Book Review: A Concise History Of Bulgaria

A Concise History Of Bulgaria, by R. J. Crampton

This is the sort of book I expect very people to read for fun, but is precisely the sort of book I read for fun.  Although I am by no means an expert on the history of Bulgaria [1], its history is a subject of interest to me and it is a place I would like to travel eventually.  There is a certain degree of poignancy in the situation of Bulgaria, from its prehistory with early cities that were destroyed leaving no written records of their inhabitants or how they lived or what they thought, to its position as a border region for the Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Empire, even up to Cold War politics, to its struggle to regain territory lost through previous wars and to get along with its neighbors.  There is a great deal in Bulgarian history that is deeply intriguing and highly melancholy, and that sort of concern for a territory on the edge with a history it is bravely (if so far vainly) trying to overcome is precisely the sort of thing that would strike me of interest, and so even though this is an obscure work, it is definitely one I appreciated reading.

This particular volume is concise at around 250 pages or so, and is divided into nine chapters.  After a list of illustrations, preface in which the author wishes he had more space to write, and a note on the book’s transliteration, the book, aside from two appendices that show Bulgarian monarchs and prime ministers, respectively, and suggestions for further reading and an index, contains nine chapters.  The author begins with a very brief survey of the Bulgarian lands from pre-history to the arrival of the Bulgarians (1), before spending twice as much space talking about medieval Bulgaria’s history up to the Ottoman conquest (2).  After that there is a discussion of Ottoman rule and its horrors and problems (3) before the national revival and liberation of Bulgaria in the late 19th century (4).  After this there is a discussion of the consolidation of the Bulgarian state (5), the personal rule of King Ferdinand that concluded with a disastrous defeat in World War I (6), Bulgaria in the interwar period and during World War II where it also found itself on the losing side (7), before a history of Bulgaria under communist rule (8) and the post-Communist period up to the book’s writing (9).

Bulgaria’s history has a profoundly melancholy edge that is important to realize.  During its entire history it has found itself looked down upon by its neighbors in Greece and Anatolia, frequently under some sort of foreign domination, and had its distinctive culture denied by others.  It has sought to return to some sort of past glory only to find itself frequently politically divided and unable to bring its greater ethnic area under its rule.  It has sought to be free of foreign domination only to find itself unable to provide for the well-being of its people and deeply divided internally between town and country, right and left, and more centralizing and regionally focused tendencies.  Although this book certainly focuses a lot on matters of political (and to a lesser extent military) history, there is still a lot here to appreciate for those who want to know the struggles and difficulties and triumphs of the Bulgarian people through centuries of difficulty and frequent misadventures by their rulers, who appear far more ambitious than their nation’s modest economic and demographic strength would apparently justify.  If you want a short volume to read about the history of an obscure European nation, this book will definitely do the trick nicely.

[1] See, for example:

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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