Balkan Worlds: The First and Last Europe
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Section two is composed of two chapters, focusing particularly on liberty and constraints in Balkan culture. The revisited portions move the earlier work into a more modern context, showing how the past has helped to define the present. Stoianovich hopes that the Balkans will find a productive role in modern European society, independent of untoward control by the outside, yet fair and profitable for the Balkan people.
While the book is not truly comprehensive, if such a thing were actually possible, it does provide one of the most comprehensive studies of the Balkans available. It presents the student of Balkan history with a great springboard into further study, as it acknowledges the state of Balkan historiography, highlighting was has been done, and pointing out what is still lacking. This provides the opportunity for future scholars to not only have access to what has been studied, but also to guide them toward areas in need of more attention.
Much of the book is pleasurable to read, with good flow and narrative style. Fantastic maps provide visual methods of interpreting the data, and help the reader to keep the region firmly defined and contextualized. The focus on very specific items, such as the role of drugs in ancient times, or the infusion of differing philosophical schools, gave needed context, allowing the reader to engage to the material in the book.
Though the author is clearly invested in his subject, he does not exhibit undue bias either for or against events, allowing historical fact, as much as can be ascertained, to speak for itself. One exception to that is his easy-to-see disdain for Germany, which he apparently sees a perpetual enemy of the Balkan people, both militarily and economically.
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As good as the bibliography is, the index suffers in comparison. It is very simplified and not commensurate with the quality of the rest of the book. The suggestions that the author makes, especially in the final portions of the book for how the Balkans should be engaged in the future, seem a bit hard to follow and could even be contradictory to some degree.
Likewise, where there are historical periods lacking in reliable source material, Stoianovich speculates about the historical events and context, extrapolating from what is more commonly known. Ultimately, the largest drawback to the book is the large portions that are inundated with statistics, charts, and tedious facts. To be honest, few people are going to be interested in grain price fluctuations for a two hundred year period in Istanbul, or the animal populations of various regions per capita, yet many pages are devoted to this type of detail.
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This is an exhaustive interrogation of the economic and social structures of the Balkan peoples, with special attention paid to Serbia. Though Stoianovich makes several good points throughout, the text is dense and its organization could be clearer. Specifically, it would have been VERY helpful to have recapitulations of major points at the conclusion of each section; without this type of guidance, Balkan Worlds is a tough read.
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