Serbia is a difficult country to understand at the best of times, so anyone hoping to get a handle on it is well-advised to do plenty of reading ahead of time. There are many questionable books about the state, but trust us — these are the ones to pay attention to.
Rebecca West’s 1941 epic stands tall over all travel writing in what was once Yugoslavia, which should tell you how impressive the 1,000+ page tome is. West spent six weeks travelling the entire region prior to World War II with her husband and a Serbian politician in tow, putting together an inspired mix of literature, philosophy, and humour along the way. The term “must-read” might be a little overplayed, but it fits perfectly here.
Most books about Serbia focus on the tumultuous history and more troubling elements within it, but Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad decided to target the country from a different angle. The lives of ordinary Serbs are the focus of this excellent 2004 book, and as such it provides a fascinating insight into the mindset of a misunderstood people.
Tim Judah is largely considered to be the most authoritative modern voice on Serbia, and the English reporter has written many books about the state of the nation. He doesn’t seem to be particularly enthralled by the people, but his 1997 history of Serbia still stands up as a useful window into the many centuries of tempestuousness.
Something a little bit different, Emma Fick travelled Serbia and spent many an hour doodling away in cafes, picking up some of the quirky nuances of the Serbs along the way. Snippets of Serbia covers the nation from north to south and everywhere in between, with comments from Fick accentuating the delightful illustrations.
Miloš Črnjanski is widely regarded as one of the great Serbian writers, and his historical novel on the many migrations of his people is undoubtedly his finest literary achievement. The love triangle within the story helps even the most history-phobic of readers get hooked, and the overriding neurosis of it all will appeal to more cynical bookworms.
The Serbs are one of the many peoples celebrated in this 2017 epic, a book that sings the praises of the scientists, artists, warriors and more who made the Slavic nations great. Nikola Tesla, Mihajlo Pupin, Vuk Karadžić and a whole lot more see their names up in the lights in a book that adds weight to the belief that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Well, you shouldn’t judge a book by its title.
There have been countless books written about the death of Yugoslavia that place 100% of the blame squarely at the feet of the Serbs, but what about the influence of geopolitics on that collapse of the socialist state? Hugely respected scholar Michael Parenti delves deep into the issue here, taking no prisoners along the way.
It might not have the sensationalist style of Parenti’s book, but Diana Johnstone’s coverage of NATO’s bombing of Serbia (then Yugoslavia) in 1999 is the definitive book on the subject. Johnstone rips apart the humanitarian bombing fallacy with aplomb, leaving readers in no confusion regarding the reasons behind the aggression.
The role of Slobodan Milošević in ripping Yugoslavia apart has never been in doubt, but The Hague tribunal lost all credibility when it came to trying the former Serbian leader. What should have been an open-and-shut case was rendered pointless through shady witnesses and questionable tactics. Travesty is the definitive reading of this famously bungled case.
Misha Glenny is another widely respected voice on the history and politics of the Balkans, and this humongous book has become the go-to tome for many looking for a historical background of the wider region. Glenny’s book covers the entire region, but Serbia’s size and influence mean it pops up almost constantly throughout.