Part 1: THOUGHTS/IMPRESSIONS
Great book! I never learned about Ottoman or Byzantine history in school so this book was a revelation filling in huge gaps in my formal education. Actually, if a history teacher had made me read this book, I am sure I would have hated it, so I was probably better off waiting until I had a personal interest in learning about the subject.
This book is long (622 pages) and Kinross has a clear British bias, but I did not find that it detracted from the account. Traveling around Turkey and the Balkans has become even more meaningful now that I have a better grasp of the events of the last 600 years. Many of the places that bear little, if any, significance for western Europe and America played an integral role in the life of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. I owe Kinross a debt of gratitude for beginning to fill in these gaps.
As a follower of Jesus, a Christian, I was most saddened by the accounts of the “Christian” peoples of many of the Balkan states happily converting to Islam to be rid of their corrupt “Christian” leaders. The reality is that Christianity in Europe had become a cultural religion that had very little to do with the relationship with God into which Jesus called His followers. The Ottoman Empire served (much like Babylon to the Jews) as a wake-up call as to how far the Christians had separated themselves from Christ. Unfortunately, in my opinion, most of the leaders did not get the message.
Part 2: DETAILS
Starting with Ertoghrul, Osman’s father, Kinross takes his reader through the key events of the 35 Sultans (Osman and Ertoghrul do not count) of the Ottoman empire enduring from 1288 AD to the close of WWI.
The empire grew for the first 10 sultans (almost 300 years) reaching its climax with Suleiman I “The Magnificent”. At this point, however, Osman’s (the Ottoman namesake) blood seems to have run its course, as the slow decline of the Ottomans began with Suleiman’s son, Selim “The Sot” in 1566-67.
We learn about the gruesome practice of fratricide in which the new sultan would have his brothers killed to guarantee no rivals to his throne. Although started by Bayezid I (1388) it was actually formally legalized by Mehmed II “The Conqueror” in 1451 (named the Conqueror for defeating Constantinople/Istanbul).
Kinross divides his work into seven parts as follows:
Part I: Dawn of Empire
Part II: The New Byzantium
Part III: Zenith of Empire
Part IV: Seeds of Decline
Part V: Russian Rivalry
Part VI: The Age of Reform
Part VII: The Last of the Sultans
Through these sections the reader sees in great detail the significant events and people that shaped three continents for over 600 years. At one point the Ottoman Empire was the preeminent dynasty in the world far ahead of Europe. But over time they went the way of all successful empires, becoming lazy, arrogant, and set in their ways. Add to this their closed attitude towards outside, non-Muslim progress and their fall was inevitable. Their last hundred years was a mirage as the “Great Powers” of Europe kept them standing in order to maintain a healthy balance of power among themselves. However, the “Sick Man of Europe” (what the other European powers called the Ottoman Empire) chose the wrong side in WWI marking its end.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Besides this book can you recommend other books covering the Ottomans?
When I first reviewed this book I chose the five commenters and gave them each a copy. To see the five winners of The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire by Lord Kinross click here.
For those interested here are other posts reviewing Turkey-related books:
The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk
Crescent and Star by Stephen Kinzer
Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango
29 Books Related to Turkey: A Reading List
Disclosure of Material Connection: Most of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”