The Balkans in World History

In This Review

The Balkans in World History
By Andrew Baruch Wachtel
Oxford University Press, 2008
276 pp. $19.95
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The natural reaction is, "Yet another short history of the Balkans?" This one, however, is different -- first of all because it manages to be utterly limpid in the face of the most intricate and snarled of subjects. Few histories of this ancient region more deftly cut through the archaeology of layered civilizations -- Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Slavic, European -- that have left their imprints but not their full forms on the peoples of this area. Wachtel has an eye for the telling artifact, poem, ritual, linguistic feature, and custom, not simply the seminal event. He also has a fine sense of how much of the story has to be left out if a tight, fluent narrative is to be maintained. The book is part of the New Oxford World History series, which is aimed at showing how diverse parts of the world have contributed to world history. Since the Balkans are where much of world history meets, the region is a pretty fair test for the approach, and Wachtel's book passes that test smartly.