978-0-375-70576-2 / 9780375705762

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus





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About the book:

The master of the hardheaded travelogue, Robert D. Kaplan returns with a book on what he calls "the New Near East," an area stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia that "might become the seismograph of world politics" in the new century. That doesn't sound like good news: "The pitiless history of the Near East [is] dominated by marauding armies and earthquakes while peace treaties have merely formalized temporary stalemates on the ground." Kaplan has made a career of writing about the world's trouble spots "without illusions"--his books Balkan Ghosts and The Ends of the Earth are at once influential and pessimistic.

Eastward to Tartary is a fascinating exploration of places Kaplan has not written about in depth before: "Third World Europe" (Romania and Bulgaria), Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the confusing conglomeration of countries and peoples in the Caucasus. Smart observations leap off almost every page. "In every Arab city I have ever visited, people were polite and honest, running after you to return a loose coin you have left at a soft-drinks stand," he writes. So why hasn't democracy taken hold in the Islamic world? "The very perfection of the Islamic belief system begot a naive absolutism that made the compromises of normal political life impossible." In an aside on ancient Assyria, Kaplan notes, "The theme is always the same: Highly militarized and centralized states and empires, so indomitable in one decade or generation, hack themselves to pieces or are themselves conquered in another." Then he reminds readers that Assyria once bestrode present-day Iraq and Syria--a "hauntingly appropriate" coincidence. And surprising facts abound: "Turkey represents the most stable governmental dynasty in world history, with the Turkish soldiery able to trace the roots of its power to the Roman emperors." Fans of Kaplan's previous books won't want to miss this one, and neither will new readers interested in this part of the world. --John J. Miller

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