Friday, March 10, 2023

Review of Black Sea by Neal Ascherson

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History
Intriguing Connections = 1) The Persecuted and The Persecutors

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“Peoples who live in communion with other peoples, for a hundred or a thousand years, do not always like them – may, in fact, have always disliked them.  As individuals, ‘the others’ are not strangers but neighbours, often friends.  But my sense of Black Sea life, a sad one, is that latent mistrust between different cultures is immortal.” – Neal Ascherson, Introduction, Page 9

“All knowledge about the Scythians, as it accumulates, has undermined the proposition that the peoples of the Black Sea steppe were primitive and barbarous, and the conclusion that nomadism was a backward form of existence.” – Neal Ascherson, Chapter Two, Page 76

“This is a dilemma as old as the social sciences – which are not very old, but already battle-scarred.  It sounds like a dispute over professional ethics, but it is really an argument about cognition.  One side defends the idea that “facts speak,” and that the scholar must therefore listen to them in impartial silence.  The other side retorts that facts say almost anything the investigator wants, and that what he hears in the silence is no more than the mutter of his own unacknowledged prejudices.” – Neal Ascherson, Chapter Seven, Page 207



The Black Sea is not just a composition of various cultures, but has a character of its own.  Although overfished, the Black Sea was abundant in fish, which provided wealth for the communities that used it.  The Black Sea has many rivers draining into it, and with so much fresh water, that the bacterial biochemical process creates a deadly residual gas.  The Black Sea witnessed the rise and fall of many peoples, and empires.  Witnessed how they would treat each other.  How they mistreated each other.  These were diverse people, diverse neighbors.  Saw each other as different.  Saw the differences as inferiorities.  Stories passed down claimed their own superiority over the others.  But as archaeological evidence is gathered, the information threatens the inferiority claims.  For whether the society was deemed civilized or barbarous, settled or nomadic, they were able to develop wealth and military capabilities. 



The writing can be a little difficult.  The writing quickly moves between different peoples and eras.  This is a diverse history, representing many different people.  But there is not much on each society.  This is an introduction to many peoples, but to get an understanding of their culture would require more research.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the characteristics of the Black Sea?
•Who used the Back Sea?
•What peoples and empires used the land around the Black Sea?
•How the did the people see each other’s differences?

Book Details
Edition:                 First American
Publisher:             Hill and Wang {Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
Edition ISBN:      9780809015931
Pages to read:       283
Publication:          1995
1st Edition:           1995
Format:                 Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          1
Overall          2