Books about small nationalities/countries/ethnic groups
September 26, 2018 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I've been reading The Basque History of the World and now I'd like to scratch the itch for similar

Other than their existence, I knew literally nothing about the Basque before reading this book, but now I am super interested in learning more about other cultures-- be it nationalities, ethnic groups, countries, whatever-- that are on the tiny side, are surrounded by much larger groups than them, and have been around for a long time maintaining their identity and just refusing to disappear.

This can be a tiny country that's somehow fended off invasions, or a group within a larger country that's successfully resisted pressure to assimilate, etc. It doesn't necessarily have to be such a broad overview of history, it can be more focused on some specific aspect-- for example, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is absolutely nothing like The Basque History of the World but I'd be interested in hearing about books like it as well.
posted by Cozybee to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

I loved that book!

North Korea isn't small but there's not a lot about the day to day life there. I read most of The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom by Ralph Hassig and enjoyed it.

Some of the essays in My Kind of Place by Susan Orlean fit this bill.

Inside The Kingdom: My Life In Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Ladin gave me some insight into the life of women in Saudi Arabia particularly around the time of 9/11 (she is Osama's cousin)

Over the Next Hill: An Ethnography of RVing Seniors in North America by Dorothy Ayers Counts might grab you.

Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist by Daniel Kalder is a little bit of a "white guy goes other places, drinks a lot, is condused by customs" but he goes some interesting places--Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Mari El, and Udmurtia (heard of them? I hadn't either)--and truly enjoys them.
posted by jessamyn at 11:35 AM on September 26, 2018

There's a section of superb vignettes on this theme in Jan Morris's glorious "Fifty Years of Europe: An Album"
posted by runincircles at 11:55 AM on September 26, 2018

How small? Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes was good, and probably the closest thing I can think of to what you're looking for.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth was also good, but it's about all of the Nordic countries. The level detail on each individual nation is probably what you're looking for, though, especially if you're interested in Denmark, Norway, or Finland (the Sweden and Iceland sections seemed a little thin by comparison).

Brilliant Orange by David Winner is about a particular aspect of a smallish nation, but it sounds like the kind of thing that might interest you. And I found it pretty thought-provoking in general.

And if you want to complete your survey of Germanic Europe, Simon Winder's Germania and Danubia are both quite entertaining, although Germany and the Holy Roman Empire are hardly small countries surrounded by larger groups.

I obviously enjoy this genre quite a bit, so I'm excited to see other people's answers!
posted by kevinbelt at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2018

Back in the USSR: Heroic Adventures in Transnistria

And this might seem odd, but an amazing cookbook: The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. She takes recipies from Jewish communities across the world, and writes beautiful vignettes about those communities to go with the recipes.

If you want tiny, there's St Kilda - Island on the Edge of the World: The Story of St Kilda, though the St Kildans all left in the 1930s.

And if you're ok with groups that did defend their identity but were subsumed/conquered in the end, there's The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland. There weren't just Scots, Picts and English living in and fighting over what would become Scotland, but Britons - speakers of a language related to modern Welsh, and severely overlooked in general histories of Scotland.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:14 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman. (Sorry, I'm useless when it comes to hyperlinks)
posted by Enid Lareg at 2:07 PM on September 26, 2018

Looking at the other side of the coin, so to speak, you might enjoy Norman Davies' Vanished Kingdoms, about territories and nation-states that once seemed permanent (Burgundy, Aragon, Galicia) but have now vanished from the map. The message of the book is that 'the lifespan of even the mightiest states is finite', a message that seems even more pertinent today than it did when the book first came out in 2011. (Review; introduction and sample chapter.)
posted by verstegan at 3:42 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bury Me Standing about the Romani
posted by chrisulonic at 3:50 PM on September 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chris King's Lament from Epirus is a book about the musical traditions of an isolated corner of Greece/Albania. Epiran music purportedly has roots in the pre-Homeric era, so I'd say it meets your longevity test. There's an excerpt at Longreads.
posted by mumkin at 10:19 AM on September 27, 2018

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