Neal Ascherson, a leading British scholar-journalist, writes for The Independent in London and The New York Review of Books. He is the author of Polish August and The Struggle for Poland, among other books. He lives in London
The Black Sea has been the stage of human history since the times of the Bible. Owing to communism's domination in modern times, little about the area has been known to Western readers for decades. Ascherson (The Polish August, Viking, 1982) opens up that world once again, and it is an exciting one. The body of water itself is the destination of five major European and Asian rivers, including the Danube; it is kidney-shaped, 630 miles wide, and 330 miles long; the Crimean Peninsula projects from the north. Various cultures have lent it a wide array of history, politics, religion, language, and tradition. Black Sea is not a travel guide but an entertaining, informative book about the area and its people. The work has an excellent chronology, bibliography, and index but lacks crucial maps. For general and informed readers.-Melinda Stivers Leach, Precision Editorial Svcs., Wondervu, Col.
If Ascherson (The Polish August) cannot pinpoint precisely where Xenophon's 10,000 soldiers were when, lost on the march home from Persia 2600 years ago, they saw the sea and thought they were home, there is little else he does not tell us in this exotic and seductive history of the Black Sea. From his tales of its peculiar composition‘in the depths beneath its upper stream of living water, it is the world's largest dead sea‘to those of the myriad of peoples who have inhabited its coasts throughout time, his stories seem more fabulous than the Arabian Nights. Ascherson tells of obscure tribes, familiar heroes, lost languages, current politics and ancient hostilities as poisonous as the depths of the Black Sea itself. Around the once ``monstrously abundant'' Black Sea, peoples who disliked each other lived together, at best uneasily, at worst at war: Goths, Romans, Germans, Greeks, Turks, Jews, Russians, Persians, Asians and others. ``My sense of Black Sea life,'' concludes Ascherson, ``a sad one, is that latent mistrust between different cultures is immortal... not a helpful model for the `multi-ethnic society' of our hopes and dreams.'' (Oct.)
"A searching examination of the lands that ring the Black Sea and that were the scenes of some of the most ancient multicultural experiences of human history . . . rich both in historical data and in interpretation . . . with something to learn on every page. With ethnic conflicts much in the headlines, Mr. Ascherson's portrait of a place whose chief characteristic is the durability of its many ethnic identities comes at the right moment." --Richard Bernstein, The New York Times "History and time and place flow together [in this] superb, encompassing story of the Black Sea region." --Mary Lee Settle, Los Angeles Times "To say it at once: this is a superb book, beautifully written, evocative, learned, and deeply subtle." --Timothy Garton Ash, The Times Literary Supplement "A beautifully written meditation on nationality, colonialism, nomadism and the settled life, which goes back to the beginning of the human world and traces the fortunes of the Aegean and Mediterranean traders who squeezed up through the Bosporus to do business with the steppe societies of the huge Black Sea hinterland." --Karl Miller, San Francisco Review of Books "Brimming with . . . urgent argument: about culture, national identity, the misuse of history, archaeology, the co-existence of different peoples, the responsibility of intellectuals . . . not a boring or badly written paragraph in it." --Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph