A panoramic cultural history of a fascinating place.



A deeply researched biography of a legendary city, beginning in prehistory.

For the past four decades, historian and documentary filmmaker Hughes (Research Fellow/King’s Coll. London; The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life, 2011, etc.) has had what she calls “a love affair” with Istanbul. Her fascination with the city inspired prodigious research as well as travels throughout the Arab world, Central Asia, and Europe as she engaged in “an archaeology of both place and culture” to chronicle the city’s evolution from Byzantium to Constantinople to Istanbul. Located on the Bosporus, the strait dividing Asia and Europe, in each iteration the city was the center of a coveted trade route, a strategic geopolitical nexus, and a religious mecca for “the world’s most tenacious theocracies,” most notably Sunni Islam. Hughes argues that the city’s development was fueled not only by commercial and political motivations, but also by humans’ “fundamental desire to share ideas.” Religion was prominent among those ideas: in the seventh century, “stakes in the religious game were being raised,” and tolerance among Jews, Christians, and Muslims broke down. Soon, leaders in Muslim territories and Christians in Constantinople engaged in “wars of propaganda and faith.” Power was another idea: commerce in the city included the trade in humans, both as sex slaves and to provide labor after devastating population loss caused by the Black Death in the 14th century. The slave trade flourished, with women “particularly active as dealers.” Many slaves became farm laborers, and the most appealing male and female slaves were pressed into household or harem service. The harem, meaning “sanctuary,” became a site where dynasties and alliances were nurtured. Hughes vividly details both the reality of the harem and its fantastical rendering by Western writers as a place of wonder, licentiousness, and sexual desire. The author’s history teems with individuals and events, sometimes overwhelming her usually lively narrative, especially once she focuses on the Ottoman Empire and its roiling succession of rulers.

A panoramic cultural history of a fascinating place.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-306-82584-2

Page Count: 856

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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