cover image Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age

Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age

Robert D. Kaplan. Random House, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-59104-4

A trip around the Adriatic Sea opens a window onto Europe’s evolving consciousness, argues this labyrinthine political travelogue. Foreign affairs analyst Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts) travels along the Adriatic coast from Italy through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece, visiting locales from Venice to Corfu, touring churches, ruminating on 3,000 years of history, conferring with intellectuals and perusing Dante, Ezra Pound, and other poets for clues to the region’s character. He contends that the area’s mash-up of cultures—East and West; Byzantine, Ottoman, and Hapsburg; Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Muslim—provides a promising model of “fluid and multiple” identities for a Europe inundated by migrants. Kaplan serves up his trademark mix of grand geopolitical themes and evocative sightseeing—“Ravenna is a Byzantine jewel of barrel-vaulted brick bearing all the subtle and complex hues of a dying autumn leaf”—in prose that brings to mind a freewheeling, movable seminar. Unfortunately, the resulting lessons tend toward trite truisms—“Europe must aspire to universal values, and yet be anchored to its local beliefs and cultures”—rather than substantive insights. This tour through modern Europe is more diverting than essential. (Apr.)