Among the Pirates of the Grasslands by Christoph Baumer - review by John Man

John Man

Among the Pirates of the Grasslands

Among the Pirates of the Grasslands

By

I B Tauris 384pp £35 order from our bookshop
 

We are used to seeing the Balkans as a metaphor for atomisation and complexity, but the Balkans are nothing compared to the Caucasus: home to thirty or so groups, each with its own ethnic, linguistic and religious identity, all with different ambitions and all resisting or succumbing to the encroachments of great powers. In this crumple zone of steppe, valley and jagged peaks between the Black Sea and the Caspian, the past is a kaleidoscope of mini-histories, as Christoph Baumer details in his encyclopedic account of events there from 1050 to the present.

Usually, reviewers leave the pictures until last. But that would do Baumer less than justice. He is not only a meticulous historian but also an explorer – writing this history involved ten research trips – and a top-class photographer. A third of the 312 pages of text contain colour pictures,

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