Turkey: A Short History

Reviewed on , book by Norman Stone

Painted a decent picture of the origins of the Ottoman Empire and its later demise. However, it certainly does not do this in a particularly entertaining way. It was a bit of a slog. What got me through it was the shortness of it (~190 pages), and the desire of building context for an impending trip to Istanbul (although wishing I would’ve found another resource 90 pages in, but, sunk cost. 🚢)

The Ottoman empire is one of the most successful in history spanning about 500 years. The modern Turks came as nomadic tribes from Central Asia. There is much evidence of this, one being that many of the languages spoken in that region such as Azerbaijan, Kazaksthan, Siberia, and Western China all speak a variant of Turkic. One of the most spectacular palaces in Istanbul has small rooms compared to other palaces and is essentially a marble nomadic camp if you squint. Most of European history I’ve been taught in school has been viewed through the Northern European lense. It was quite interesting to see it through the Ottoman. It rose after the Byzantine empire (one of the longest-lived empires in history, about 1000 years) when Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Turks. When digging into the history of the Ottomans, the cultural connection between many modern Arab countries and the Balkans becomes quite clear.

There are many interesting facts scattered throughout the book, but the author certainly suffers from the curse of knowledge explaining it. The way it’s written is extremely non-memorable, you really have to put the effort in to discern the facts and attempt to make them stick. If you didn’t take your own notes and spent a lot of time with them or converted them into flash cards, I’d be impressed if you’d remember much. That’s not the trait of a good book.