Top Books: The Balkans

Few people understand Balkan history, despite the region being a mainstay of our news for the last decade; this is understandable, for the topic is a complicated one, combining issues of religion, politics and ethnicity. The following selection mixes general histories of the Balkans with studies concentrating on particular regions.

The Balkans is a media favourite, having received praise from many publications: all of it is deserved. Glenny explains the region's tangled history in a necessarily dense narrative, but his style is vigorous and his register suitable for all ages. Every major theme is discussed at some stage, and particular attention is paid to the changing role of the Balkans in Europe as a whole.

Slim, cheap, but incredibly useful, this book is the perfect introduction to Balkan history. Mazower takes a broad sweep, discussing the geographical, political, religious and ethnic forces that have been active in the region, while destroying many 'western' preconceptions. The book also delves into some broader discussions, such as continuity with the Byzantine world.

This collection of 52 colour maps, covering themes and peoples from 1400 years of Balkan history, would make an ideal companion to any written work, and a solid reference for any study. The volume includes contextual maps of resources and basic geography, as well as accompanying texts.

A list of books on the Balkans really needs a look at Serbia, and Tim Judah’s book has the telling subtitle “History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.” This is an attempt to examine what happened and how it has affected Serbs, rather than just being a tabloid attack.

 

The title sounds horrible, but the butchers in question are war criminals from the Wars of the Former Yugoslavia, and this gripping story narrates how some were actually traced and ended up in court. A story of politics, crime and spying.
 

 

The subtitle gives away the subject of this book: The Ottoman Conquest of Southeastern Europe (14th - 15th centuries). However, although it is a small volume it packs a great amount of detail and breadth of knowledge, so you’ll learn about far more than just the Balkans (which, I admit, does annoy people after just the Balkans.) A starting point for how the twentieth century happened.

 

Occupying the middle ground between Misha Glenny's large book (pick 2) and Mazower's short one (pick 1), this is another quality narrative discussion, covering a key 150 years in Balkan history. As well as the larger themes, Pavlowitch covers individual states and the European context in his highly readable style.
Although not huge, this volume is fairly expensive, and best suited to those already committed to a study (or just pursuing a firm interest) in the Balkans. The central focus is national identity, but more general subjects are also considered. The second volume deals with the twentieth century, especially the Balkan and Second World wars, but concludes with the 1980's.
Given the complexity of Yugoslavia's recent history, you would be forgiven for feeling that a concise version was impossible, but Benson's excellent book, which includes events as recent as Milosevic's arrest in mid 2001, clears away some of the old historiographical cobwebs and provides an excellent introduction to the country's past.
Aimed at the mid-to-higher level student and the academic, Todorova's work is another general history of the Balkan region, this time with a focus on national identity in the region.
While I recommend this book to anyone interested in Yugoslavia, I also urge anyone in doubt as to either the value, or practical application, of history to read it. Lampe discusses Yugoslavia's past in relation to the country's recent collapse, and this second edition includes extra material on the Bosnian and Croatian wars.

World War One started in the Balkans, and this book drills down into the events and operations of 1914. It’s been accused of having a Serbian slant, but it’s still good to get their perspective even if you think it does, and mercifully has a cheaper paperback release.