Book Review: The Hidden Europe – What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us

Kanonia Place, Warsaw, Poland

It is no secret I have a thing for Eastern Europe – why else would I spend a month in Ukraine in the dead of winter freezing my butt off, right? So when I heard about Francis Tapon’s new book, The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us, I immediately emailed him and begged for an advance copy to review. Lucky for me, he obliged.

Not only did The Hidden Europe make for perfect reading material as I cruised across the Black Sea, ending the Eastern European phase of my trip, it left me itching to head back at the next opportunity.

While I have explored a lot of Eastern Europe since last fall, I barely scratched the surface compared to Tapon, who spent five months traveling through Eastern Europe in 2004 and returned in 2008 to spend three years exploring the region again.

Tapon defines Eastern Europe broadly and geographically (rather than politically) to include 25 countries altogether.

So by his terms, Eastern Europe includes not just former Soviet bloc countries like Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics and the former Yugoslav nations. It also includes Finland, Greece and Turkey – three countries that I doubt anyone would typically consider to be in Eastern Europe.

While a book with 25 chapters about 25 countries may seem to be overkill, Tapon makes it work well.

With one chapter for each country, there isn’t a need to sit down and read it all together. If you are interested in just a few countries or gearing up for a trip, you can easily just skip to what interests you. That said, I personally recommend devouring it cover to cover. It flows nicely from chapter to chapter and if you don’t read it all, you might just miss something fascinating.

Having recently visited many of the countries featured in the book – the Baltics, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Moldova – I found myself nodding along with many of Tapon’s observations. For example, the following passage about the impact of World War II on Belarus was right on point:

“Let’s imagine what happened to Belarus in WWII happened to America. Imagine 100 million Americans dead – that every third person you know is dead. Imagine that most of our industry in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Silicon Valley obliterated. Imagine nearly three-fourths of our cities in ruin, including New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta…Imagine Washington, D.C. completely flattened: the Washington Monument toppled, the US Capitol Building without a stone standing, the Lincoln Memorial a pile of rubble, and the White House a charred and burning mess.

Now imagine what kind of psychological trauma that would have on the generation trying to rebuild…”

Tapon weaves personal experiences almost seamlessly together with various historical facts and statistical figures that support the lessons of each chapter.

Because he shares stories from both his first trip and his later visits, occasional confusion ensues, but not so often that it detracts in any way from the message. In The Hidden Europe, you’ll unravel a plethora of myths surrounding Eastern Europe, many of which you probably weren’t familiar with in the first place. And you’ll learn everything from why Lithuanians are so proud of their country’s history to why Hungarians still think they got screwed after World War I to why everyone should want to marry a Croatian.

And if you’re like me, you’ll finish The Hidden Europe and want to hop on the next flight to Croatia or Hungary or one of the other 23 countries that comprise Eastern Europe.

The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us is available now on Amazon in hard cover and for your Kindle:

*Disclaimer: The above are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission on each sale.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hidden Europe – What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us”

  1. I am about half way done with the book. I am reading each country on the train on my way there, so it will take me some time. I liked his earlier chapters – thought the Baltics were good. He lost me on Hungary though – way too much time talking about the treaty. I also wish he spent more time talking about what he is seeing and experiencing rather than on the linguistics, which, although interesting, seem almost off point. Perhaps I will leave another reply when I finish it, although I won’t make it to all 25 countries . . .

  2. Glad you liked it, Katie. I thought it was an awful book. Not often I’d be so bold, but it was bad, bad, bad. So full of awful generalizations. Had the feeling that Monsieur Tapon barely skimmed the surface of the places he visited. It’s this sort of stuff that most travelers can do without.

    1. Interesting, I appreciate your honesty. I agree it had plenty of generalizations, but having just recently visited many of the same places, I found many of those generalizations rang true to me. I looked at it as a book to intrigue and inspire people to want to check out Eastern Europe for themselves and I felt it did that.

    2. Leon, I’m sorry you didn’t like my book. As I explained in the introduction, when you want to describe a people, you must generalize. Sure, you can say that there are all types of people everywhere, but you don’t have to be Marco Polo to realize that Italians and Germans are different.

      To describe them, you need to generalize. Since you feel my generalizations were inaccurate, could you explain how and why they are inaccurate and what generalizations you would say instead.

      Similarly, since I just “skimmed the surface” in my 3 years of travel there, can you enlighten us with your profound insights that I missed?

      I suspect you won’t give a practical or useful answers. As Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain. And most fools do.”

  3. Katie, thanks for this. I always like discovering new travel books. Like you I’m passionate about Europe but I especially love the authentic and unique aspect of Eastern Europe. It’s truly beautiful and many parts still untouched. I’ve now put this on my list of travel books to read!

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