returns with a masterpiece of travel writing and history in this journey through thirteen nations--all but two formerly communist--just beyond the edge of the West where few casual travelers venture.

His work as an independent foreign correspondent takes him deep into the field beyond the sensational headlines, from his hilariously mis
Paperback, 268 pages
Published 2012 by Belmont Estate Books
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Ken Moten
This book is an interesting book about life in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This book has its strong points and weak points. The strong points: this book takes on a trip through parts of the world that are only talked about as a current event, but never fully explored. We always seem to focus on the former non-Russia Soviet Union and the Balkans when Russia (or genocide in the case of the Balkans) is in involved, but now we get a look at these places on their own (this book takes place ...more
Jul 27, 2013 Matt rated it liked it

I generally steer away from travel writing about more mainstream locations because I find that the genre can be rather formulaic (I ate here, I stayed here, the people were like this and then I went somewhere else) and I feel that popular destinations like London or Paris are best experienced in person rather than through the page. I can state with reasonable confidence, however, that I do not have any of the areas visited by Michael Totten in Where the West Ends on any upcoming travel itinerari
Melissa McShane
While I enjoy Michael Totten's writing about the Middle East and its conflicts and politics, my favorites of his blog entries have always been his stories of traveling through eastern Europe. This book collects and expands on these, as well as including new material, and I recommend it to anyone who's interested in the history of eastern Europe, the southern former-SSRs, and the near-Asian countries that influence that area.

Totten is a really good writer, and this is really good travel writing:
Bill Murray
Oct 07, 2013 Bill Murray rated it it was amazing
Fun new book from Michael J. Totten. Fun, that is, if your idea of thrills is a drive from Turkey into Iraq for lunch, and that surely would be a thrill for me. Where the West Ends expands on Mr. Totten's Dispatches blog for World Affairs Journal. Sections are roughly grouped as the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Black Sea.

Many authors seem to believe they won't be taken seriously unless their work is laden with ponderous history. When well written that's worthwhile. When it's no
Dec 13, 2013 Lauren rated it liked it
This probably would have been better had I known more about this part of the world in advance. The author makes reference to taking photographs at almost all points of the book; I wish that some of them had been included. The story feels a bit empty without them.
Tom Nixon
May 25, 2013 Tom Nixon rated it really liked it
I think if I could figure out how to be a travel writer and make a living that way, I would. And books like this don't help matters (neither do re-runs of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations- but that's beside the point.)* I can think of no job that would be more awesome that travelling the world and writing about the crazy, random, wonderful, odd, dangerous things that you see along the way.

And Michael J. Totten makes that old idealistic itch of mine itch that much harder because he's a good wri
Jason Klimowicz
Jul 07, 2013 Jason Klimowicz rated it liked it
Where the West Ends is a travelogue thru Turkey, Kurdistan, the Balkans, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. At times, the book feels disjointed, Totten seems unsure whether he wants to be more Bill Bryson, by describing with humor the places he travels to and his sometimes funny interactions with the locals, or Robert Kaplan, by describing the places in more historical and political terms. For example, his travel through Turkey and the Kurdish region of Iraq feels more like the adventures of two ...more
Chuck Russo
Apr 05, 2013 Chuck Russo rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've been a reader of Michael Totten's blog for years, and he's always interesting. This was a very good read, although it suffers a bit from repetitiveness. Some chapters seem like an unedited collection of blog postings, each capable of standing on its own, and that is great if you're reading an individual blog entry, but as a continuous narrative in book form, some of the repetition should be edited out. Despite that, it was still a great read, and an interesting introduction to some regions ...more
Dec 13, 2013 Love rated it it was amazing
Michael Totten’s style of travel writing reminds me a lot of that of that of Robert Kaplan with his focus on politics and history; I think it would be fair to classify the author as a young Kaplan. Of course you could also classify his writing as Kaplan for dummies, since it lacks the depth of analysis and often scholarly feel of Kaplan’s writing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I would probably have worshiped Totten if I read this book in high school. I would also be more comfortable ...more
Charlie Newfell
Oct 13, 2013 Charlie Newfell rated it really liked it
I was really looking forward to reading this book, and glad I did, but boy, did it get off to a bad start! The premise is where Europe ends. What's on the other side, and what do the borderlands look like to Americans? It's divided into 4 sections. To Iraq ( driving from Turkey), the Balkans, The Caucasus, and The Black Sea.

The first section is just awful. Poorly written, and amateurish in tone and substance. I'm glad I didn't give up, as the other sections(3/4 of the book) are excellent, descr
Jason Brown
Oct 17, 2013 Jason Brown rated it did not like it
Don't bother with this book. I couldn't even finish reading it; the pedantic prose, the "gee, I'm not in Kansas any more" revelations in every new locale, the millimeter-thick understanding of regional dynamics all added up to a thoroughly disappointing aftertaste. Kagan, you aren't.
Oct 18, 2016 Julie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, asia, europe
Travel writing meets journalism as Tottten and occasionally a friend travel through countries of the former Eastern Bloc. He ventures through Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and more reporting on current events and giving perspective to historical occurrences. His writing was sometimes funny and always informative.
Sep 23, 2012 Doug rated it it was amazing
If you drew an oval around the Black Sea, from Sarajevo and Dubrovnik on the west to Baku and Kurdish Iraq on the east, you would encompass the ancient, quirky and perpetually feuding lands visited and reported on by Michael Totten. These are places, I think it is safe to say, about which the average American reader knows little. Totten, in his very conversational and readable style, enlightens.

Which of these peoples loves the United States and which hate it? Where are the people of Albanian des
Andrew Wanner
Jan 16, 2016 Andrew Wanner rated it really liked it
I would probably give this book about a 3.7 if I was allowed to be more exact. I listened to on audio-book while walking and also in the evenings. It starts out with a bizarre hurrah that is almost like an attempted Gonzo/HST thing when him and his friend set out on a road trip through Turkey into Kurdistan... almost makes it feel like its going to be an exaggerating backpacker story written by reckless twenty-somethings... but this may have also been in part due to the emphasis of the reader, ...more
Ryan Boucher
May 28, 2015 Ryan Boucher rated it liked it
The first story had me worried as I thought the book was going to be the author doing deliberately "crazy" things for the sake of a book. After that the book picked up and I really enjoyed his take on the Balkans and how he came to realise how little he knew about this part of the world. This middle core was worth it despite what I'm about to write.

The end falls away very quickly and the author illustrates just how painful he would be to travel with. No knowledge of local language or customs, ma
Cathy Postmus
Jul 27, 2015 Cathy Postmus rated it liked it
I am working my way through this book. I particularly enjoy learning about the countries he has visited, as they are not so often mentioned in travel books.

I have only one request of the author. Please, please, find alternate methods of writing "I said", "she said", "he said". This "...said" is even an antecedent for questions! It's almost like the author was told to add conversations to his book and didn't bother finding other ways to describe speech. Many of the conversations aren't that inte
I was so thrilled when I discovered a book on the Balkans, Caucasus and Black Sea regions by a journalist who has traveled these regions. It's not often when I discover a book about my favorite part of the world of which I have not previously heard. Now I know why I'd researched materials on these regions and never come across Where the West Ends. It's not a terrible book. It's just that the further into it I read, the more the reporting became pro-U.S. military invention/foreign policy that it ...more
Maggie Reed
Jun 19, 2013 Maggie Reed rated it it was amazing
I have read a few books written by journalists regarding their insights on international topics. I've enjoyed all of them. This one, however, had the same impact on me as Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion, edited by Paul Marshall. Nowhere have I seen the topics raised regarding the Balkans and current conflicts in Chechnya and Georgia as I have seen in this book. It's not just a fact-finding operation, but well beyond that into the impact the US has had on the area, what people ...more
Jun 22, 2015 Kate rated it really liked it
So good. Read this in 2 days. A collection of Totten's "travel" pieces spanning a little more than the last decade. Writing about areas like the Balkans, Romania, Iraq, Kosovo. Great stories. Gave me additional insight into the ethnic and religious complexities of these areas. Very keen to read his more up-to-date stuff to see if it holds up. Recommend it for getting an additional perspective into very complex areas of the world.

Update: I forgot to mention that there is no map in this book whic
Jeff Griffeth
Travel narrative books are some of my favorite types. Since reading my first Bryson book on a flight back from London, I've made sure to slip one in every once in a while. Where the West Ends is an eye-opening look at some of the world's most interesting places, along with enough anecdotal humor and history to give you a sense that we're all just the same (looking for a McDonalds restaurant in the middle of Kiev). Anyone who enjoys a good travel narrative will like this one. Just be sure to keep ...more
Jun 01, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it
Loved the insight to parts of the world where civilization, as we have constructed it, ends. At a practical level, this book makes Putin's annexation of Crimea seem unremarkable. Beyond that, Totten paints a picture of the Middle East, Balkans and southern former Soviet states that is simultaneously bleak and hopeful. Bleak because the destructive effects of State and monolithic religions can be so devastatingly bad as they are still in places like Serbia and The Crimea. Hopeful because ...more
Carol Wakefield
Apr 27, 2016 Carol Wakefield rated it really liked it
I search out books that take me as an armchair traveler to parts of the world I am unlikely to ever see. In this case Eastern Europe/Western Asia. The first chapter does not lay good groundwork for the rest of the book. A rather foolish trip into dangerous territory which did not bode well for the authors judgment and conclusions about the next areas he visited. Definitely lightweight was my initial reaction. However as his visits progressed I found them more interesting and reading this kind if ...more
Jul 23, 2016 Sklape rated it really liked it
Great book about road trips in regions of the world that are rarely visited by tourists. I wish that the book included pictures of the locations. Totten travels with photographers in the book and yet no pictures were included in the book. I think pictures would have greatly enhanced the text. I appreciated the Totten's accounts of more liberal Muslin communities and how they are threatened by more fundamentalist groups. The battles within Islam are clearly described in this book.
Mar 24, 2013 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: social-studies
An excellent look at countries that a lot of westerners may not be as familiar with, starting with an impulsive drive into Kurdistan in Iraq, then the Balkan countries, Georgia, and then the Ukraine. Totten's had some fascinating experiences in his travels, and he looks behind what most reporters put out there (when they even talk about these countries). Only a really abrupt ending mars what is otherwise a must-read book.
Andrew Tollemache
Jul 18, 2013 Andrew Tollemache rated it it was amazing
Best praise i can give this book is: Damn I want to visit/live in Croatia! This book is at its best when it serves as a travel memoir to places like Kurdistan, the Balkans or Crimea. i think Totten wanted this to be more like the very analytical/historical "Eastward to Tartary" that Kaplan write and Totten quotes Kaplan often. However the analyses parts are too intermittent to give the book gravitas. The descriptions are great though.
Apr 28, 2016 Russ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author gives an interesting first person account of his travels through Kurdistan, the former republics of Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Georgia, and Ukraine. It is not a political book although politics and religion are discussed with the locals that he encounters. It is a travelogue through places that would seem dangerous and alien to most Americans.
Craig Scanlan
Aug 17, 2015 Craig Scanlan rated it liked it
I enjoyed it....and maybe is a 3.5 or 4.....he has a nice journalistic style and I appreciated his insights into a region that fascinates me. but at the end of the day, when he wanted to add historical depth to the region, he would be quoting Rebecca West or Kaplan. So read those first (among others) and their insights help paint a more vibrant context when reading thru this.
Kelly Looney
Nov 13, 2012 Kelly Looney rated it really liked it
Interesting book about little known parts of the world.

I corresponded with the author about his comments regarding Belgrade, and (probably not because of my comments) he seemed to soften his opinions about Serbia from the original blog posting.
Sep 14, 2015 Jennifer rated it liked it
A good and informative narrative, but one that would have benefited from some more editing, as some of the chapters were a bit uneven in terms of the historical background -- felt like a collection of his newspaper articles without a really coherent story arc.
Jan 13, 2014 Marge rated it really liked it
This journalist and international analyst records his travels (both alone and with various companions)in the lesser traveled parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He is essentially being a tourist in non-touristy countries. I learned a lot about places we read about in the news.
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“An adventure,” the great travel writer Tim Cahill once wrote, “is never an adventure when it happens. An adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquility.” 0 likes
“Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” ” 0 likes
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