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The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  341 ratings  ·  45 reviews
The Caucasus mountains rise at the intersection of Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. A land of astonishing natural beauty and a dizzying array of ancient cultures, the Caucasus for most of the twentieth century lay inside the Soviet Union, before movements of national liberation created newly independent countries and sparked the devastating war in Chechnya.

Hardcover, 291 pages
Published February 1st 2008 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The title of this book is based on Aleksandr Pushkin's description of the Caucasus as the outsider's romantic dream of freedom in his poem “The Prisoner of the Caucasus”, about a romance between a Russian prisoner and a Circassian woman. Inspired by Pushkin, Tolstoy wrote a novella based on Pushkin’s work, Cesar Cui an opera and in Michael Lermontov’s book “A Hero of Our Time” the hero (not surprisingly) falls for a Caucasian girl. King draws on these unusual for a history text but enlightening ...more
Bob Newman
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A thoughtfully-written history

For many Americans “Caucasus” may signify those tight little groups that meet during party conventions every four years. For others, it might bring to mind a skin disease or a kind of weird cookie that their Ruritanian grandma used to bake. If the name is far from American minds, what can we say about the history of an area between Europe and Asia, between the Black and Caspian seas, and between historical fact and popular fiction? If de Waal’s “The Cauc
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Not so much "A History of the Caucasus," as the title suggests, as a survey of its interactions with the empires of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. The two or three thousand years of history that happened before Catherine the Great are glossed over, and as the bibliography indicates, most of it is really a Russian history of the Caucasus, told from the perspective of Russia. King lets actual Caucasians speak when possible, but like most colonized zones in modern history, it's the invaders w ...more
Jun 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-general
The good thing about this book is that it's a serviceable introduction to the Caucasus for anyone who's not terribly familiar with the region. Unfortunately, it's difficult for an English-language reader to progress much further since a lot of the scholarship is in Russian or some other foreign language.

The chief problem of the book for me was that it lacked organization. It's a history of parts of the Caucasus for selected periods of time -- primarily the Russian conquest throughout
Steve Cran
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly engrossing read. Great book for understanding the history of Russian involvement in the Caucusus. Understanding the History helps understand why some of the things that are happening are today are happening.
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: countries
I got it in my head it would be fun to read a book set in every country in the world. My first step was to decide what I would treat as a country for my project, since, though I know very little about international politics, I know that what is and is not a country is often a point of considerable contention. In the end, I decided that if Wikipedia says that a place is considered by a country by itself and at least one other country, it’s a country.

Yes, I realize that definition woul
Dec 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: caucasus
This is great! Highly recommended. Full thoughts here: https://cookiesandthecaucasus.wordpre...
Vicky Hunt
"A Mountain of Languages"

Having introduced the region of the Caucasus as a mountain of languages, people groups, and varying societal organizations, living in often inaccessible geographical regions; Charles King chose to present these arrayed 'tribes' from the perspective of their shaky relationships and alliances with foreign empires. I use the word tribes here loosely, because they are really to be seen as loose feudal states within a state. Georgia is a frontier country of the Soviet Union, and has b
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The Ghost of Freedom
A History of the Caucasus
Author Charles King
Narrated by Michael Page
Publication date May 23, 2017
Running time 12 hrs
Courtesy Tantor Media

At 54 and with chronic health conditions, I know I will never have the opportunity to travel to the many wondrous places on our planet I would like. I have found that learning about those far off lands is fascinating and fulfilling. I recently listened to audiobooks on India and Scandinavia. Next up
Steve Cran
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Caucus mountain range straddle the borders of Europe, Turkey, Russia and Iran. It is home to a multitude of different people and just as many governments. The residents of the Caucus Mountain range follow a variety of different religions , Orthodox Christianity, Shia Islam, Suno Islam and even nomadic Buddhists. Before the Russian take over the Caucus people were very tribal with power residing in the hands of local chieftains. Through the history of the Caucus three major empires have vied ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
It is probably impossible to wish that this started all the way back with settlement of the mountains and archaeological evidence, but King does a masterful job tracking the peoples of the Caucasus from their early interaction with expansionist Imperial Russia, through the Soviet years to the recent destructive and tragic wars. For dealing with people who are often tribal, illiterate and leave few records except the accounts of their enemies, King genuinely tries to sort out the origins of the c ...more
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: russia, asia
This is a good start in understanding the complicated history and cultures of the peoples of the Caucasus, but the presentation is disorganized and the examination cursory.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
My academic background is in global affairs, having obtained a BA in International Studies. I had the idea, here and there, of joining the Foreign Service and after the Bataclan Attack in Paris I decided to seriously consider applying to be a diplomat, feeling affected by the helplessness that many, including myself, felt after that terrible attack. At the end of the day I decided against it but not before I had looked at a reading list for the Foreign Service exam and ordered a few books about ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book gave a general overview of governance (and the lack of it) in Caucasus. I walked away with more understanding of the region. I'd recommend for someone with a specific interest in the region.
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
An irritating book on a subject for which there's not a lot of books available. The author decides to begin the story essentially during the Russian beginnings in the Caucasus - in the 19th century - which essentially leaves out entire pieces of Caucasus history that are valuable to the reader, of Byzantine and Iranian influence (especially the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars, for example) undiscussed.

Even accepting that this is just a history of the last 200 years, the book is choppy and bi
Paulo Jan
May 18, 2014 rated it liked it
First of all , I want to say that the cover is so beautiful , and by itself gives 1 star to this book.
The book was rewarded by Moscow times in 2008 , the year of releasing , and I regarded that. Besides , I had previously read two other books of Charles King , based in Eastern Europe with great acceptation : "Odessa" and "Extreme politics".
But definitely , the Caucasus is not his speciality. He wrote a very basic and obvious book , with resumed informations and with some lack of orga
Steve Hanson
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be a good overview of the history of the Caucasus as a whole. He covers the early periods, the Russian conquest, and has a few chapters on the post-Soviet situations. It is a good introduction to the topic, and I especially appreciate that he doesn't devote too much time to the whole Shamil story (which some books tend to overdo).
I found the chapter called "The Imaginary Caucasus" interesting. He examines the whole mythology of the Caucasus in Russian and world culture
Pearse Anderson
I started this on the plane home from Italy, and six months later I almost dozed off trying to get through the conclusion to this piece. The history was dense, intense, and full of names and places, but often frustratingly so. I'm not sure how much I learned by the end, and how much this could have taught me. The pacing was strange (but the reveal that 25% of the book was notes and indexes was SO lovely when I realized how close I was to finishing) and the jumps between sections or types of hist ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015

This book is ideal for someone who has already gotten an understanding of Russian history from 1700-present, as Russia has consistently been the empire/state with maximum interaction with peoples of the Caucasus. Organization follows different patterns with one excellent chapter (part 3) that contains an "orientalist" history of the Caucasus, which in my estimation is as important for cultural understanding as any recount of political history.

Tip: If you've been to the
A short survey of the Caucasus from the Russian conquest at the start of the 19th century until around 2000, this is a fairly good book to get a general understanding of what has happened in the region. However the short length does mean that some important details are not given enough of a look, and considering the complexity of the history of the region it does detract somewhat. For someone who has no knowledge of the Caucasus it is a great introduction, but for those looking for an in depth l ...more
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book provides a history of the Caucasus, from the late 18th century to the present, largely coinciding with the growth of Russian influence in the region. The book is a good introduction, and does provide some insight into current ethnic conflicts in the region. The writing style was a little dry, and it was hard to follow in some places, but that is likely more because of my lack of background knowledge about the region.
Jason Hebert
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This was a wonderful overview of the Caucasus; it presented multiple points of view for important events and the narrative flowed logically. The author draws clear parallels between events at different times yet also points out the limitations of such comparisons. As in any good history there are no clear heroes or villains, only real people making both good and bad decisions.
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, georgia
In 250 pages, The Ghost of Freedom follows the history of the Caucasus Mountain region. The title explains how the author tries to give coherence to the history of a region of wars, clans, religions, varied terrains, and multiple cultures. Laying a foundation for understanding the Caucasus allows the reader to expand a world view that takes in Russia, Turkey and Iran in the present day.
Mike Blyth
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Informative history, decently written, not a page-turner. But now 95% of what I know about the Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Ossetia, the Circassians and so on) is what I gleaned from this book.
Tim Verstraete
Aug 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I would have given it 3.5 stars because the first part was very haphazard and jumped all the way with dates en times and so on so it was difficult to follow. Once we started with the soviet area, things cleared up ... still very interesting book about an interesting area!
Apr 14, 2009 rated it liked it
The first 100 or so pages are hard. Lots of names and places that I'm not to familiar with. The book picks up around 1870 and the parts about what shaped Russian perceptions of the area, writers like Pushkin, are excellent. Worth a look if you have an interest in the subject matter.
Another survey of the Caucasus, by one of the most prominent academics to write on it. King covers the entire history of the region, from the first settlements to the most recent wars in the region.
Robert Tchaidze
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
The XXth century could have been analyzed better
Karen Sofarin
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting book that details the history of the Caucasus region. A little dense but interesting and informative.
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, caucasus
Splendid overview and also a political-historical introduction to one of the most intriguing regions of the World.
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A native of the Ozark hill country, Charles King studied history and politics at the University of Arkansas and Oxford University. He is the author of The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (Oxford University Press, 2008), The Black Sea: A History (Oxford University Press, 2004) and The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture (Hoover Institution Press, 2000), as well as es ...more