Gina's Reviews > Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History

Balkan Ghosts by Robert D. Kaplan
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Feb 06, 10

did not like it

One of the worst books about the Balkans ever published. Filled to the brim with Kaplan's trademark factual inaccuracies, personal prejudices, stereotypes, inexplicably bad or inconsistent transliterations (Kossovo stands out as the most ridiculous) and translations, and lazy journalism.

To Kaplan, the Balkans are Europe's wild west, characterized by lawlessness, lurid tales, lots of prostitutes, and (his favorite term) "ancient ethnic hatreds." To me, this is just an expression of both his prejudices and his pure laziness because he couldn't be bothered to go out and actually do some in-depth research on the countries he visited to try and get something other than stereotypical characters who parrot his views. Of course, it's very hard to do this when one is completely ignorant of the local language and history.

I could go on and on about how much I loathe this book. If you want a good read about the Balkans, return this book to the shop and pick up something - almost anything - else. Ivo Andric's Bridge Over the Drina is a classic. Anthony Lloyd's account of his experiences during the war in the 1990s is chilling. Misha Glenny's books are excellent and well-researched. For a good travelogue, Dame Rebecca West's 1930s tome Black Lamb and Grey Falcom, while definitely a product of its times, is an interesting and illuminating read.

I give this book one star, but it really deserves negative ones for being a complete and utter waste of my time. Mr. Kaplan, I would like the 2 hours I wasted reading your tripe back please.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Kenneth P. (new)

Kenneth P. Ouch that's an angry review. I must confess that the ethnic differences in the Balkans are difficult for a Westerner to grasp. I've read "Bridge on the Drina," Mazower's "Short History of the Balkans" and many articles and reviews. Emotions seem to run extremely high. (Ivo Andric is now a villain in many circles). It's true that in the West, Balkan ethnic differences have become a stereotype. Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton Accords, was of the opinion that Rebecca West was guilty of that stereotype. Anyway Gina, my wife and I will spend 3 weeks in the Western Balkans in May (mostly on the Croatian coast with a trip to Mostar and maybe Jajce.) That's why I've been reading up on the area. May I ask, where are you from?


message 2: by Al-khafkah (new)

Al-khafkah I don't think the ethnic differences are more difficult to grasp than any other region of the world. In fact, maybe less so. I haven't read this book yet, my mom got it for me a year after I got back from the Balkans in 05. The reviews don't look promising though. In any case, you'll have a great time visiting Kenneth.


message 3: by Ulrikft (new)

Ulrikft "Filled to the brim with Kaplan's trademark factual inaccuracies"

Could you please be a bit more concrete on these? Which factual inaccuracies are you referring to?


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