books about Turkey
Does anyone still read while traveling?

In the age of video games, Facebook, and Twitter, I expect that plenty of people are not reading books. However, the fact is that with e-reading devices like the Kindle, and Apple iPad consuming the written word is easier now than ever before.

For that reason I have created a growing books-about-Turkey list for those of you who are considering a trip. I have included books that are either about Turkey and/or written by Turkish authors. You will find links to Amazon for each book that is available.

I have not read all of these books about Turkey, but I own all of them (& plan to read them) and, therefore, can recommend them (see the disclaimer at the bottom of the post). As time passes I will include regular posts in which I review each of these books. For those already reviewed I have added a link at the end of the included mini-review.

NONFICTION:

HISTORY & POLITICS

Turkey what everyone needs to know Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know by Andrew Finkel
Finkel has been in Turkey for over 20 years and is well qualified to fulfill the challenging task the title of this book suggests. Published in 2012 this 189 page book does an excellent job giving an introduction to all the key issues in modern Turkey. He covers history, economics, politics, the military as well as Ergenekon, Cyprus, the Kurds, Armenia, the EU bid, role of women, and on and on. Click here for my review.
Crescent and star Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Steven Kinzer
Kinzer was the NYT correspondent and spoke with “everyone” in Turkey. Excellent read if you want a basic understanding of Turkey’s history, politics, and peoples. Kinzer clearly loved his time in Turkey and still keeps up with it today. Here is a recent article he published on Turkish politics and here is an older one on Cappadocia. Click here for my review and click here to read my interview with the author.
The New Turkey Chris Morris The New Turkey: The Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe by Chris Morris
Morris was a BBC correspondent who, much like Kinzer, connected the dots throughout the country and wrote an excellent and readable portrait of a country in transition. Although some of the book is necessarily a repeat of Kinzer and Mango, Morris adds his own flavor and includes much that is unique. Overall, an excellent addition to this genre. Click here for my review.
Ataturk Ataturk: The Biography of the founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango
Long but a must read if you want to understand Turkey and the Turks, which is impossible without knowing the founder. Click here for my review.
Turks todayThe Turks Today by Andrew Mango
Excellent resource and companion to Ataturk’s biography. Very helpful in understanding what happened after Ataturk died. This book needs an update even from its 2004 publication date, but, among other good qualities, it has an excellent review of the different political parties in Turkey and how they have developed since Atatürk.
Ottoman centuries cover Ottoman Centuries by Lord Kinross
Invaluable resource for this history although seems to be a bit Britain biased. Regardless, I could not put it down- fascinating personalities and narrative. Click here for my review.
osmans dream caroline finkel Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire by Caroline Finkel
Finkel uses the latest scholarship to paint a fascinating picture of the 600+ years of the Ottoman dynasty. Kinross does an excellent job with the material that was available at the time of his writing. However, the source material available to Ms. Finkel, especially in the Ottoman archives, means that she is able to paint a much fuller picture of the people and time. She does an excellent job of giving the Ottoman perception of themselves and their world. This is a must read for people who want to understand the Ottomans and, therefore, the Turks but who are not able to read the Ottoman sources.
Sons of conqs hugh pope Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World by Hugh Pope
This was an Economist Best Book of the Year, and I can see why. Pope covers all of the Turkic peoples from western China through Central Asia into Europe and even to America. He deals with their place in history as well as the role they are playing in current events. Having lived among many of these people I found his account accurate and very helpful for understanding the ties between them and their importance in the unfolding events in the world today. Click here to read my review, click here to watch my interview with Mr. Pope, and click here to see who won the free copy signed by the author.
The cyprus problemThe Cyprus Problem: What Everyone Needs to Know by James Ker-Lindsay
If you are interested in Cyprus but are unclear on its history and why it is divided and why they can’t “just all get along”, then this a great book for you to read. Ker-Lindsay does an excellent job of setting the context, detailing the history, describing the different interested parties, and explaining the complexities of the Cyprus Problem. I went from being ignorant on the subject to being able to engage with someone in a discussion about the sad state of affairs.
Click here to read my review.
Istanbul: The Imperial City by J. Freely
I am told this is a must read before visiting Istanbul. This is another I bought but have not read yet.

CAPPADOCIA

Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia by Steve Eckert
Everything you thought you knew about Cappadocian geology is wrong! Fortunately, Mr. Eckert has written this short book to educate us. Although he is a brilliant scientist, he is able to use simple language that allows non-geologists to grasp very complex ideas. Geologists do not understand everything about Cappadocia, but Mr. Eckert gives us the latest theories on the formation of Cappadocia’s unique landscape.
Click to see my review of Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia.
Cappadocia A Travel guide through the land of fairy chimneys and rock castles by oberheu and wadenpohl Cappadocia
by Susanne Oberheu and Michael Wadenpohl
Too long for the average tourist but no fluff. The problem is that Cappadocia has so much too see that the book has to be as long as it is. They cover everything well. The only downside is that the English translation is rather weak. I assume the book is excellent in its original German. Nonetheless, I recommend it and am using it as a guidebook to see everything in the region. Click here for my review.
Cappadocia PaintingsPainting in Cappadocia: A Guide to the Sites and Byzantine Church Decoration by Cecily Hennessy
Hennessy has done a great service to Cappadocia visitors with this concise work. She adroitly covers more churches and paintings than any tourist could ever see in one visit. The book includes pictures, maps, and detailed descriptions. I recommend taking it on your trip and using it as a guide for the various churches you enter.
Click here for my review.
Cave monasteriesCave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia
by Lyn Rodley
I was not able/willing to finish this one. This is not for the casual observer. She has some good insights, but this book is quite dry overall. This is more for the academics.


No bias when I say this is the best best on Cappadocia. It covers everything you will want and need for your visit including how to prepare, weather, transportation, hotels, restaurants, food, balloons, guides, tours, history, and on and on all for $9.99. You can learn more about it here. Click the link to learn about the $3.99 and $0.99 versions as well.

CULTURE/ANTHROPOLOGICAL

Once There Was Twice There Wasn t Nasreddin Hodja Once There Was, Twice There Wasn’t: Fifty Turkish Folktales of Nasreddin Hodja by Michael Shelton
This may seem like a strange category for this book, but I think this is one of the best books on the market for understanding Turkish culture and how to survive within it. At the same time these are wonderfully entertaining folktales for adults and children. You will not be disappointed with this book, I promise!
Told in coffee house turkish tales jpgTold in the Coffee House Turkish Tales by Allan Ramsay
This is an interesting set of tales that are similar to the Nasreddin Hodja stories mentioned above but have a clearly different spirit as they more firmly represent the time in which they were told. Ramsay sat in Ottoman Istanbul coffee houses at the end of the 19th century and listened to the stories told. He then translated them and put them in this book. As of this writing the Kindle edition is free, so what will it hurt to download it and give it a look.
Click to see my review of these tales.
Turkish alevis today Turkish Alevis Today by John Shindeldecker
Excellent resource for understanding this misunderstood segment of the Turkish population. I have Alevi friends and found this book very helpful in connecting with them on a deeper level. It provides many conversation topics. Plus this book is free as a PDF, just click on this link. Click here for my review and click here to see a video interview with the author.
Tradition and change in a turkish townTradition and Change in a Turkish Town (Schenkman Series on Socio-Economic Change)
by Paul J. Magnarella
Quite academic and not an easy read (or easy to find for that matter) but well worth it for the nuggets contained within. He gives a useful picture of the change Turkey has undergone over the last 50 years.Click to read our review.
Visible Islam in Modern TurkeyVisible Islam in Modern Turkey (Library of Philosophy and Religion)
by Adil Özdemir & Kenneth Frank
I am halfway through this one and finding it hard to stay motivated. The book is more about the ideal rather than the real. I have learned much about the practice of Islam in Turkey, or at least how it should be practiced.
Teach yourself turkishTeach Yourself Turkish
by David Pollard
I am still learning Turkish. This book is excellent for those who want to learn more than survival language. It comes with 16 excellent dialogues on CD as well.

REFLECTIVE/PERSONAL OR TRAVEL MEMOIR

Portrait Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga
Irfan Orga was born in 1908 into an aristocratic Ottoman family that loved and cared for each other. Everything changed with the Ottoman entry into WWI. The book is written as a series of memories that give a fascinating picture of Ottoman culture, family life, and the tragic consequences of war on a family and a nation. This book is a must read for those interested in Turkey as the experiences shared still impact and influence Turkey today.
Click to see our video review.
A fez of the heart A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat
by Jeremy Seal
Well-written memoir of one man’s journey through Turkey tracing the history of the fez. This is maybe the perfect book to read for the tourist who is not interested in digging into Turkish politics but wants an interesting book that will give a memorable picture of the history and culture of this amazing land and people. Click here for my review. To see a video interview with the author, Jeremy Seal, click here.
Meander by jeremy sealMeander by Jeremy Seal
Mr. Seal jumps in a canoe and heads down the legendary Meander river describing his experiences with modern Turks along the way while recounting the storied history of the river. All of this is done with expertise as he tries to make sense of Turkey’s place between East and West. A must read for those who love Turkey, adventure, and history.
Tales from the expat haremTales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey (Seal Women’s Travel) edited by Anastasia M. Ashman & Jennifer E. Gökmen
29 Expat women from all over the globe but having lived in Turkey recount anecdotes from their experiences. Some are married to Turkish men, some single; some spent decades in Turkey, some only a couple of years; some had wonderful experiences, some not so good; but all of their lives were forever touched. One story would give a very skewed view of this land, but taken altogether you will get as well-rounded a picture of Turkey as you will find anywhere.
Click to see a video review as told by three expat women living in Cappadocia as well as my review of the book.
Tea  bees milkTea and Bee’s Milk: Our Year in a Turkish Village by Karen & Ray Gilden
The Gildens spent a year living in a seaside village in the late 1990’s and retell their story in this small volume. The writing is decent and the stories are quaint. They give a good picture of Turkey at that time. It is almost unrecognizable today. I cannot recommend this book wholeheartedly, but I am sure it will be enjoyable to a certain crowd. I can see my grandmother really enjoying it, for instance. They could have done more at comparing that Turkey to the present day country as well as the historical settings and making connections. Instead they give stories about trying to get their washing machine to work and going out on a friend’s yacht and the difficulties of email with a 9600 dial up baud rate. They do have flashes of brilliance, but they are too few for me. If I did not live in Turkey and review books for this blog, I would not have finished the book.
Turkish reflectionsTurkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place
by Mary Lee Settle
Ms. Settle was in Turkey in the late 1970s and then returned around 1990 and circumscribed the country in search of a hidden Seljuk history. The title fits the book. This is a great read for people who were not in Turkey before the turn of the millennium. The Turkey she describes is hard to find at this point but understanding it is helpful for understanding how the Turks arrived at their current state of affairs. Click to see my review of the Turkish Reflections.
Istanbul memories and the cityIstanbul: Memories and the City
by Orhan Pamuk
As is clear from this list (keep reading), I am moving through Pamuk’s books. I have not read this one, but expect to soon. Honestly, my motivation is hurting having not spent more than a few days in Istanbul. I have no doubt that Pamuk uniquely describes this fascinating city.

SURVIVAL

Culture Smart Turkey Turkey – Culture Smart!: the essential guide to customs & culture
by Charlotte McPherson
Very helpful for the person who is planning on residing Turkey. Note that this is written by an American who has lived in Turkey for over 30 years. The next book is written by a Turk. You can decide who would know better what foreigners need. I read them both and found them both helpful, although a bit repetitive. I think you only need to pick one. Click here to read my review.
Culture Shock Turkey Culture Shock! Turkey: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette
by Arın Bayraktaroğlu
See above. Although both of these are also helpful for the tourist, they cover much more than the average tourist will face. Also, their style makes the information quite forgettable if it is not being put to use on a regular basis. Click here to read my review.
Handbook for living in turkeyA Handbook for Living in Turkey
by Pat Yale
As the title states this book is to be used more as a reference guide. I have used it to check on a number of issues I have faced while living here. I highly recommend it if you are living in Turkey or considering it. Pat Yale lived in Cappadocia for many years and is now in Istanbul.

ISLAM

Islam & the WestIslam and the West
by Bernard Lewis
These three Lewis books are still unread on my shelf, a fact which I am ashamed to admit. Lewis is definitely a must-read author for those living among Muslims. One may not agree with his perspective, but he must be acknowledged.
Crisis of IslamThe Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror
by Bernard Lewis
I have listened to PhD students say that most of Lewis’ perspective is out of favor with academics. Having not read these books yet, I am not sure what to think of that. His titles are definitely attention grabbers.
What Went Wrong?What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East
by Bernard Lewis
At first glance this gap only seems to be widening. I really need to read these books.

FICTION:

Birds Without Wings Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
Wow! Great book. Set in a village in southwest Turkey during the 30 years covering the turn of the century through WWI and the forming of the Republic of Turkey, this novel follows the lives of the villagers as told from their perspective. Learn about their struggles and victories, their dreams, their sins and their love all while coming to a deeper understanding of the world that made Turkey what it is today. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Click to read my review.
Memed my hawkMemed, My Hawk by Yashar Kemal
Great novel. Set in the mountain villages of the southeast, the reader gets an excellent picture of injustice and hope for the average peasant. I am reminded of the American wild west, a more melancholy version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
They burn the thistlesThey Burn the Thistles (New York Review Books) by Yashar Kemal

An excellent follow-up to the above mentioned saga. I thought he went a bit overboard on the communist ideal, but the story was gripping.
White castle The White Castle: A Novel by Orhan Pamuk
How different are the East and the West? Pamuk explores this idea through the lives of an Italian slave and his look-alike Ottoman master. Click here for my review.

Snow Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Extremely dark and depressing. I gave this one to my dad and he did not finish it. However, for those who like Pamuk, he does not disappoint here. I found it helpful in understanding the complex issues surrounding Turkey, secularism, and Islam as embodied in the headscarf issue. A friend of mine from Van told me that the book is true to Van, Pamuk’s birthplace. He said one needs to read Pamuk’s books a few times to understand them.
My name is redMy Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Another look at East and West, this time through the eyes of Ottoman artists, with a love story thrown in for good measure. This one is a bit raunchy at times. I had not understood the issues about Islam and portraiture before reading this.
Black book by orhan pamukThe Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
The search for identity in the Turkish mind. Galip’s wife and journalist cousin have disappeared. He begins searching for them in classic detective style but the story quickly moves into a journey of the mind as he struggles with the idea of “being yourself”. Is it possible? The story chapters seesaw between seemingly random newspaper columns (but the reader must assume they hold clues to the mystery) and continuing the account of Galip’s journey. The reader is reminded of Odysseus trying to return to Greece. Pamuk gives away his secular humanist leanings in all of his books as pessimism is the only outcome of that philosophy and the overwhelming feeling words that describe his books are dark, depressing, heavy, and pessimistic. The translator’s note in my edition was worth the price of the book. She gives excellent insight into the process of translating a novel.
Janissary tree  jason goodwin The Janissary Tree: A Novel by Jason Goodwin
Yashim the eunuch serves the sultan as a detective in the Ottoman Empire in the 1830s. Reform is happening and not everyone is happy. The Janissaries were suppressed 10 years ago. 4 soldiers of the New Guard are missing and the Valide Sultan’s (mother of Sultan) jewels are missing. What does it all mean? Who is behind it? Yashim only has 10 days to figure it out. Learn about the life, food, intrigue, and culture of the Ottomans through the eyes of this extraordinary eunuch who hobnobs with people from all walks of life.
Click to see my review.
Goodwin has also written other “Yashim mysteries” and a history of the Ottoman Empire as well.
40 rules of love 40The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak
Follow the 13th century bromance between the wondering dervish, Shams of Tabriz, and the famous Konya preacher, Rumi, and the impact their story has on Ella, an unhappy and loveless going-through-the-motions American, Jewish housewife. In the process we learn about the 40 Rules of Love which may or may not fit your notions of the concept. Regardless, both your heart and your mind will be engaged, and I expect that you will not be able to avoid the inevitable questions about the decisions you have made and the path of your own journey.
Click to read my review of 40 Rules.
Bastard of istanbul 40The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Şafak
This novel was quite controversial upon it publication in the early 2000’s even landing Ms. Shafak in a Turkish court for “insulting Turkishness” (the case was thrown out). An American woman married an Armenian man and had a daughter. His family never accepted her, and they divorced. She then married a Turkish man studying in America. The Turkish man’s family of women (no men) is in Istanbul. His niece is the same age as his step daughter but the two girls live very different lives. What happens when this Turkish girl and this Armenian girl, connected by their stepdad/uncle, meet in Istanbul? Think about the Turkish – Armenian relationship through the lives of these two young women. The fact that this story was written by a Turk is what makes this book so important.
Click to read my review of The Bastard of Istanbul.
Flea palace 40The Flea Palace by Elif Shafak
Have you ever driven by a big city apartment building and wondered about the residents? Shafak delves into the lives, relationships, and identities, and history of an Istanbul building and its tenants. But this is not some docudrama. What is reality? In today’s mega-cities what is real life? What have we become? Honestly, I still have no idea what the point of this novel is, and I cannot say I really enjoyed it, but I have greatly enjoyed thinking about it. I feel like the characters are still in my head asking me questions and forcing me figure it out. If you get it, feel free to leave your opinion.
Click to read my review of The Flea Palace.
The Visitor by Peter Pikkert The Visitor: A Stranger, A Message, A Clash of Cultures by Peter Pikkert
The glum story of a Christian itinerant missionary trying to reach the Kurds of southeast Turkey. The chapters read like a ping-pong ball bouncing back and forth between a young Kurdish man opening up to new ideas and a middle-aged “missionary” seeking out those whom “God is calling”. Overall, it is a very depressing read. The missionary is sort of “successful”, but the reader is left with a dispirited notion. Click here for my review.
Once There Was Twice There Wasn t Nasreddin Hodja Once There Was, Twice There Wasn’t: Fifty Turkish Folktales of Nasreddin Hodja by Michael Shelton
See what I wrote in the Culture/Anthropology section above.

A Deceit to Die For by Luke Montgomery A Deceit to Die For by Luke Montgomery
An ancient Muslim conspiracy, a group trying to regain Ottoman glory, Islamic terrorists bent on breaking the West, an unsuspecting family caught in the middle- come along for a wild ride and deal with complex Muslim-Christian, East-West issues along the way.
Click here for my review.

PODCASTS on iTUNES:

12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire (or click here) by Mr. Lars Brownworth
(Search it in the iTunes store; excellent and very entertaining history in audio format.) – I found these to be fascinating and cannot recommend them highly enough. If you have any kind of commute, these will make it speed by whether you are interested in Turkey or not. I wish my high school US history professor had been as interesting as Mr. Brownworth.

Ottoman History Podcast
Georgetown PhD students put on this regularly updated podcast covering everything from general history to camels in America to yogurt to American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire. For those of you who are geeks like me, this is worth listening to. For most of you, this will not be a desirable way to spend your time.

Now, I need you to do three things:
1. Tell us which books about Turkey are missing.
2. Comment on any of the above books you have read.
3. Pick a(nother) book and read it and come back and give us your thoughts.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, here’s what you can do. Please share this post with your friends by clicking on one of the buttons below or to the side. Also, you may want to subscribe to these posts. Click here and follow the instructions. One of my goals is to help people who will visit Cappadocia. This is your way to help me meet this goal. Thank you, I am grateful.

Duke Dillard moved to Turkey with his wife and 6 children in 2007. He got an MBA at Bilkent University in Ankara, where they had their 7th child. After 4 years in Ankara the whole family moved to Cappadocia, and this blog was born. We love Cappadocia and Cappadocians and want to help visitors make the most of their time here. You can connect with Duke on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and/or link circles on Google+. Click here to read more about Duke and his family.


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.”