by James Waterson
Stroud, Eng.: The History Press / Chicago: Trafalgar Square, 2016. Pp. 256.
Illus., maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 075096488X
The Life and Times of Vlad the Impaler
The author of a number of books on Islamic, Middle Eastern, and Chinese history, gives us not a biography of Vlad III Dracula (c. 1430-c. 1478), but rather a history of the Balkans from about the mid-thirteenth century through the late fifteenth, setting the stage for Vlad’s life and career as Prince of Wallachia, a post he attained three times, being twice ousted, as well as the fallout from his reign. So Waterson fills us in on a lot of background about Ottoman, Slav, Byzantine, Hungarian, western European, and Mongol history, including various religious movements, the occasional plague, a lot of dynastic genealogy, and the “convoluted politics of one of the world’s historically most unstable regions.
Waterson only gets to Vlad about a third of the way through the text. And when he does, while not white washing the man, argues that despite his reputation, aside from a penchant for mass impalement, Vlad was more or less about as treacherous and brutal as many of the other rulers of that day and place, such as the Mongol Timur or the Ottoman Mohammed II, although not nearly as able, nor as successful.
Waterson follows the circumstances and consequences of Vlad’s death with an overview of events in the Balkans to the present, parts of which quickly confirmed the region’s reputation for instability with the disintegration of Yugoslavia, reminding us that it is a place where the past is still very much alive, a problem in some other parts of the world as well. Waterson ends the book with some interesting insights into the rise of the Dracula legend.
This is a good introduction to the history of the Balkans, and will appeal to many Dracula buffs.