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The Balkans: A Short History

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,799 ratings  ·  172 reviews
Throughout history, the Balkans have been a crossroads, a zone of endless military, cultural, and economic mixing and clashing between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, Catholicism and Orthodoxy. In this highly acclaimed short history, Mark Mazower sheds light on what has been called the tinderbox of Europe, whose troubles have ignited wider wars for hundreds of yea ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 6th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 2000)
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Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-politics
We are so familiar with nation-states; every country is supposed to have a native population that belongs to a single race or ethnicity, speaks a single language, follows a single religion (or professes nominal ties to it), and expresses itself through a culture produced by the synthesis of the above.

Western political discourse viewed the creation and consolidation of nation-states as the only logical grouping of people in modern times, one that all the societies in the world should aspire to, i
Mar 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mark Mazower creates a fascinating analysis of the Balkan Peninsula and its history, it appears the region like many globally was late to the party --in this instance the idea of the nation-state and a corresponding economic system which would allow it to blossom. Quicker than you can lament good intentions, but there, just ahead--are insurrections and ethnic cleansing and stolid move from agrarian to urban while it is the civilians who catch it in the neck. I have been going to the region for a ...more
Lubinka Dimitrova
Solid, clearly written and concise introduction to the region. The chapters, while assembling information on the history and region chronologically, also provide thematic studies on religious life, national identity, crime, politics and the effects of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans.

The author debunks the myth that ethnic and religious differences alone are to blame for the current chaos in the region by pointing out that for hundreds of years, the many religions and ethnic groups of the regio
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Hana by: Jibran
Winston Churchill described the Balkans as a region that produces more history than it can consume. Mark Mazower packs centuries of Balkan history into this slim but illuminating volume; it's so concentrated it felt rather like one of those high-protein energy bars with 2,000 calories and two inches of munching. At a mere 153 pages it is (to quote Publishers Weekly) "a highly suggestive analysis of an inexhaustible subject." Mazower’s insights are so intriguing that I longed for another hundred ...more
Lyn Elliott

Mazower has achieved something remarkable with this book –a clear, readable, measured historical overview of a complex region in just 135 pages that explains the factors underlying the violent conflicts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, concentrating on the transition from peasant societies, organised by religious community under the Ottoman empire, to modern nation states.

The introductory chapter is called ‘Names’. The first paragraph tells us that the name by which we call the region
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a really gifted example of how to do "A Short History" of any part of the world effectively. While running less than 200 pages, Mazower manages to give a satisfactory snapshot of the emergence of the modern Balkans and the background of its peoples.

Much of the book is actually about the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Balkans during the period when distinct national identities began to form. Contrary to later nationalist myth, the lines between Bulgarian, Serbian and Bosnian historicall
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite history books, not just because Mazower is a master of concise, insightful writing but because it's a wonderful counterweight to the Western-centric history we're taught in school. The book sheds light on the Ottoman Empire as a beacon of education and religious tolerance at a time when Catholic Europe was burning witches. The Sultan granted Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition asylum as well as freedom to practice their religion. The juxtaposition of diverse religions ...more
Kenneth P.
Apr 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: yugoslavia
This is indeed a short history. Most of it is very good. We get an informative overview of the empires (Byzantine, Ottoman, Austrio-Hungarian) that ruled the Balkan peninsula and left indelible cultural markers. Lest we leap to conclusions about the alleged Balkan propensity for violence, Mr. Mazower takes great pains to remind us of the crimes of the West. Of course he's right. But it comes off, eventually, as "See, everybody else does it." He treats the Balkan wars of the 1990's with an epilog ...more
Michael Kotsarinis
A short but concise book on Balkan history, very useful for everyone wishing to get the broad picture of the area and its history. It focuses on people and politics highlighting their evolution as societies and states without sentimentalism and prejudice commonly found in other books.
Aug 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: propaganda
Little more than apologia for Ottoman empire, with the amount of bias and selective presentation of info that would probably put even the most nationalistically-bent Turkish historians to shame.
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Balkans can seem rather forbidding to a Westerner who sees the whole region as the epitome of violence and savagery. Mark Mazower, on the other hand, takes the Balkans as a whole rather than skipping from country to country and losing the reader in the process. It is only in the last two chapters of The Balkans: A Short History that Mazower identifies the destructive forces of nationalism that, for all intents and purposes, did not exist before the decay of the Ottoman Empire, but only came ...more
Lauren Albert
Nov 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-european
A good introduction to the incredibly complex and confusing history of the Balkans. But it really is just a starter at less than 125 pages. It whet my appetite to learn more but I probably couldn't have handled a longer history without knowing these basics first. ...more
Ulyana Kubini
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
The entire history of this nation simply cannot be packed into a 200-ish page book. But to be honest, the length wasn't what took away from the quality of the book. It was truly the author's style of writing; it just didn't make sense to have such long chapters detailing the smallest events, and the lives of the peasants while merely focusing on the Balkans 'star' Greece's history of relations with Turkey. No thought virtually for outside of Balkan relations, like their thought of Russia and how ...more
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Balkans was a decent short read. Author Mark Mazower is a British historian. His expertise is Greece, the Balkans, and 20th-century Europe. He is Ira D. Wallach Professor of History at Columbia University in New York City, according to his Wikipedia page.

Mark Mazower :

The Balkan Peninsula is bounded by the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea (including the Ionian and Aegean seas) and the Marmara Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its northern boundary is often
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a well-written, engaging, and concise history of the (political, social, religious) shifts in the Balkan region from the Ottoman Empire to the 1990s. It gives you enough to get a terrific overview of the complexity of the region, but it is not too pedantic or exhaustive in its discourses. The author is also good at illustrating, again in a straightforward manner, the ways in which the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Byzantine, and other, smaller, empires either discouraged or shaped the moder ...more
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is quite a task to take on as wide a subject as this within 150 pages and hence, it's not a bad introduction to the subject. I did feel, however, that the complexity of the Balkans would require a far mightier tome and I found the thematic approach to be a little irritating. Yes - it makes sense to move beyond the chronological take that most books until this point used, but at times this was just too broad brush.

The main messages include the assertion that the Balkans are an almost entirely
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In this small volume Mazower does not provide a full history of every Balkan nation, but instead provides an overview beginning with geography and spending time with Ottoman rule, the Orthodox church, growing nationalism in the 19th century (for Mazower a poison from the West), and war, communism, and modernity in the 20th century. I might wish for more criticism of the Ottomans (where is discussion of the Janissaries?) and a less political discussion of the church, but this book is packed with ...more
Oct 25, 2007 rated it liked it
mazower provides an excellent overview of dominant themes present throughout the history of the region and expertly punctures many persistent myths. unfortunately, the title suggests that this book serves as a good introduction to the history of the balkans, whereas i often found myself wishing that i had already read a (more truly) introductory work. recommended for those who are already familiar with the geography and history of the region.
Bob H
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a concise history of the Balkans' tangled history, particularly recent centuries. We see how the Ottoman empire -- which once covered the area almost to Vienna itself -- would recede, and how the primitive nations of Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece would emerge. We learn how the Balkans' peculiar geography would shape and compartmentalize the ethnic groups, languages and societies, and how religion -- and convenient conversions -- would also shape the r ...more
Bobby Damore
This book is already a bit outdated. It's a very cursory introduction to Balkan history of the past five hundred years, skimming over entire periods and massive historical events in a matter of sentences, if that. It seems to be making more of a political statement applicable to the times that it was written in rather than a brief introduction to the history of the area. You find a lot of neoliberal apologia in here: the Ottomans were the good guys, nation-states are bad, communism is bad, the S ...more
Mohamed Omar
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant account on the Balkans history. Very interesting anslysis of the Ottoman policy in the region, the religious war in Europe, the idea of panhellenism, the racial tension between slavic and other erhnic groups, the development of the nation state concept, westren intervention and an excellent epilogue about the concepts of violence, brutality and modernism
Son Tung
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
"When asked the question of which religion they belong to, the peasants in Macedonia gave the answer: We are Muslism but of the Virgin Mary. They went to Mosque on friday and Church on sunday."

The books provides a quick overview into many areas beginning with a chronology of the region since Roman time to the end of Kovoso Crisis. The treatment of social orders, custom, interplay between Christians and Muslim subjects under Ottoman rule, the power struggle between Balkan states themselves and bi
Katia N
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very short, broad but concise introduction in the history of the region. I did not know much about this part of Europe, so it served the purpose well. Among other things, it talks about the national idea and how it was implanted at the Balkans as almost the the purpose for its own sake in some cases through the 19th century. We all know the results.

Also i did not know that more people died in the Civil War in Greece than were killed by the Nazis. And that this country was propped by the largest
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: balkans, audio
The devil, in the Balkans, is in the detail. There is a lot of detail here, and some attempts at making sense of it - virtually impossible, but the author has a good shot at debunking some widely-held beliefs and has interesting things to say about where nationalism came from and whether violence is somehow endemic to this region and as always I enjoyed the Ottoman bits. I know something about the Balkans past and present (I live in Albania) and this all seems pretty solid to me. It's very short ...more
Dimitris Hall
Nov 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Looking at the Balkans as modern states no longer want to. It tells the tale of a multicultural Ottoman Empire and its relatively calm story and the ultra-nationalist states that have emerged from it in the past 200 years. Interesting read for anyone that might want to understand modern Greek history a little bit better. Mark Mazower is one of the best historians alive writing about Greece, his perspective is definitely enlightening.
John Bishop
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Breathtaking scholarship in very readable form and more evidence of Mark Mazower's broad and incisive grasp of European history. He challenges the traditional western view of the Balkans as backward and violent, seeing their recent history in the wider context of European power struggles and the growth of nationalism. The book also shows us as much about ourselves as the Balkans themselves. ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
The subject matter is very interesting to me but the author didn't organize the information in any comprehensible way. The chapters were very long and I couldn't understand the direction or flow of the information. I finally got to a point where I had not idea what direction the book was going so I just stopped reading. ...more
Josh Friedlander
Before the foundation of modern Greece in 1830, "Greek" just referred to all Christians in Southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, as it had referred to the Byzantine Empire and Church, in contrast to the western "Latins". The idea that Greece - or for that matter any of the various minnow nationalities of the region - would emerge as an independent country was generally seen as absurd utopianism. What changed all this was the Romantic nationalism of the 19th century, which for Mazower was a negativ ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed Mazower's work in this book. Specifically, I found his explication of the Ottoman Balkans both fascinating and enlightening. His treatment of the 19th century and the early 20th century also seemed informative and useful for me. However, Mazower's treatment of the 20th century as a whole seemed a bit too brief and general--especially post WWII. On the other hand, as the name suggests, this does provide only a short history of an entire region across centuries.

To this end, I
Bridget Grabowski
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021, thesis
Mazower provides a fairly comprehensive overview of the history of the Balkans from before rule under the Ottoman empire through the fall of Communism and the dissolution of Yugoslavia at the end of the twentieth century. While he doesn't discuss events in-depth, he does an excellent job of highlighting historical trends, the importance of religious and national identities, and the global importance of the Balkans throughout history. ...more
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Mark Mazower is a historian and writer, specializing in modern Greece, twentieth-century Europe, and international history. His books include Salonica City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430–1950, winner of the Duff Cooper Prize; Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe, winner of the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History; and Governing the World: The History of an Idea. He ...more

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