A New York Times bestseller, this definitive history of Ukraine is “an exemplary account of Europe’s least-known large country” (Wall Street Journal).As Ukraine is embroiled in an ongoing struggle with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence, celebrated historian Serhii Plokhy explains that today’s crisis is a case of history repeating itself: the Ukrainian conflict is only the latest in a long history of turmoil over Ukraine’s sovereignty. Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine has been shaped by empires that exploited the nation as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. In The Gates of Europe, Plokhy examines Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of major Ukrainian historical figures, from its heroes to its conquerors.This revised edition includes new material that brings this definitive history up to the present. As Ukraine once again finds itself at the center of global attention, Plokhy brings its history to vivid life as he connects the nation’s past with its present and future.
May 25, 2021
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“[An] exemplary account of Europe’s least-known large country… one of the joys of reading the The Gates of Europe is that what might seem a dense account of distant events involving unfamiliar places and people is leavened by aphorism and anecdote.”―Wall Street Journal”An assured and authoritative survey that spans ancient Greek times to the present day.”―Financial Times”Readers can find no better place to turn than Plokhy’s new book…. Plokhy navigates the subject with grace and aplomb.”―Foreign Affairs”[An] admirable new history…. In his elegant and careful exposition of Ukraine’s past, Mr. Plokhy has also provided some signposts to the future.”―Economist”Elegantly written.”―New York Review of Books”The timeframe and subjects covered here are extraordinary…students, academics, and readers with a general knowledge of Ukraine will appreciate. Alternatively, chapters can be read independently, allowing those with a strong interest in the subject to focus on a specific era of Ukraine’s history.”―Library Journal”Injecting appropriate nuance and complexity into a single-volume overview of 2,000 years of Ukrainian history is no small task, but Plokhy approaches this charge with dexterity and skill…. Plokhy’s work serves as a welcome introduction to Ukraine’s ethnic and national history.”―Publishers Weekly”[A] concise, highly readable history of Ukraine…a lively narrative peopled with a colorful cast of Norse and Mongol marauders, free-booting Cossacks, kings, conquerors and dictators, and conflicted 19th century intellectuals who believed fervently in a Ukrainian cultural identity but were fatally divided as to how that cultural identity could evolve into national entity.”―Washington Times”A masterly surveyor of Ukrainian history.”―Independent (UK)”A sympathetic survey of the history of Ukraine along the East-West divide, from ancient divisions to present turmoil…. A straightforward, useful work that looks frankly at Ukraine’s ongoing “price of freedom” against the rapacious, destabilizing force of Russia.”―Kirkus Reviews “Complex and nuanced, refreshingly revisionist and lucid, this is a compelling and outstanding short history of the blood-soaked land that has so often been the battlefield and breadbasket of Europe.”―Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar”This is present-minded history at its most urgent. Anyone wanting to understand why Russia and the West confront each other over the future of Ukraine will want to read Serhii Plokhy’s reasoned, measured yet passionate account of Ukraine’s historic role at the gates of Europe.”―Michael Ignatieff, Harvard Kennedy School of Government”For a comprehensive, engaging, and up-to-date history of Ukraine one could do no better than Serhii Plokhy’s aptly titled The Gates of Europe. Plokhy’s authoritative study will be of great value to scholars, students, policy-makers, and the informed public alike in making sense of the contemporary Ukrainian imbroglio.”―Norman M. Naimark, Stanford University About the Author Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. The New York Times bestselling author of The Gates of Europe and Nuclear Folly, Plokhy is an award-winning author of numerous books. He lives in Burlington, Massachusetts. <div id="
Because of the current war (March 2022) in the Ukraine, Americans need to know the background history of this important nation. The history of the Ukraine is 2,000 years duration, and very complicated. However, most Americans know the history of Western Europe, but we know very little about the history of the Ukraine. This scholarly book written by a history professor helped me understand the complicated history…..and why the people of the Ukraine embrace western democracy. This book is a good value and very scholarly. I recommend it.
I gave up. This book is typical of the sort of history that turned me off 65 years ago. As far as I got, it was a series of names, dates, and battles with very little discussion of why these events happened. I was no more familiar with Ukraine and how it developed than when I began. A more scholarly reader would understand these sequences,but I could not remember them from one page to the next. Oh dear.
An amazing book that details the travails of Ukraine since fifth century BC to the war of the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea. With a rich and varied past, Ukraine has lain at the center of a swirl of history as empires and nations have grown and faded upon its soil. From the Ottoman Empire, to the days of the mighty Cossacks, through the encroachment and abatement of Russian, Polish, Austrian and German forces, a history is carved out on land that ultimately is Ukraine’s.
Well, it is full of information. the facts are very interesting, and they really could have you hanging on the edge of your seat. however, pretty…..scholarly? even with details about the people written about, its dry.I enjoy history, and read this type of thing for fun. I give it 4 stars for clarity, flow, and as far as a non scholar can tell, accuracy.there’s a hell of a novel in here, just waiting to be written. it’s just not in this book.
Back to the Greeks…..Yes, I saw remains of Greek exploration of Odessa from B.C., nicely preserved below glass on a major promenade overlooking this important port (and now Ukraine’s largest port)….quite astounding. That experience prepared me for this book–for it is not only a history of Ukraine, but of this important bridge between Europe and Western and Central Asia. Well written and clear, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in more than the 20th century history if Ukraine–for which you must read Tim Snyder’s book “Bloodlands” which I have also reviewed–a 20th century history of the land between Berlin and Moscow that is so coveted for it vast fertile soil and rather defenseless position between the hordes of the East and the West. Great reading.
Unfortunately, I have made the mistake of purchasing a book without checking on the publisher. This edition, from Basic Books, has very small print, very difficult on the eyes. Strangely enough, it has considerably large margins- I suppose, leaving space for notes/annotations, although, I think the layout people dropped the ball. I had been looking forward to reading this highly acclaimed work but will have to find a more user-friendly edition.
Gives a more complete, nuanced history than is sometimes encountered. Rich history for the circumstances of 2022.
The author starts in a distant past, when the inhabitants of the area were few and reasonably uniform and relates an ever more complex story that sees the ‘locals’ divided among themselves by culture. Linguistic, Religious, Political and other social ties have divided and subdivided the allegiances such that there are now Russian-speaking Ukranian adherents, Ukranian-speaking Russian adherents, pro-independence and anti-NATO parties and many other various fragmentations present. The Russian land grab has solidified a greater pro-western and Russophobic tendency, but apparently the will to have a Ukranian state is more uniform than the population holding this opinion. The Epilogue deals with the rather confused situation. As phrased, the business remains confused even after the book’s lengthy exploration of the historical context. The maps are good, but I wish that there were more of them. A Time Line of sorts is appended at the end, but I would have hoped to see some more abbreviated pictorial time line to aid in showing points of potential ethnic divide, perhaps as a three page fold out.Ukraine has become a complex fusion of disparate allegiances which has been well shown. What could perhaps become a bit clearer in revision is the depiction of the various forking-points and their temporal and geographic relation to each other.
I’ve previously read several substantial histories of Russia which tells the story of the foundation of Kievan Rus by the Viking Rurikids in the 8th Century AD, and the eventual emergence of Muscovy as the dominant principality which would go on to become the centre of the sequence of polities that have had Russia at their heart, one way or another, ever since. Given the recent eruption of horribly miserable events I thought it was time that I tried to get my facts straight regarding the parallel historical trajectory of the Ukrainian grouping of peoples and occasional polity that has remained centred on the central principality of Rus, Kiev. Having read Harvard professor of Ukrainian history, Serhii Plokhy’s The Last Empire detailing the frantic days of the collapse of the USSR and admiring his lucidity and tautness of narrative, this seemed a natural contender for a place to start.I began reading with some concrete questions in mind that I hoped would be answered: i) to what extent is present day Ukraine a viable project as an independent nation state, given the bewildering complexity of its ethnic, linguistic and religious makeup and configuration, ii) to what extent, if at all, is there any truth in Putin’s recent claim that the Russians and Ukrainians a single people and iii) having seen a typically contextless BBC report containing footage of an old Russian lady saying ‘ I hope the Cossacks don’t come back, that would be terrible’, I wanted to understand who indeed are the Cossacks and which segments of Ukrainian society might have cause to fear their ‘return’.Well, suffice to say I got all the detail I could possibly want and probably more. Ukrainian history is so dizzyingly complex that it is hard to keep it all in the head, even when it is presented with maximal clarity as Plokhy in fact does. There literally cannot be another country with a recognised boundary on the Earth’s surface today that has endured a more tumultuous history of comings and goings, dismemberments and reassemblies, changes of rulership, pogroms, massacres and all manner of tribulations than that of what the world is still only quite recently recognising as the nation of Ukraine. There was a recent fashion to describe poor, oft dismembered Poland as God’s Playground as a metaphor for millennial political chaos, but there were several centuries where Poland itself, as the Jagiellonian Empire or the Polish-Livonian Commonwealth, was an empire spanning the Baltic to the Black Sea and during which, and ever since really, Ukraine was God’s Playground caught between the empires of Poland, Romanov Russia, the Ottomans and later the Habsburgs. Amidst all this the remarkably resilient Cossacks, remnant of the once Turkic speaking Khazars, with their constantly shifting alliances, whether as feudal aristocracy, or servants of the Tsars against all comers, or servants of others against the treachery of the Tsars. The long cherished dream of independent nationhood for Ukraine was finally realised in 1918 as part of the post WWI settlement but was almost immediately caught in the middle of the Russo-Polish war, and by 1922 Ukraine had been absorbed into the USSR as a notionally independent republic, but one that suffered terribly under the years of Communism and the resumed see-sawing of empires in WWII. Real independence came finally as a result of the collapse of the USSR, finally announced in 1991, but even then the struggles of Ukrainian democratic politicians to get out from under the clutches of gangster oligarchs with connections back to the Soviet security services and Moscow elites has continued to spiral until we arrive at the sorry conditions of today, when no one can even guess where Ukraine will be a year from now; a still independent land of smoking ruins, nominally independent under a festering occupation or simply reabsorbed back into the revived Russian Empire?As it happens most of what one needs to know about the circumstances of today was encompassed in the final couple of chapters detailing the recent history of Ukraine since the USSR imploded. A timeline is given detailing rigged elections, murdered journalists, imprisoned or exotically poisoned politicians, etc., that make it apparent that there is a viable nation of people who have been making every possible effort to construct a modern, working Ukrainian state into which all ethnic, linguistic and religious groups are quite effectively integrated. The constant fly in the ointment would seem to be the gangster oligarchs and their Russian cronies who continue to milk billions of public money into foreign banks. No doubt Russia Today and its ilk would tell a rather different story. But I am old fashioned enough to place my trust, at least for now, in the narrative of a credited Harvard history professor over that of journalists from a country that will give you 15 years just for calling the epic destruction we are seeing on our screens every night a war. For all the tortuous complexity of Ukraine’s history the simple issue today seems to boil down to the fact that hardly anyone in Ukraine wants to live inside Putin’s despotic dysfunctional kleptocracy, and its people would seem to be willing to endure apocalyptic sacrifice to resist that possibility.
Looking at the front cover (1), I assumed that this was a book from the 1970s, but it is a recent book, first published in 2015, and at the end includes the 2014 Russia takeover of the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas. The book is quite detailed and authoritative, the author being Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard.I found it a complex and unfamiliar story of an ever changing area with unfamiliar names. Understanding what is going on can take several re-readings. It starts with the Scandinavians in the north, the tribal south and the Greek colonies in Crimea. Later there are links to the Byzantine Empire and conversion to the Orthodox Church. Then there is the Golden Horde, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossacks, the Poles, the Tatars, the Ottoman Empire, Muscovy, Russia and the Soviet Union. Now there is post-Soviet Ukraine.THE BOOK has 27 chapters divided into 5 sections (2). The chapters are short. There is a set of 10 black and white maps at the start of the book, which are very useful (3). Each map is on its own page. There are no other illustrations. The paperback is a little smaller than the hardback and I found the font size of the paperback a little too small (4).__________________________________________________________(1) The front cover is a photograph of the Palais de Justice and Panteleimon Church, Odessa about 1890/1900.(2) The Contents are:Introduction (6 pages) I On the Pontic Frontier 1. The Edge of the World 2. The Advent of the Slavs 3. Vikings on the Dnieper 4. Byzantium North 5. The Keys to Kyiv 6. Pax MongolicaUkraine is forest in the north, and steppe in the south until it reaches the Black Sea. The ancient Greeks had colonies on the Crimea and the Greek historian mentioned the barbarian steppes to their north. These barbarians were the Scythians, later replaced by the Sarmatians. In the 5th century AD the great barbarian migration of the Goths, Huns and others passed through the Ukrainian steppes on their way to Western Europe. In the 6th century the Slavs appeared and stayed. Then came the Vikings from the north who mixed with the Slavs to form a new ruling class and later accepted Orthodox Christianity from Constantinople. Finally, the Mongols swept through from the east and became their overlords. II East Meets West 7. The Making of Ukraine 8. The Cossacks 9. Eastern Reformations 10. The Great Revolt 11. The Partitions 12. The Verdict of PoltavaThe west is Catholic Poland. The east is the emerging Orthodox Russian Empire. To the south the Byzantine Empire has been replaced by the Islamic Ottomans. The steppes are occupied by the Tatars. To the north is Lithuania and Sweden. At the start of the period Ukraine is in the Polish part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the end of the period it has moved to the east as a dependency of the Russian Empire. The Cossacks emerge as the representative of Ukraine and their power and influence waxes and wanes. At the end of the period the people are known by several names, all interchangeable and dependent on context. They are the people of the Rus’ or Ruthenia from the old Viking rulers, Little Russia a term given to them by the Russians, but they are also the people of Ukraine. III Between the Empires 13. The New Frontiers 14. The Books of the Genesis 15. The Porous Border 16. On the Move 17. The Unfinished RevolutionUkraine was split between the Russian and Austrian Empires, with the greater part in Russia. However, a national identity developed with interest in folklore, history and the Ukrainian language. Under the Austrians, literature in Ukrainian could be published. Under the Russians, Ukrainian was consider a Russia dialect and its publication was banned. Industrialisation came late to Russia and was centred in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. This area attracted many migrants, mostly Russian speakers from other parts of the Russian Empire.IV The Wars of the World 18. The Birth of a Nation 19. A Shattered Dream 20. Communism and Nationalism 21. Stalin’s Fortress 22. Hitler’s Lebensraum 23. The VictorsWorld War I led to the collapse of both the Austrian and Russian Empires. The Ukrainians took their opportunity and created a government in the east, which later incorporated the western Ukrainians in the Austria Empire, but the situation was chaotic. After the formal end of World War I fighting continued in Ukraine for several years involving the Ukrainians, Polish, White Russians and the Russian Bolsheviks. Ultimately, central and eastern Ukraine became a Soviet Republic. Western Ukraine was divided between Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. This was followed by Stalin’s famine and Hitler’s Holocaust. At the end of World War II, Ukraine was once again part of the Soviet Union.V The Road to Independence 24. The Second Soviet Republic 25. Good Bye, Lenin! 26. The Independence Square 27. The Price of FreedomAt the end of World War II Ukraine was physically devastated and mentally traumatised. In the villages there was another famine. Stalin died in 1953, to be replaced by Khrushchev. The new leader’s well-intentioned reforms did not bring the economic results expected, and he was toppled in a palace coup. His replacement, Brezhnev, played it safe and returned to the old centralised model, bringing repression and stagnation. After Brezhnev were two short-lived leaders, followed by the reformer Gorbachev. In Ukraine, the Chernobyl accident increased discontent with Moscow. The failed coup in 1991 brought the end of Gorbachev and of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainians voted for independence. In 1994 Ukraine signed a cooperation agreement with the European Union (EU), but independence brought oligarchs and corrupt politicians. This resulted in the Orange Revolution resulting in new elections and a new president. In 2013 demonstrators were on the streets again, demanding reform, the end of government corruption and closer ties with the EU. A year later Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and invaded the Donbas.Epilogue The Meanings of HistoryAcknowledgmentsHistorical TimelineWho’s Who in Ukrainian HistoryGlossaryFurther ReadingIndex(3) The Maps (10 maps, 1 per page)» The Greek Settlements 770 BC – 100 BC» Kyvian Rus’ 980 – 1054 ( source:
Well written and a fascinating read. It seems well balanced and researched. No obvious political bias, even in the modern section. The bits that are left out or skimmed over need more complex and detailed ‘objective’ reading to get to the core of current politics – this is not that book but it gives a good canvas from which to start.By the time I had reached the 16th century many of the roots of the current problems were already clearly in place.It is truly an amazing country, full of history and the diversity that waves of conquests create – if only they could put aside the differences and celebrate the similarities; could forgive the past mistakes; learn from the mistakes and not repeat them – I hope so.If you want to understand this complex country this is a very good place to start – know the history and you at least have some chance to understand.
I bought this book to gain some much-needed background information on Ukraine (considering what’s currently going on), and the author certainly provides an overview of Ukrainian history – for that, three stars. The problem is that historiography, ie the writing of history, is not just about the facts or dates or context – I can’t fault the author for any of that, he did his job. The problem is that the style and delivery are really boring; there’s almost no colour, quotes, or really anecdotes that would bring the topic (a whole country with a rich history) to life.I’m passionate about history and don’t mind scholarly tomes, but this book proved to be a slog. I finished it only because it felt virtuous and worthy. Another consideration is that the author makes a strong argument for Ukraine’s separate (from Russia) identity, with is a counter-argument to Russian propaganda focused on Novorossia/New Russia, and he succeeds in that. Meanwhile, he fails to deliver context on controversial figures such as Stepan Bandera. Going by this book, I know he existed and was important, but there’s no context or insight given at all. All in all, I’m glad I read it, I’m better informed, lots of stuff is still missing, and I’m not ever going to read this again.
Serhii Plokhy presents a remarkable study of one of the most neglected geographic and cultural crossroads of European history. Emerging from the forests and steppelands, crossed by defining rivers the entity now known as Ukraine has, emerged from incessant attacks from Vikings from the North; Mongols, Huns from the East; Teutonic Knights, Poles, French, Germans from the West and Greeks,Ottomans and Tatars from the South. It was the motherland of Kievan Rus and then Muscovy. Indeed it is the very root of the Russ-ian complex relationship with Ukraine based largely on an inverted inferiority.Professor Plokhy’s book, while deliberately being light on detail, is magisterial in sweep. There is barely a corner of the last 1500 years of the history of the region that is not lighted upon, if only briefly.If you have time to read only one book on the topic, this should be it.
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