Book Review: Historical Atlas Of Central Europe

Historical Atlas Of Central Europe, by Paul Robert Magocsi

Most people would not think to read an atlas like this one, but this is a book of which it has been said on one of the blurbs on the back that it is an essential resource for journalists, historians, politicians, business people, teachers, and people interested in the fate of the complicated continent of Europe.  Another early reviewer of the book claimed that every international reporter and diplomat should be locked inside a room and not let out until they had assimilated its content.  While my own praise for this book is certainly not as fulsome as that, this is an immensely worthwhile book whose contents demonstrate both the immense complexity of Central and Eastern Europe [1], and whose edits in this edition (published in 2002) represent a great many of the preoccupations of contemporary historical geography.  If you are locked in a room by some newspaper book reviewer (obviously European) and forced to read this book, which I think unlikely, you will at least have an atlas that is filled with detailed maps as well as explanatory text that shows someone has read a great deal of relevant historical material to share with someone who is interested in it.

The author of this book has organized his material to answer some sixty-one questions of historical interest about the history of eastern and central Europe.  Some of the material is organized out of chronological order, which can be a bit disorienting, but those who appreciate detail as well as complexity in their maps will find much to appreciation here as these maps provide the reader with a lot of insight and even more questions to ponder and tease out the implications of.  The author begins his investigation during the period of late antiquity as the Roman Empire was nearing the point of collapse.  Early maps show the movement of peoples as well as the political development of the region during the course of the Middle Ages.  However, the author has more in mind than pictures of moving populations or the boundaries of empires, as fascinating as these issues are.  Instead, a significant portion of this book is devoted to economic patterns, the growth of cities, and the religious and ethnolinguistic boundaries of various peoples that has led to a great deal of the complexity and instability that we associate with the region.  As might be expected given the presentist bias of contemporary historiography, over half of the maps cover the time period from 1900 onward.

A reader, at least one who is able to internalize this book’s contents, will have a great deal of insight about the problems and complexities of history in the region.  There are many consequences to the materials presented.  One is that the fate and well-being of many small and scattered peoples–and this includes such relatively powerful peoples as the Magyars, or of people as diverse as Jews, Rusyns, and Uniate Catholics–have depended for their well-being on the behavior of states who have not often had their best interests at heart.  The proliferation of states and the immensity of irredentist claims has made Eastern Europe synonymous with insoluble difficulties that tend to spill out into the wider world.  This book also points out the problem of the Sorbs in Germany and the way that exterior empires have often caused a fair share of the problems through their behavior in the regions of central and eastern Europe, whether that is through forced population transfers or the movement of new peoples and the establishment of political and religious pressures that have frequently made an already complicated area even more so.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/14/book-review-where-areprussia-gaul-and-the-holy-roman-empire-a-brief-political-and-geographic-history-of-europe/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/08/11/book-review-the-hidden-europe/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/01/01/book-review-bloodlands-europe-between-hitler-and-stalin/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/15/book-review-the-fault-line/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/02/15/book-review-there-once-was-a-world/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/06/02/book-review-the-balkan-wars/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/09/15/book-review-the-cyclist-who-went-out-in-the-cold/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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