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Greek War Of Independence, The [Paperback]

David Hugh Brewer
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 1 2011
The Greek War of Independence offers an authoritative account — told in gripping detail — of the fight to end four centuries of brutal Ottoman rule over Greece. Fought over twelve bloody years between 1821 and 1833, the Greek revolution captured the imagination of the Romantic Age, inspiring painters, poets and patriots the world over to celebrate the Greek cause and join the fight. For nearly four hundred years the Ottoman Turks governed Greece, subjecting the country to crushing and arbitrary tax burdens and its peasants to serfdom.; the glories of the ancient past were gone, and under Turkish rule Greece was poor and backward. But inspired by the examples of the American and French revolutions, Napoleon’s victories, and the Latin American wars of liberation, the Greek people rose up against their Turkish masters in 1821. For twelve brutal years – years of terrible violence and bloody massacre – the Greeks and the foreign volunteers who flocked to their cause fought until independence was won in 1833.

David Brewer has captured it brilliantly, from the ground up – the heroes and villains, the victories, and tragic defeats. Greece was, as Byron said, a land with a special destiny: "Freedom’s home, or Glory’s grave."

--This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Ottoman empire extended far into Central Europe, occupying nearly all of the Balkan Peninsula. Three decades later, it would lie fragmented, thanks to the efforts of Greek patriots who, after a bloody struggle, forced their Turkish rulers to acknowledge Greece's independence. Classics scholar David Brewer tells that story in this comprehensive account, the first on the subject to appear in many years.

The Turkish empire, Brewer writes, was "one of the most impressive that the world has ever seen," the product of generations of conquest and control. By 1800, however, it had declined in power and influence, and, lacking wealthy client states to feed its treasury, the Ottoman government inaugurated a severe program of taxation on such essential Mediterranean goods as sheep, olives, honey, and grapes, compounding the injury by drafting young Greeks to serve in the imperial army. Resistance grew, especially as Ottoman functionaries such as the Ali Pasha (whom Lord Byron, the British poet and champion of Greek freedom, called "a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties") carved out bits and pieces of Greece as private fiefdoms. Inspired by the American and French revolutions, the Greeks finally revolted, touching off a terrible war that would cost hundreds of thousands of lives, involve the major European powers (which, as in later troubles in the Balkans, proved ineffectual), and hasten the downfall of the Ottoman empire.

Brewer takes an evenhanded view of the struggle, noting acts of heroism, cruelty, and treachery on both sides. Students of modern European history will find his study of a largely forgotten conflict to be of much interest, especially given recent events in the region. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1821, Greek revolutionaries began a War of Independence fueled by longstanding grievances against their Turkish occupiers and Enlightenment ideals. In 1833, Greece became the first nation-state to win its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the centuries-old nemesis of Christian Europe. This volume is former Oxford classics scholar Brewer's detailed narrative of this achievement. Brewer effectively employs historical analogies to place the struggle within an understandable context. For example, he likens the popular support of Europeans, if not their governments, for the Greek struggle to 20th-century support during the Spanish Civil War, and he describes the effect on European public opinion of a vivid painting by Delacroix, based on the Turkish capture and pillaging of Mesolongi, a Greek fortress town, as similar to that of Vietnam War-era photographs that aroused antiwar passions. Brewer comprehensively describes the military campaigns, but he is most engaging when examining the internal and external political factors that influenced the war's outcome. Both the difficulties in forging a coherent Greek effort (despite deep divisions among Greek factions) and the complex set of historical relationships that informed the political stances of European governments are set out in close detail. The latter factor was pivotal, as it was the joint intervention of England, France and Russia that finally forced the Ottomans to accept Greek independence. At times, the details are too dense; although it is no fault of Brewer's, the betrayals, massacres, impalements, decapitations and mutual depredations of the combatants will leave readers profoundly depressed. Nonetheless, Brewer's effort will be worthwhile for those interested in European history. Illus. and maps.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars For all levels if the interest is there. June 4 2002
Format:Hardcover
Most amateurs (I would consider myself one) go into a history book with a slight apprehension - because you don't know what pre-assumed knowledge is there, or if you'll be lost at the end of the first chapter. Rest assured - not so here. Although this book is quite difficult to find, I received mine from my grandfather, who purchased it at an Athens bookshop -- his place of residence.
The citings are numerous but appropriate and yet not overwhelming, and the level of reading is not unbearably high. I, in all of my ignorance, had no idea what century the Greek Revolution was in before this work, and still found everything readable and comprehensible. The major players are emphasized, and gladly Brewer stays away from the unnecessary tangents that plague a lot of other writers. His narrative is focused and precise, and not disguised in the detail that we as readers don't want to know.
I found this highly enjoyable - and one gets a true sense of what a mangled and disorganized "revolution" Greece really had, and how close the campaign was to defeat on numerous occasions. As in all history, the fate of men hangs by but a thread, and such a piece could be the difference between life, death, left, right, up, down, or nothing at all. It remains true here.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nation building in Modern Greece Jan. 1 2002
By Alekos
Format:Hardcover
In a possibly apocryphal but highly instructive story a traveler asks a nineteenth-century Balkan peasant if he considers himself mostly Bulgarian or mostly Greek. The peasant answers that he has no idea what the traveler is talking about and goes on to say he is Christian, by which he means he is not a Turk. (He had no clue about being of either nationality.)
Most people in the Balkans at that time had no sense of belonging to a nation but they knew they were part of a non-Christian empire and that they were an oppressed people. Little wonder, since the notion of nation-state with a common language, religion, ethnicity, was still largely a Western idea of which the Greeks and their neighbors had little practical sense. For most of their long histories empire and foreign domination was the political and economic reality. This means that any account of the beginnings of modern Greece has to deal pretty heavily, perhaps insistently, on the whole issue of "nation building." David Brewer does an admirable job of weaving this theme into his account of the Greek war of independence.
The situation at the time was a general disaster of decline and decadence in the Ottoman Empire, warlords and ignorant peasants in the homeland, bandits in the mountain passes, and wealthy Greeks who wanted the Turks out so they themselves could take over as oppressors of the have-nots.
Brewer begins with a brief description of the church and its hierarchy as unifying elements in the struggle against the oppressors, and then moves on to the more interesting (because less well-known) intellectual underpinnings of the war.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good history, if a bit confusing Oct. 24 2002
Format:Hardcover
I knew next to nothing about the Greek war to separate itself from the Turks before reading this book. Only the highlights were in my mind, so I was very pleased to learn much more about this most interesting modern struggle. The author does his best in telling a very confused tale, although his habit of occasionally skipping back and forth, and some repetition, bothered me a bit. He also would give a quotation in its original language, and then fail to tell the reader what it said in translation! Unfortunatley, English is my only language, so I took umbrage at this lapse. The work itself moves fairly smoothly, introducing a vast number of people, and occasionally I got lost in all of the unfamiliar names and places, but that's my fault, and not the author's. All in all, this is a book that is well worth reading if you are interested in learning about its subject, as I was.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nation building in Modern Greece Jan. 1 2002
By Alekos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In a possibly apocryphal but highly instructive story a traveler asks a nineteenth-century Balkan peasant if he considers himself mostly Bulgarian or mostly Greek. The peasant answers that he has no idea what the traveler is talking about and goes on to say he is Christian, by which he means he is not a Turk. (He had no clue about being of either nationality.)
Most people in the Balkans at that time had no sense of belonging to a nation but they knew they were part of a non-Christian empire and that they were an oppressed people. Little wonder, since the notion of nation-state with a common language, religion, ethnicity, was still largely a Western idea of which the Greeks and their neighbors had little practical sense. For most of their long histories empire and foreign domination was the political and economic reality. This means that any account of the beginnings of modern Greece has to deal pretty heavily, perhaps insistently, on the whole issue of "nation building." David Brewer does an admirable job of weaving this theme into his account of the Greek war of independence.
The situation at the time was a general disaster of decline and decadence in the Ottoman Empire, warlords and ignorant peasants in the homeland, bandits in the mountain passes, and wealthy Greeks who wanted the Turks out so they themselves could take over as oppressors of the have-nots.
Brewer begins with a brief description of the church and its hierarchy as unifying elements in the struggle against the oppressors, and then moves on to the more interesting (because less well-known) intellectual underpinnings of the war. The important figures here are the wonderful Adamantios Korais (educated in France, invented the Modern Greek language almost single-handedly, believed the outbreak of hostilities should be postponed at least a generation) - and Rhigas Phaeros (poet-patriot cruelly executed after betrayal by his own).
The author examines the roles played in the war by a variety of people, including Ali Pasha of Jannina, the savagely cruel but culturally refined Albanian despot who ruled Epirus with an iron fist and had a thousand concubines and fifty young boys. He traces out the problems involved in organizing the secret society known as the Philiki Eteria and in getting new recruits who could be trusted. Not everyone could be.
Greece was liberated only gradually, the Peloponnese being the area of earliest conflict and first liberation. The country did not attain its present borders until well into the twentieth century. Theodore Kolokotronis is the major military figure of the war, or at least the most memorable. But once he had power in his grasp he was unwilling to yield it to the civil authorities, as were most of the other military leaders. In fact Greece underwent a dreadful civil war even before it even became a country. The still fighting new nation had a series of constituent assemblies that were unable to work out a governmental structure to curb the selfish interests of the military and the wealthy grandees.
Brewer has a special talent for making history dramatic, and he uses it well in describing battles, especially sea battles, of which there were many. Yet he never includes any superfluous details. As a backdrop to the whole story he includes material on the various alliances, sometimes "holy" and constantly shifting, among such other European powers as England, France, Austria, and Russia. He is probably correct in his assessment that Great Britain was Greece's closest friend and most generous ally in the war of independence. But he also explains how the story of England's two enormous loans to the new nation turned into horror stories of nineteenth century capitalism gone wrong. The generosity of those English and French Philhellene idealists (most notably Lord Byron) who sacrificed their well being and sometimes their lives to the cause of Greek freedom is depicted honestly and with feeling.
This fine work of history can be recommended to the informed general reader but those with a solid background in historical studies will also enjoy it.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but much to be desired May 17 2006
By Brian Hawkinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
On a whole, the book does a decent job in laying out the picture of the Greek War for Independence. We understand where the Greeks were coming from, as well as how they achieved ultimate freedom. Additionally, we are given many decent character chapters on many minor players of the war. The battles themselves are outlined as we move in a somewhat linear fashion through the years.

But there are several factors that prevent this from being a recommendation. First off, this is an english language book, written, presumably, for people who can read english. Seems obvious, but this isn't so for Brewer. Throughout the book he throws in phrases, sayings, nicknames, poems and so on written in Greek, Latin, French or Russian. But rather than explain their significance, i.e. translate them to english, he leaves it just as is, leaving you wondering. He will say, the Russians nicknamed Kolokotronis "russian language". Or he will state in french what so and so thought of him, with no translation! How about a whole poem that Brewer says portrays someone perfectly, but it will be recited in the greek language! This goes throughout the book, constantly using foreign language anecdotes and descriptions without translating their meaning.

Secondly, he starts the book off telling about this secret society that set about Greece's revolutionary war, and then doesn't even so much as mention them after he tells us everything about them. I can understand that the war was bigger than this group, and so was lost after the war began and more Greeks became involved, but shouldn't you at least give a parting note or mention as to what happened to them? Not even a mention. Brewer himself just forgot to write about them, which is why I can't even remember what their group was called?!?!?

I can keep going, but I won't bore you. All in all, perhaps a good stepping stone, perhaps not. I now know enough about the Greek Revolution to be able to branch out and study some more and know what is going on. Would I recommend this book? Probably not. Although I am not personally aware of any, since I haven't studied this area of history too much, I am positive there are better books on this important time in Greece's history. An okay book with frustrating elements.

3.5 stars.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good history, if a bit confusing Oct. 24 2002
By Frank J. Konopka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I knew next to nothing about the Greek war to separate itself from the Turks before reading this book. Only the highlights were in my mind, so I was very pleased to learn much more about this most interesting modern struggle. The author does his best in telling a very confused tale, although his habit of occasionally skipping back and forth, and some repetition, bothered me a bit. He also would give a quotation in its original language, and then fail to tell the reader what it said in translation! Unfortunatley, English is my only language, so I took umbrage at this lapse. The work itself moves fairly smoothly, introducing a vast number of people, and occasionally I got lost in all of the unfamiliar names and places, but that's my fault, and not the author's. All in all, this is a book that is well worth reading if you are interested in learning about its subject, as I was.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For all levels if the interest is there. June 4 2002
By Andrew Georgiadis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Most amateurs (I would consider myself one) go into a history book with a slight apprehension - because you don't know what pre-assumed knowledge is there, or if you'll be lost at the end of the first chapter. Rest assured - not so here. Although this book is quite difficult to find, I received mine from my grandfather, who purchased it at an Athens bookshop -- his place of residence.
The citings are numerous but appropriate and yet not overwhelming, and the level of reading is not unbearably high. I, in all of my ignorance, had no idea what century the Greek Revolution was in before this work, and still found everything readable and comprehensible. The major players are emphasized, and gladly Brewer stays away from the unnecessary tangents that plague a lot of other writers. His narrative is focused and precise, and not disguised in the detail that we as readers don't want to know.
I found this highly enjoyable - and one gets a true sense of what a mangled and disorganized "revolution" Greece really had, and how close the campaign was to defeat on numerous occasions. As in all history, the fate of men hangs by but a thread, and such a piece could be the difference between life, death, left, right, up, down, or nothing at all. It remains true here.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting time, interesting book March 15 2013
By Glenn D. Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After reading many books of Europe, Latin American and America, I am realizing that after the American Revolution and the French Revolution, the paradigm was spreading all over the globe. Greece was no different. Greece wanted independence from The Ottomans. This book outlines the 15 years or so that it took to gain independence. The most mismanaged indepdence movement, it seems, of all of them. There was a civil war within the Greek community. There was botched naval battles, stolen funds and corrupt financing out of London. It took a treaty between the European Powers and The Ottomans to conclude the war and provide indepence to the Greeks. Any interesting read. Not sure if it the best one, but it was good. The writer was very passionate about the subject, which helped (some of his ancesters figured in the stories, although not prominately as he shared).
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