Interview: British author Neil Taylor on Estonian history ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Cover of the recently-published Estonian-language translation of Neil Taylor's
Cover of the recently-published Estonian-language translation of Neil Taylor's "Estonia: A Modern History". Source: Rahva Raamat

Author Neil Taylor, whose history of Estonia has recently been published in the Estonian language, gave a short interview to his publishers, which was reproduced on ERR's Kultuur portal. The English-language version of the book, a one-volume history of the country which focuses on the twentieth century and onwards, came out in 2018.

Neil, who previously authored the Bradt Travel series' Estonia volume, said that it had been high-time an English-language history of Estonia was written, since the last one had appeared in 1947.

Why do you think Estonia has always been a place of interest, and why is there such a great interest in Estonia to this day?

After regaining its independence, the state of Estonia state been consistently portrayed positively in the western media due to the restoration of its democracy, and protection of the economy and natural environment. Recently, Estonia's role in NATO has also been acknowledged.

What was the most difficult and challenging task in writing and publishing "Estonia: a Modern History" (Estonian: Eesti ajalugu)?

The most difficult period to write about fell between the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in March 1918 and the Tartu Peace Treaty of March 1920. This was the biggest challenge, as western readers generally have little knowledge of the eastern front in World War One, and how Estonia was able to win and preserve their independence.

We can probably assume that you are a big history fan. Which leader from European history, is your favorite and why?

[Latvian interwar prime minister] Karlis Ulmanis was probably the most benevolent, but at the same time most effective, dictator in Europe, largely shielding Latvia from the effects of the Great Depression while at the same time increasing agricultural and industrial production.

How similar do you think British and Estonian history is?

They really are completely different. The U.K. has been stable for about 950 years, Estonia only 30. The U.K. established a global empire, Estonia was under the control of various imperial powers.

Can you identify any points and lessons from the past which we can learn from?

No Russian regime can ever be trusted in its relations with Estonia. All past attempts to involve Russia have led only to surrender to Russia. Western alliances are, however, likely to be credible, as demonstrated by EU and NATO membership.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I like to read old travel books and travel guides. I also like to cook, and listen to 1960s-era music.

How does one become successful in your field? What is your secret formula, the key to success as a writer of books?

Writing should be taken gently, while respecting the readership, and not overloading them.

Interview originally given to Rahva raamat, who published the book in Estonian.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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