LORDS OF THE HORIZONS by Jason Goodwin

LORDS OF THE HORIZONS

A History of the Ottoman Empire

KIRKUS REVIEW

A delightfully picaresque history, brimming with memorable anecdotes and outrageous personalities. English travel writer Goodwin (A Cup of Tea: Travels Through China and India in Search of Tea, 1991) guides us on a highly impressionistic journey. We begin in the foothills of Turkey, where the Ottoman Turks revered the horse and reveled in making war. (They also helped to destroy the Christian crusaders of the 14th century.) The Ottomans were Sunni Muslims, relatively tolerant of religious diversity. In 1453, under Sultan Mehmet, they seized Constantinople, making it their capital. Goodwin writes brilliantly about the siege of that Byzantine city, describing its complex defensive fortifications and how Mehmet breached them with a revolutionary weapon, the cannon. Under Suleyman the Magnificent, Ottoman power reached its zenith. Suleyman’s army overran Belgrade in 1521 and later assaulted Vienna. Finally, the European powers united to stop the “infidel” Ottoman onslaught. In 1571, the Ottomans suffered their first major defeat at the Battle of Lepanto. Nevertheless, they consolidated their power in the Balkans, Egypt, Persia, Russia, and all over Central Asia. Goodwin argues convincingly that the key to Ottoman success, besides an obvious skill at war, was their open-mindedness regarding cultures and institutions: The Ottoman umbrella made room for Spanish Jews, Orthodox Greeks, Venetian merchants, Albanian tribesmen, Arab bedouins, and others. With the coming of the industrial revolution in Europe, however, the Ottomans fell behind. Palace intrigues, factional rivalries, military disloyalty, and nationalist rebellions in Greece and Egypt combined to sap the empire of its strength. Yet it survived, miraculously, into the 20th century, like some crazy old aunt locked in the attic. Throughout, Goodwin relishes the exotic, the bizarre, the picturesque. In explaining the decline of Ottoman military virtue, he cites Sultan Ibrahim, who overindulged in drink and the harem, where he “rode his girls like horses through rooms lined in fur.” An elegantly written, thoroughly entertaining work of popular history. (25 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-4081-1
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999




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