In this large, thematic history of the three Yugoslavias (post-World War I, post-World War II, post-Cold War), Ramet addresses a single, core question: Why did they all perish? Her answer -- because they failed to establish the system's legitimacy -- albeit obvious and even tautological, undergoes considerable refinement. First, she carefully parses her concept of legitimacy, ties it to a liberal notion of what makes for a stable state (one in which the rules protect individual rights, the primacy of law, civic culture, and social justice, and in which those rules are respected), and then assigns primary responsibility to human agency, rather than "agentless forces," such as multiethnic diversity or ancient hatreds. Then she brings this framework to bear in tracing the development, decline, and death of the three attempts to create a unified southern Slav state. Her themes are political legitimacy, political development, and nationalism, but they do not stand in the way of a highly detailed history of the three periods, particularly the disastrous last one.