We know ancient Greece, the civilization that shares the same name and gave us much that defines Western culture today. Yet, as financial crises have convulsed Greece repeatedly since 2010, worldwide coverage has revealed just how poorly we grasp the modern nation. This book sets out to understand the modern Greeks on their own terms.
The most impressive achievement of Beaton’s book is the way that he captures the full dimensions of Greece’s recent troubles by setting them in the context of the two centuries since the 1821-32 war of national independence ... Beaton sheds light on recurrent patterns of political conflict, social change and economic upheaval to which most non-Greek policymakers and commentators during the 2010-18 debt crisis were too busy or — less forgivably — too ignorant to pay attention ... judicious, well-researched and commendably up-to-date — deserves to be the standard general history of modern Greece in English for years to come.
... splendid ... Previous histories of modern Greece by C.M. Woodhouse, Richard Clogg and Thomas Gallant have gotten bogged down in this Balkan complexity, but Mr. Beaton’s biographical conceit keeps the narrative focused, lively and clear. His accounts of the Metaxas dictatorship (1936-41), the Axis occupation and subsequent civil war are both gripping and remarkably balanced. Historians have seen the rise of the Communist Party in Greece and its violent suppression, with the help of Britain and the U.S. under the Truman Doctrine, as the start of the Cold War. But Mr. Beaton allows that Greek communists were not a monolithic force under Stalin’s control. They were terrible, but they represented a more local struggle against fascism and monarchy.
Some of this story is familiar, but Beaton salts it with fascinating details which consistently surprise ... Beaton covers bitterly contested historical terrain with flair and an admirable lack of partisanship. He expertly navigates landmines surrounding the Greco-Turkish population exchange, the years of the Metaxas dictatorship and the bloodletting that occurred during the Axis occupation of 1941–4 and subsequent civil war. Beaton reminds his readers that the 1974 war in Cyprus was ‘started by the Greek junta’, even if the Turkish invasion of the north island is what most people remember ... Beaton is scrupulously fair on the most controversial episodes, including Greece’s painful recent headaches over Eurozone debt and austerity. He clearly loves Greece, with all its imperfections and flaws, and he is not afraid to expose them. At times, however, his sympathy for Greece leads to a lack of critical distance. While noting the frequent abuse of the past by Greek politicians, Beaton still takes the Greek national project largely at face value ... Because his aim is to explain how modern Greeks ‘have thought about themselves’, Beaton follows them in downplaying their country’s Ottoman heritage (something that is obvious to anyone who visits Greece today). He might well have asked why modern Greeks and Turks quarrel over whose ‘coffee’ it is and pretend they don’t greatly resemble each other, in spite of shared musical, culinary and social traditions ... Still, these are quibbles. Beaton’s history of modern Greece is a scholarly and elegant introduction to this beguiling country. Serious students of history should read it, and no visitor to Greece should leave home without it.