Paul Robert Magocsi, a professor of history and political science at the University of Toronto and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academies of Arts, Humanities, and Sciences, has long distinguished himself for his works on Eastern Europe, especially the Trans-Carpathian region and those peoples who find themselves there--Ukrainians especially. He is a prolific scholar whose work is widely hailed for its superlative quality. One of the many distinguishing and welcome features of his works are the maps, the usefulness of which it is hard to overstate. As I tell my students, before we all had cellphones and GPS devices, we used to use these things called "maps" and even, if you were really old, compasses also. I still use maps extensively in my courses because you simply cannot understand much of history, especially religious history, until you understand the geography. This is perhaps more acutely true in the case of Eastern Christianity than anything.
Among the many books that Magocsi has published, I was given this summer his
Ukraine: An Illustrated History (U. Toronto Press, 2007), x+336pp.
It is lucidly written and lavishly illustrated. It would be an excellent introductory text to those interested in Ukraine--undergraduates and general readers alike. Reading it, I was brought back to remembering the absolutely wonderful summer of 2001 that I spent in Ukraine, an unforgettable experience teaching, meeting people who would change my life (the Archpriest Robert Anderson, and the Mitrophoric Archpriest Roman Galadza, who persuaded me to go and was my guide while we were there), and seeing a country of such startling contrasts: enormous beauty, especially in Galicia where the Habsburg influence was obvious, and yet enormous poverty. As I said many times upon returning, I did not expect to find the Third World in the heart of Europe. And yet it was there thanks, as Fr. Roman put it, to the fact that the Soviets spent all their money on bombs and none of it on infrastructure or the people. Nonetheless, in Pochaev and the Kyivan Caves Monastery especially--as well as many of the other churches and monasteries of Kyiv--it is very easy to see why Dostoevsky famously exclaimed that beauty would save the world. I would go back to Ukraine in an instant.