THE HIDDEN EUROPE

Francis Tapon

WanderLearn Press

2012, 736 pp 

Francis Tapon is the modern Evliya Celebi. For those who have never heard of Ottoman traveller Celebi before, well, he was the 17th century's most diligent, adventurous, and wandering reporter of his time. His travels took him through the Balkans, Eastern and Central Europe, the Crimea, Minor Asia and the Middle East. Just like Celebi, Tapon has also spent many years of travelling around Eastern Europe.

Tapon simply divides Europe with a west-east split, placing Greece, Finland, (Eastern) Germany and Turkey in Eastern Europe. However, based on Tapon's binary geographical division, Sweden and Austria should also be included in eastern part of Europe. Besides, the capitals of these countries, Stockholm and Vienna, are east of Prague, Zagreb or Ljubljana, so certainly Sweden and Austria belong geographically in Tapon's Eastern Europe. Personally, I divide Europe in east-west, central, and north-south. So, I consider that only Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Moldova belong geographically in Eastern Europe.

Anyway, who cares about my opinion, let's stop the analysis dividing Europe and focus on The Hidden Europe. Tapon's book is not a typical travelogue, but more of a personal travel narrative, spiced with a dose of history, unusual escapades, politics and hilarious anecdotes. In fact, the book is entertaining and educational at the same time, which is a great combination. 

Tapon, who makes clear that "I'm not a historian. I'am an explorer", does a great job describing 25 nations, and I was surprised to learn some hidden details about countries, such as Belarus where the people there can teach you a kitchen remodel, or Finland where the Finns know how to run a school, creating responsible kids. Actually, The Hidden Europe reveals a side of Europe that few know well.

If Celebi's writings provide a fascinating and unmatched picture of his world, I would dare to say the same for Tapon's writings. Of course, I don't agree with Tapon's every point, especially in the part where he speaks of "fake" old Eastern European towns, but usually in such kind of books, it would be a miracle if someone would totally agree 100% with the author. Keep in mind that if the main purpose of this book is to learn about 25 European countries, it is also a good opportunity for the (mainly European) reader to learn how an educated and open minded American sees the hidden parts of Europe, thus understand better his way of thinking. Despite the emerging global pop culture, Europeans and Americans still have different values, cultural differences, not to mention different sports, such as Football and...Football (Ok, Soccer for my American fellows)! So, it is time we get to know each other a little better. But also it would be great to see a similar book on the countries of America, written by a European.

I hope fate will be kind to Tapon, and his book(s) will be considered in the far future, classic and well known for the 24th century reader. Maybe the possibilty of this happening is not great, considering the fact that today you can find numerous travel books on every region of the planet. However, the question is if you can find a book written extremely well, reminding you the unique narrative style of Evliya Celebi (forget the overrated Marco Polo and Casanova). Well, I suppose that you know the answer to that question...


POLISH RE-ENACTORS HANDBOOK

Eryk Jadaszewski

CreateSpace

2008, 100 pp

The  Polish Re-enactors Handbook is a fascinating look into living history and military re-enactors in the 17th century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This amazing book will assist you with well researched information on period clothing, weapons and armour. Also discussed are period foods, mannerism and other aspects of this rich and exotic "Sarmatian" culture, thus there are links to Polish re-enacting groups, including "Suligowski's Regiment", the America's first 17th century living history re-enactment group of Polish Winged Hussars.

The author, born and raised in rural Florida always had an interest in Polish history and especially in the Winged Hussars. No wonder in his beautifully coloured book, he writes mainly on these fearsome warriors. In general, Eryk Jadaszewski has certainly done his research and was very thorough in sharing that knowledge. Since 2005 he operates "Polish Hussar Supply Plus" http://www.polishhussarsupply.com/ , a company that creates period Eastern European clothing and accessories for customers all over the world. 

This handbook is a must-have for all those who are interested in the fascinating 17th century Polish-Lithuanian world. Don't miss it!


EUROPE EAST & WEST

Norman Davies

Pimlico

London 2007, 352 pp

Collected here for the first time are some of the numerous essays and lectures by Norman Davies, Great Britain's foremost expert on Polish history and author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Europe and Rising '44. Spanning more than two decades of his remarkable career, this highly accessible collection adresses many of the issues that continue to dominate the political and cultural climate of Europe today. In Europe East & West Davies argues for a comprehensive view that challenges Western stereotypes and no longer ignores the history and experience of Eastern Europe.

But the book has a weakness as it doesn't truly enlighten the reader on the importance or values of Eastern Europe vis-a-vis the West and thus it fails, being just a collection of essays. There are no chapters dealing with the role of the Byzantine Empire, or the memory of Ottoman heritage, or the importance of minorities and nation-state formation in the East. However, there are some important mentions and photos of the Muslims of Europe, the relief of Vienna by Jan Sobieski and the brutal wars between the pagan Lithuanians and the Teutonic Knights.

Despite the fact that Europe East & West is not a complete study, it presents a good introduction on the exotic and fascinating Eastern European history.

 

THE SIEGE OF VIENNA. THE LAST GREAT TRIAL BETWEEN CROSS & CRESCENT

John Stoye

Pegasus Books

New York 2007, 226 pp

This book is the only study in English on the largest siege ever, that of Vienna in 1683. A siege that, as it is widely known, inspired several poets  of the time, even the great Tolkien. Reading the famous sieges in the second and third part of the Lord of the Rings, one can find amazing similarities with that of Vienna. Through the pages of the book, the author John Stoye, like a modern Herodotus, takes us back to that nightmarish summer, when 250,000 Ottomans of the ambitious Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa marched towards the Habsburgs' capital, causing panic throughout Europe. Despite the diplomatic intrigues of the French, enemies of the Habsburgs, to prevent any possible assistance to Vienna, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of King Jan Sobieski, concluded eventually a defensive help with the Emperor Leopold I, in order to confront the overwhelming Ottoman threat. It was on 12 September 1683 that the Poles and the Habsburgs put a fairytale end to the Ottoman nightmare, heralding thus the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Empire.

The book is divided into nine informative chapters in which the reader can study with undiminished interest the conditions of the siege and the diplomatic moves of the opponents. Although the title (and the content) of the book is just about the siege of Vienna, in no way is is justified the little room given in the last pages of the project, regarding the decisive battle that took place outside the walls of the city, providing that way the reader with only little excitement. Another disadvantage is that Stoye is based primarily on German sources, omitting (apparently not having access to) the Polish and Turkish sources. Despite what few drawbacks there are however, this book will satisfy those who wish to learn about an important period of the European history that largely determined the fate of the Ottoman Empire and the humanity itself.

 

THE OTTOMANS: DISSOLVING IMAGES

Andrew Wheatcroft

Penguin Books

New York 1996, 352 pp

Were the Ottomans the bloodthirsty savages, spitting babies on their swords, and enslaving all who crossed their path? Or were they sybarites, with an eye only for a fine silk robe, a unique black tulip, a beautiful Circassian? The Ottomans were all -and none - of these. Born warriors from the steppes of Central Asia, they became a unique urban culture, the successors of Rome and Byzantium in a political sense but quite unlike any civilisation before or since. The Ottoman legacy is still alive in the Middle East and in parts of Europe and Africa to this day. 

The author describes in his introduction that his purpose was not to write a full-blown history of the Ottoman Empire, rather to write about "the idea of the Ottomans and how in the West that idea became so completely divorced from reality". His work is well-worth reading for anyone with a desire to learn about the Turkish civilisation and past. The chapter dedicated to "the terrible Turk", is the most interesting of all, explaining the European images of the Ottomans, images that have not yet quite died off. And no country  has to live in so ambivalent a relationship to its turbulent Ottoman past as Turkey itself. Wheatcroft manages to represent masterfully to the reader, a civilisation long misunderstood and shamefully neglected.