Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation by Roderick Beaton

“Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation by Roderick Beaton

I picked up this book because this year, 2021, is the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution. I was going to dive into a book solely based on the revolution, but I realized I need to first learn about the whole history of the Greek state. I know of ancient Greece and their myths, and ruins, but I don’t know much of the modern Greek nation. As the title tells us, this book is not about the civilization of Ancient Greece (because who could fit that in one tiny book?) but rather a look at the history of Greece, the nation, from 1821 to present.

As a Greek-Canadian, I feel the love for Greece deep in my heart. I grew up in the Greek culture: eating spanakopita, dancing the pentozali, and going to Greek school to learn the language. Growing up though, I didn’t learn much about modern Greek history so this was a chance to rectify that.

This book is very simple to read because it is a meta-history, and gives you an overview of different periods in the history of the nation. It goes over the key players, and currents within the society. If you’re looking for details, this book will leave you wanting more, but it is a good jumping off point because in only 462 pages, it goes through 200 years of Greek history. It is not a simple history either. In the past 200 years, Greece has had revolutions, military dictatorships, a monarchy, been involved in outside and civil wars, been bankrupt many times, and lost and gained huge amounts of territory.

I learned a lot from this book, and learned about different things I want to learn even more about in the future. Here are some takeaways for me from this book:

  • East vs West: the nation keeps getting pulled East to West. It is Eastern Orthodox, and has roots in the East with the Ottomans, but Ancient Greece is the foundation of Western culture. The state keeps straddling the line between East & West.

  • Greek Nation (people who speak Greek and are Orthodox Christians) vs the Greek state: It was a constant battle in Greece since 1821 between the Nation and the State. The initial Greek state was very tiny and a huge portion of the Greek Nation was outside of its borders. Many conflicts occurred in the past 200 years over this question, who should be part of the Greek state?

  • Bankruptcy: Greece has been bankrupt about 3-4 times by my estimation after reading this book. As a Greek I know how Greeks are masters of avoiding paying taxes. The Greek state has always been bad at collecting taxes. Sadly, this hasn’t changed in 2021, but looking at the history of Greece I can see how in their soul, Greeks don’t always trust the government because it has been in flux for so long. It has not been a stable state.

  • Cyprus: I didn’t know how and why it was partitioned, but now I do.

  • Debt to the Ancient Greeks: It’s interesting how the great powers, and Western civilizations feel a great debt to Greeks for their Ancient history and how the modern Greek state used this to their advantage.

If all you know about Greece is Hercules, Plato, Aristotle, the Greek revolution of 1821, and Grexit, then this is a book you should read. It does a good job of filling in the blanks.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #32 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #RoderickBeaton #politics #Greece #history #europe”,

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