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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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