No one can understand today’s sad, tangled confrontation over Ukraine without some knowledge of the complex, crosscutting influences that have shaped eastern Europe over the millennia. For that history, readers can find no better place to turn than Plokhy’s new book. Plokhy begins all the way back in the fifth century BC, exploring the origins of the Slavs, and then gives equal weight to each subsequent phase of Ukraine’s story. He moves through each stage of the territory’s history as it fell under the rule of a succession of groups and political entities: the Vikings, the Byzantine Empire, the Mongols, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian empire, the Soviet Union, and finally an independent Ukraine. Plokhy demonstrates a remarkable ability to untwist the dozens of trends, forces, and players marauding across this land and to take their measure in clear, compact segments. Ukraine’s history has always been contested, and never more intensely than now. Plokhy navigates the subject with grace and aplomb.