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The Caucasus: An Introduction

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  443 ratings  ·  55 reviews
In this fascinating book, noted journalist Thomas de Waal--author of the highly acclaimed Black Garden--makes the case that while the Caucasus is often treated as a sub-plot in the history of Russia, or as a mere gateway to Asia, the five-day war in Georgia, which flared into a major international crisis in 2008, proves that this is still a combustible region, whose inner dynamics and ...more
Paperback, 259 pages
Published September 10th 2010 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published August 11th 2010)
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Bob Newman
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
From Abkhazia to Zangezur

The mighty range of the Caucasus mountains runs between the Black Sea and the Caspian. For millennia numerous peoples took refuge in its fastnesses, to the north and to the south. Others inhabited the valleys and plains. De Waal’s book covers only those who lived on the south side, the people who today live in the modern nations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Though those three nations may be dominated by the eponymous groups, there are many others—for
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Striking the perfect blend between attention to detail and readability for anyone but experts in this fascinating region, this is THE book to pick up before heading to what is increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination. Technically, this book only covers the Southern Caucasus and it is a bit thin on Azerbaijan but this doesn’t detract from the high quality writing and depth of information provided that include events right up to the invasion of Georgia by Russia (which were brought abou ...more
Delway Burton
I bought this book via a recommendation in The Economist. As a warning, if you find the geography, history, and culture of the Balkans, Western Africa, or Central Asia are complex, convoluted, and beyond Byzantine to the point of cultural insanity, then this is the book for you. The primary counries are Georgia (birthplace of Stalin), Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Inhabited since paleolithic times, there are so many ethnic groups, languages, religions, wars, disputes, uprisings, and killings that the ...more
Aivaras Žukauskas
Oct 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, history
Despite the misleading title (the book focuses on South Caucasus exclusively), this is a pretty good historical and geopolitical primer when it comes to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia right up to Russian invasion to Georgia in 2008. It certainly gives some interesting knowledge, but don't expect that it will tell you much new or profound in terms of mentality and culture in that fascinating region. It also focuses too much on geopolitics at points (important as they are), which puts the local ...more
Navaneethan Santhanam
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at societies based in the region staking Europe and Asia. I've always been fascinated by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia (mainly because of the scripts of the latter two) and de Waal does a great job of outlining their histories over the past 200 years, covering the Ottoman Empire, Persian involvement, Russian conquest, and Sovietisation of the area.
James (JD) Dittes
For a country that was one of the first to break away from the Soviet Union in 1989, Georgia has certainly had breakaway problems of its own. Three regions with significant enclaves of ethnic minorities--Abkhaz, Ossetians, and Muslim Ajaris--were autonomous at the turn of the 21st Century. Wars had been fought to restore Georgian control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s. Ajaria, wedged between the Black Sea and Turkey in the country's southwest, lived free and easy, dominated by ...more
Feb 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: caucasus
This 260-page book is intended to provide a broad overview of the history, culture and politics of the South Caucasus (not the whole Caucasus, despite the title!) and is written by journalist Thomas de Waal, who spent time as a reporter in the region and has since gone on to become something of a popular expert.

The first half of the book provides basic cultural and geographical background and a fairly straightforward narrative history up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, aimed pri
Good background on a part of the world that is interesting but little known. I found it a bit of a challenge to keep everything straight, since there are three countries and several disputed regions involved, but most of that was my issue and not the fault of the author. The book provided a great overview of the main developmental history and events in the region. As such, it lives up to the "An Introduction" part of the title. The modern information was particularly interesting to me, especiall ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Loooord was this disappointing. Thomas de Waal, for a scholar who claims to be an expert on the South Caucasus, didn’t really give me any unique insights into anything. He gave me a lot of useful information that, unfortunately, made my eyes glaze over every few minutes because of how uninterestingly written and monotonous it was; and very predictable, safe commentary that refused to take a firm stand on almost any issue discussed in the book. (The main idea of the conclusion is basically ‘the i ...more
Andrew Williams
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good general overview of the Caucasus...I started reading this before a trip to Georgia and Armenia, but sadly only finished after we got home. Regardless, from what I read pre-trip, the book adequately prepared me for a better understanding of historical places and figures, as well as the social and political events that lead to modern independence.

As a fan of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the book provided good detail of the impact the region had, covering Stalin's birth
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A short, comprehensive history of a beautiful, culturally rich and diverse region- a borderline in many ways between Europe and Asia, Christians and Muslims, ancient and modern states. De Waal presents the complexity of the intractable conflicts of the region without any attempt at simplification. A recent visit to Georgia made me stand in awe at the endurance of the Caucasian spirit and survival of great traditions, through all the suffering meted out to the people of this land through repeated ...more
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
In a quick guide to recent history in the Caucasus, the author is strong on the complicated territorial disputes in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia while he also exposes the simplistic way Eurasian politics is painted in the western media. Georgia’s former president, the populist Mikheil Saakashvili was generally feted in the West as a man who stood up to Russia but actually comes across as something of a blundering fool, while he also ordered the first shots to be fired in the 2008 ...more
Jason Brown
Jul 06, 2014 rated it liked it
A useful introduction for those with only a passing familiarity with the region's history and ongoing conflicts, de Waal does a better job of describing the past then providing any kind of meaningful analysis for the future. Essentially, de Waal argues that the outside world (the EU, primarily) should try to understand the region's long, convoluted but incredibly intertwined history in order to help defuse its ongoing conflicts (the book concludes shortly after the 2008 Georgia-Russia war) even ...more
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone trying to get in on the ground floor of the Caucasus
Shelves: non-fiction, turania
De Waal has a very readable, engaging style which is key if you're going to cover 110 years of very convoluted history. It focuses on the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) which is a bit of a shame but ultimately necessary to keep it short and as readable as it is. Lots of fun nuggets (Stalin didn't go to his mother's funeral!) and good threads of history. Some detail is necessarily removed, but not enough to get really frustrating.

I'm sure some people are going to ac
A concise and detailed outlook at a very complex region. De Waal manages to cover a lot of ground within a couple hundred pages. The book itself is divided into neatly organised sections that can essentially be read independently, with an overview of the geography and history at the front and then chapters detailing Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, as well as one on the politics of oil and gas. It is mostly concerned with contemporary events, heavily focused on post-Soviet affairs, but does include ...more
Anyusha Rose
Dec 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Though 'The Caucasus: An Introduction' gives a readable and reasonably detailed analysis of Georgia's conflicts and contemporary political dynamics, de Waal does not discuss any of the other tragedies that have taken place in the Caucasus across the last two decades in any real detail. This is a disappointing book considering the quality of his other studies of the region. Both chapters dedicated to discussing the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the wake of Soviet collapse fail to ...more
Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Unfortunately the book didn't manage to capture the taste of the food or the majesty of the mountain views, but I guess you can't ask for everything.It's basically an introductory textbook, but it was a surprisingly good read. De Waal's writing is clear and fast moving and he knows the region extremely well. The book covers the region's modern history in exactly the right depth you want from an introductory book. I also liked his objective perspective. Among the insanely bitter ethnic conflicts ...more
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, caucasus
Excellent, if slim, introduction to the complexities of South Caucasian complexity (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, plus Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorny Karabakh, and that other bit of Azerbaijan...) Totally without travelogue chitchat and sentimental cultural excesses; thoroughly readable and quite enthralling ancient and recent history, built (in the latter stages) around a couple of major issues. Particularly detailed on Caspian oil and Georgian struggles with breakaway republics... perhaps a ...more
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-the-world
de Waal's book on the Caucasus is very informative. The book focuses on South Caucasus which includes the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia (as opposed to North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya and Dagestan). The area has been controlled by most recently by Czarist Russian and the Soviet Union.

The book discusses the history of the region, but focuses mainly on events after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and newly formed governments of the three countries (and their contested terr
Orkhan Bahramli
Jun 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I would say it is a fine book for a reader or a researcher of history of the Caucasus region. The author Thomas de Waal covers mainly the issues related since late 1980s, or fall of the Soviet Union, till present day situation. The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh region is discussed in a non-thorough manner, I shall say. Readers are encouraged to move on to "Black Garden"* by the same author, if they would like to learn about the war over disputed regions between Azerbaijan ...more
J.M. Hushour
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
As an introductory text, this one is just dandy, but don't expect an overwhelming amount of detail save for the most salient issues. Fortunately, these are handled well and with a nice, refreshing distance: no one comes out unscathed when de Waal addresses such issues as the 2008 August War and the eminently retarded war over Nagorny-Karabakh. These events and the issue of Caspian-Caucasus natural resources form the bulk of the book and that's good. There's relevant backstories for each of the t ...more
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent overview of the current political situation in the Caucasus proper (Armenia, Azerbaidzan and - especially - Georgia). Although the author stresses that there is no new "Great Game" going on in that region, the jostling for geopolitical power between Russia, the West and Iran is impressive, compounded by the plentiful supplies of oil and gas that could stream to the West without Russian control. I'll be holding on to this book, because I'm sure I'll be looking things up as things in tha ...more
James Zhao
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Good introduction to an important region for the next several decades. Possessing ample amounts of natural resources, the Caucasus region will prove to be a major player in the global energy development. The best part of the book is that instead of relegates the analysis of the region to purely political and economical, de Waal does a good job of underscoring the importance of the people who actually inhabit the area. The political background of the Soviet Union and the elephant in the room (Rus ...more
Peter Schön
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Concise book about the recent South Caucasus conflicts (and their historical roots). Suited as "an introduction" into highly complex topics, but even better as fast reference (I take it with me every time I go to the South Caucasus) after reading the more comprehensive literature. Concise, slim, yet not leaving out major points and surprisingly good to read. It will not keep you up all night or explain the fascination of the Caucasus; but for what it is intended to be and what it is - 5 stars.

Elena Sheroziya
Mar 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I knew the author through his book about Chechnya, which was one of the first books to be written about War in Chechnya in the 90ies, and I remember I had great impressions about it. But that was many many years ago. This book felt like recompilation of information, which one finds very useful, especially if this is his first encounter with the region and it's history. So I would call it a brief history of Zakavkazie.
Daniel Polansky
as the title says. A good primer on a region of the world I am visiting in a month and half but didn't know much about. It seemed admirably even-handed given the complexity and diversity of the region, not that I'm really qualified to comment on that. On the other hand, often times you can read when a guy has an act to grind and if de Waal does I couldn't pick it up. Recommended. Were there sword fights: No, no sword fights.
Jill Cordry
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
While the title is THE CAUCUSES, one finds out almost immediately that the book is limited to the South Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It has very little information on the North Caucasus: Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia which were my primary interests. It is written primarily as a research text without narrative flow. Therefore, one can pick and choose the parts of interest easily and forego others.
Raz Yessaian
Nov 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Overall, this is a decent book and a good primer on this region. However, the author tends to give his two cents about situations that he is not an expert on and in turn presents himself a bit patronizing. Some of these ethnic groups are among the most ancient in history and some quarrels are millennia old.
For him to offer solutions and advice especially towards a group who almost faced extinction is somewhat comical. Great book, great read.
Tim Verstraete
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
extremely interesting and very even review of all the latest conflicts in the caucasus with a decent introduction in the beginning about its history. there could have been some extra editing because it was not always easy to read and has some typo's in it ... but the content was very interesting especially since I went there on holiday and it increased my knowledge and feeling of the area!
Paulo Jan
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing

For an introduction , this book seems to be quite complete! Congratulations to the auctor that is a specialist indeed. Ethical conflicts.... the more I read about them , the less i know what to say. Anyway it clarified my mind , so I am now one step ahead.
( Ive already read it for the second time . The lecture was finished in December , 1st , 2013 and I keep my oppinion about De Waal.)
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