Eastern European history book recommendations
August 30, 2012 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Reading recommendations for a trip through Europe?

I'll be traveling through Europe in a few weeks and I'd like to bring some books along with me for the downtimes. In particular, I'm looking for books that will introduce me to or inform me of the history and culture of the places I'll be going.

I like the style of Ryszard Kapuscinski, where he reports more as a narrative than a list of facts and people. While some specific details might be left out, it makes for a casual but informative read.

Any recommendations from the MeFi world? I'll be traveling through the following countries: Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Thanks!
posted by azathoth to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You want A Time of Gifts and Between the Wood and the Water, both by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and newly back in print thanks to NYRB publishing. Published in the 1970s and 80s, they describe his journey he made on foot from the Netherlands to Turkey, as an observant, polyglot teenager back in the 1930s. He passes through every country on your list except Belgium!
posted by caek at 6:51 AM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

2nding Patrick Leigh Fermor.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:54 AM on August 30, 2012

Geert Mak's In Europe - it's a wonderful tour through 20th century history and he does a great job of applying those big events to small locations that you could visit.
posted by Think_Long at 6:59 AM on August 30, 2012

Perennial best-of for Serbia/Croatia: Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, an account of Lamb's travels through the region between the world wars.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:42 AM on August 30, 2012

That should be "West's" travels. Back to work I go.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:42 AM on August 30, 2012

For early 20th century fictionalized account of fall of Ottoman Empire and rise of Turkey as independent country, I highly recommend Louis De Bernieres' "Birds Without Wings".
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:07 AM on August 30, 2012

I'd read Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism series, preferably the first volume 'The Perspective of the World'. It's less a history of BIG IMPORTANT MEN and more about what things were like in Europe back in the day.

But it's also a huge tome so perhaps a bit long/heavy for travel.
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 9:06 AM on August 30, 2012

Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon seems an obvious choice if you're heading into the former Yugoslavia.

If you want some highly addictive light reading that also draws intelligently on the complexities of early C20th European history then any and all of the pre-45 Eric Ambler novels would be a treat. If you like interwar film noir/spy films (men in fedoras and trenchcoats, dubious assignations at smoky trainstations--that sort of thing) then Ambler is the absolute master of the genre. A Mask for Demetrios is the conventional starting point.
posted by yoink at 10:31 AM on August 30, 2012

Not related to the places you'll be visiting for the most part and more literary than informative but I think The Rings of Saturn by Sebald might be a good fit.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2012

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