The Gates of Europe Book Summary - The Gates of Europe Book explained in key points
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The Gates of Europe summary

Serhii Plokhy

A History of Ukraine

4.3 (273 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

'The Gates of Europe' by Serhii Plokhy is a captivating historical account of how the fall of the Soviet Union transformed Europe and led to the rise of a new order. The book explores the political, economic and social changes that shaped the modern-day Europe we know today.

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    The Gates of Europe
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    The region of Ukraine was first populated by nomadic tribes that traded with nearby Greek colonies.

    This Blink will attempt the challenging feat of giving you an overview of Ukraine’s history as described by Serhii Plokhy in The Gates of Europe. It’s a dramatic story that involves a lot of different actors, with many ups and downs. So let’s dive right in.

    As is the case with a lot of ancient European history, the official written record really starts with the Greeks. In this case, it was Herodotus, a historian whose nine-volume series, Histories, contains some of the first known writing about the origins of Ukraine.

    Even in the time of Herodotus, around 500 BCE, the area that would become Ukraine was on its way to becoming a dividing point between the East and the West. This region includes a portion of steppes, forests, and mountains that stretch north beyond the Black Sea. To the Greeks, this area was regarded as the Pontic frontier. Within it, the Greek empire ended and the land of the so-called “Barbarians” began.

    Herodotus was interested in the history of the Barbarians, a term used at the time to describe anyone who wasn’t Greek. Before Herodotus’s research, there were only mythological tales about what was going on in the area north of the Black Sea. There were rumors that this was the land of the female warriors known as the Amazons and final resting place of the hero Achilles. But then, in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, Greeks began to hear stories about a real tribe of nomadic warriors known as the Cimmerians, who were pushed out of the region after fierce battles with another nomadic tribe known as the Scythians.

    At this point, the black nutrient-rich soil of the steppes was already gaining a reputation that would later result in Ukraine being known as the “breadbasket of Europe.” The Scythians had been cultivating and trading grains, but all this came to a halt once the Sarmatians showed up. Like the Scythians, the Sarmatians were also nomadic, of Iranian origins, and made up of different multiethnic and multicultural tribes.

    Around the first century CE, the Romans eventually made their way to the Greek colonies. Now, what would end up being known as the “Western world” was becoming familiar with the region. In particular, the Romans were interested in the two rivers, the Dnieper – or Dnipro, as Ukrainians call it – and the Don. The Dnieper stretches from the Black Sea northward past what would become the city of Kyiv. It was already an important river for trade. The Don is to the east of the Crimea, and at its mouth was a Greek colony belonging to the Bosporan Kingdom.

    According to another Greek historian, Strabo, these were more than just rivers. As he saw it, to the west of the Don lay Europe. To the east, Asia.

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    What is The Gates of Europe about?

    The Gates of Europe (2015) offers a compelling overview of the history of Ukraine, a nation which lies between the East and the West. Due to this unique geographic position, Ukraine has been fought over and subjugated by a long line of imperial forces throughout history. Indeed, the history of Ukraine is one of the most important facets in the history of Europe.

    Who should read The Gates of Europe?

    • History buffs
    • People curious about Russian-Ukrainian relations
    • Anyone interested in democracy

    About the Author

    Serhii Plokhy is a world-renowned expert on the Cold War and the history of nuclear proliferation. He’s also a professor of history at Harvard University and the author of the award-winning book Chernobyl.

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