“Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe”

Kapka Kassabova

This book is about the border region where Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey meet. It’s more reportage than travelogue and though I prefer the structure of the travelogue (e.g., “Where the West Ends” on a similar topic) I learned a lot from the book even if I didn’t care for Kassabova’s impressionistic/anecdotal approach.

These borderlands are an interesting area with a bloody, tragic history where refugees mix with people holding on to rural ways of life in the face of urbanization and assaults on the environment and where former border guards live with the memories of people they killed or captured who were trying to escape Communism. It’s also a region whose population has been churned by various forced migrations, ethnic cleansing, and coerced religious conversions.

(Hat tip and thanks to Homer’s Travels for making me aware of this book.)

“Fire and Sword”

Harry Sidebottom

This is book three of the “Throne of the Caesars” trilogy.

This trilogy is about the Rome’s Year of the Six Emperors (238 AD). It starts in 235 AD with the assassination of the last Severan emperor, Severus Alexander and focuses on the reign of Maximinus Thrax, who Sidebottom portrays as a somewhat reluctant ruler who is haunted by the death of his wife.

There are a lot of characters, and some — who seem to be in the book just so Sidebottom can write about different parts of Roman society — have plot arcs don’t really go anywhere. I liked the books. It’s obvious Sidebottom knows his history (he should: he teaches ancient history at Oxford), and I enjoy reading good books about ancient Rome. As a novel, though, it has things that could have been cut out without hurting the story.