A Modern History

July 2020 9781787383371 296pp


With only 1.3 million inhabitants, Estonia is one of Europe’s least populous nations—yet it boasts one of the continent’s fastest growing economies. In the first serious English-language history of this small Baltic state, Neil Taylor charts Estonia’s long, arduous journey to its present-day prosperity, through a thousand years of occupation by Danes, Swedes, Germans and Russians.

In the wake of the First World War, out of the heat of a national awakening and the collapse of the Russian and German empires, Estonia was recognised as an independent nation in 1920. This was not to last—the country was tossed between the Soviets and Nazis during the Second World War, then fully integrated into the USSR, bringing on more than half a century of renewed occupation and misery. But hopes of true independence never dimmed and, in 1991, the Republic of Estonia was restored.

This unflinching history includes charming moments of colour and levity, from ambassadorial reports on nude bathing and a presidential press conference deliberately held beside a dirty toilet, to the story of a blind pianist, the first foreigner allowed to visit the city of Tartu in the Soviet era.


‘An elegant, informative account of modern Estonia, a country that has emerged into the light after centuries of foreign dominance under Swedes, Russians, Germans and Russians again. It is a tour de force, and a must-read.’ — Robert Service, author of A History of Modern Russia

‘This timely and gripping narrative guides us through Estonia’s rich history: its centuries under foreign control and its dramatic struggles for independence. Neil Taylor wears his erudition lightly, interlacing nuanced history with great insight into leading personalitiesand humour. A treat for historians and travellers to Estonia alike.’ — Adrian Bridge, The Telegraph

‘A rare treat. Elegant and concise, Taylor fills a gap in English-language history by telling the complicated story of the fate of a nation. Thanks to his attention to detail and extensive research, British and Estonian readers alike will enjoy the book’s many colourful and little-known anecdotes.’ — Ambassador Kaja Tael, Permanent Representative of Estonia to the EU

‘A history of Estonia which, while highly sympathetic, is not afraid to be justly critical. It is indispensable for anyone wanting to understand Estonia’s struggle for independence, and why the country is becoming the world’s first digitised society.’ — Peter Duncan, Senior Lecturer in Russian Politics and Society, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies


Neil Taylor has spent most of his life in the travel business and pioneered tourism to Estonia in 1992. His Bradt Travel Guide to Estonia, now in its seventh edition, remains the definitive guidebook to the country. He divides his time between London and Tallinn.   

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