The most I knew about Eastern Europe before reading this book could be summarised in a description of the Eurovision Song Contest, which is embarrassing. I find history fascinating, but it was clear by education was dominated by western influence; without Eastern Europe there would be no Western Europe, so fill this knowledge gap I must!
Eastern Europe! is a brief and concise (but informative) introduction to Eastern Europe and its myriad customs and history. Even those knowledgeable about Western Europe often see Eastern Europe as terra incognita, with a sign on the border declaring “Here be monsters.” This book is a gateway to understanding both what unites and separates Eastern Europeans from their Western brethren, and how this vital region has been shaped by, but has also left its mark on, Western Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Ideal for students, businesspeople, and those who simply want to know more about where Grandma or Grandpa came from, Eastern Europe! is a user-friendly guide to a region that is all too often mischaracterized as remote, insular, and superstitious.
Covering years of history, Jankowski takes the reader on a comprehensive journey through the development of Eastern Europe. This is a huge books, wondrously large; detailed and fascinating interesting it is littered with facts, diagrams and “useless” but engrossing trivia. Written in an enjoyable and engaging manner, Eastern Europe! effortlessly encourages the reader to forget you are reading an academic text. As an information heavy book it has been a difficult read – definitely not a book for condensed reading, but well worth the delving into.
A selection of things I have learnt:
- Constantine moved the capital of the Holy Roman Empire to Byzantium in the east, creating Constantinople (now known as Istanbul). After the demise the Roman Empire in the west this continued the Holy Roman Empire for another THOUSAND years until the Ottomans took over in the mid 1400s.
- Did the Greek and Roman empires think of themselves as Western Europeans, hell no – we were a bunch of barbarians waiting to be tamed. Contemporary dynasties on a par with them would have been the Persians, Byzantines etc…
- The Cyrillic alphabet is named after Emperor Constantine, who changed his named to Cyril shortly before his death.
- The word slave comes from Slav – names of peoples beyond the eastern frontier, war prisoners from eastern campaigns.
- Societatis draconistrarum means Order of the Dragon in Latin. Dragon in Romanian is Dracul. Dracula translates as son of the Dragon. From an elite society to gain importance and status to the beginnings of Vampiric legend.
- Erzsebet Bathory was the aristocrat who bathed in the blood of virgins.
- Throughout Eastern European history Jewish and Gypsy people have never had it easy.
- When Romulus killed Remus and formed Rome, Plovdiv in modern-day Bulgaria was already 1000 years old.
- Think every Muslim has and does take the Quran literally, you’d be massively wrong – much like in Christianity there are different sects, some more open to interpretation than others.
- The last surviving member of the Osman family – of the Ottoman dynasty – died at the age of 97 in 2009.
- The Eastern Europe Perspective of WWII – 53% of fatalities were in Eastern Europe – the majority of the war’s civilian deaths occurred here.
- ‘The Eastern European label was never a rational concept; Vienna is a “Western” city while Prague is an “Eastern” city, but Prague is actually about 100 miles (160 km) west of Vienna.’
This is a must read for any history buff, student or anyone wanting to begin a dive into the wonders of Eastern Europe – I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Eastern Europe! by Tomek E. Jankowski is published on the 29th October by Steerforth Press; this copy was kindly given to me via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review , thank you!