Eastern Europe!, by Tomek Jankowski
It’s been my experience that books filled with history – and I think this applies doubly to the density of European history – can boggle and bore. Not so with Jankowski’s book. It’s indeed filled with close to two millennia of history, both western and eastern European (it is hard to separate the two) but the author uses an inventive writing structure and style that kept this reader turning pages. Too, it’s filled with charts, graphs, photos, and other visual apparatuses that not only break up the text, but serve to further inform the reader. Heck, he even provides a recipe for pierogi in the book’s epilogue.
The author begins with a bit of European prehistory, traces the migrations of Europe’s early people, and then embarks on the evolution of European culture in general. His project here is largely the effect of western European development on that of the east, how the west, the Asian and Muslim cultures lent a richness to that of Eastern Europe, but at the same time caused eastern Europeans a multitude of problems. This began to be manifested in the development of nation states, and of course, most of these cultures were eventually absorbed into the U.S.S.R. via the Warsaw Pact, only now struggling for parity with western European nations. But what’s clear here as well is that these pre- and post-WWII nation states have never fully resolved the diverse tribal and cultural differences within their borders.
To add to this rich text, Jankowski has added what he, in tongue-in-cheek fashion, calls “Useless Trivia.” These are largely anecdotal passages that often made this reader smile and even laugh at times. Some of these are not so delightful; after all, European history has its share of pathos and depravity. But the effect of these asides is to reach deeper into the details of such a broad-brush history. Thus Jankowski’s writing structure shines and vibrates with both overview and the deeply personal.
But of what use is this book? Certainly it would make a fine college text, or at least adjunct college reading matter. And if you’re going to do business in either the west or east of Europe, this book will afford you a basis for understanding the people, the cultures, even the languages (the author does yeoman’s duty in providing pronunciations of many names of people and places, names that might otherwise twist the English-speaking tongue) of this culturally rich area of planet earth.
My rating: 19 of 20 stars