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My friend Yalçın Vehit recommended this book to me a couple of years ago, and he was absolutely right; it is a fascinating history of a fascinating city. After the first chapter, which describes the immediate aftermath of its conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, the first half of the book looks at various aspects of the city's life - religion, hammams, the role of the vizier and the dragoman - and then the second half is an entertainingly meandering narrative of events from 1700 to the twentieth century. I have worked a lot on various former fringes of the Ottoman empire, and of course am following the Byzantine era via Gibbon, but this was the first book I have read about the empire as a whole. While it lasted, it was a fascinating and diverse multilingual society; though probably doomed from the moment that nationalism became a political paradigm among its peoples, the Ottoman Empire still survived Allied occupation of its capital and outlasted the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires by several years.

Apparently one of the problems for a historian of the Ottoman Empire is that there is too much source material - all in Ottoman Turkish, which is written in the Arabic script abandoned almost a century ago and has many loan words from Persian no longer used by Turks. It's not awfully clear that Mansell used much of this primary material, but he has done a thorough job on other sources, including contemporary memoirs by foreign visitors and, for the later period, local colour from novels by the city's inhabitants. (Though he has much less to say about the rest of the empire, noticeably pulling his punches on the Armenian genocide.) It adds up to a compelling and informative read.

Comments

surliminal
Sep. 27th, 2011 05:55 pm (UTC)
Ah this is the book the Anglican vicar on my Turkish gulet was reading! small world..

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