The best books for understanding the Ottoman Empire and the world

Who am I?

Emrah Sahin is a specialist in the history of religious interactions and international operations in Islam and Muslim-Christian relations. He received a Ph.D. from McGill University, a Social Science and Humanities Research Award from Canada, the Sabancı International Research Award from Turkey, and the Teacher of the Year Award from the University of Florida. He is currently with the University of Florida as a board member in Global Islamic Studies, an affiliate in History, a lecturer in European Studies, a college-wide advisor, and the coordinator of the federal Global Officer program.


I wrote...

Faithful Encounters: Authorities and American Missionaries in the Ottoman Empire

By Emrah Sahin,

Book cover of Faithful Encounters: Authorities and American Missionaries in the Ottoman Empire

What is my book about?

Faithful Encounters is a book about how Turkish Muslim authorities reacted to American Christian missionaries operating in the lands from Greece to Syria. The context covers decades around 1900 and the characters feature the imperial officials managing these lands from Istanbul, local agents carrying out the imperial orders, and the missionaries operating schools, presses, and hospitals in local areas. Addressing imperial ministries, security forces, and local petitions in comparison to international reports and collections, the book focuses on the policies adopted by statesmen to mitigate missionary operations. Faithful Encounters is a lesson about a failing mission in a failing empire, bearing stunning relevance to the looming religious and ethnic crises of today.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State

Emrah Sahin Why did I love this book?

Kafadar’s classic is a compelling prose unraveling the sources and fundamentals of the Ottoman state. It helps navigate the state’s existentialist search for order between Europe and the Orient. I like this book also because it comes from a culturally versed author well trained in multiple countries, disciplines, and traditions. Its focus on early conversations makes it one of my top picks in the Ottoman Empire and the Wider World.

By Cemal Kafadar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between Two Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This text analyzes medieval as well as modern historiography from the perspective of a cultural historian, demonstrating how ethnic, tribal, linguistic, religious and political affiliations were all at play in the struggle for power in Anatolia and the Balkans during the late Middle Ages. This examination of the rise of the Ottoman Empire - the longest-lived political entity in human history - shows the transformation of a tiny frontier enterprise into a centralized imperial state that saw itself as both leader of the world's Muslims and heir to the Eastern Roman Empire.


Book cover of The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It

Emrah Sahin Why did I love this book?

This archive-powered gem is about moments when people and things moved between Europe and the Middle East not harder than today. From Islamic laws to foreign affairs, slaves to pilgrims, archival sources to further study, it is for readers to observe the trees without losing sight of the Ottoman forestry. 

By Suraiya Faroqhi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Islamic law the world was made up of the House of Islam and the House of War with the Ottoman Sultan - the perceived successor to the Caliphs - supreme ruler of the Islamic world. However, Suraiya Faroqhi demonstrates that there was no iron curtain between the Ottoman and other worlds but rather a long-established network of diplomatic, financial, cultural and religious connections. These extended to the empires of Asia and the modern states of Europe. Faroqhi's book is based on a huge study of original and early modern sources, including diplomatic records, travel and geographical writing, as well…


Book cover of The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State

Emrah Sahin Why did I love this book?

Politicization of Islam is a tour de force of the late Ottoman landscape wherein religions became politics in reaction to perceptions and interventions made by Europeans (British, French, and Russian). I enjoy this book because it is an authentic and non-orientalist look at the roots of the Islamist lifeworld.

By Kemal H. Karpat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Politicization of Islam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Combining international and domestic perspectives, this book analyzes the transformation of the Ottoman Empire over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It views privatization of state lands and the increase of domestic and foreign trade as key factors in the rise of a Muslim middle class, which, increasingly aware of its economic interests and communal roots, then attempted to reshape the government to reflect its ideals.


Book cover of Between the Ottomans and the Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908-1925

Emrah Sahin Why did I love this book?

Connecting nation, migration, and narration, Stacy’s debut is a corrective to what we know about Arabs in the Americas at a time when their homeland transitioned from the Ottoman regime to the European mandate. It strikes with global strokes and fine details whether it is about women at a Brooklyn factory, a French consulate spy chasing an anti-German diplomat-turned-traitor, or some mysteriously disappearing witnesses on sight.

By Stacy D. Fahrenthold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Between the Ottomans and the Entente as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since 2011 over 5.6 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and beyond, and another 6.6 million are internally displaced. The contemporary flight of Syrian refugees comes one century after the region's formative experience with massive upheaval, displacement, and geopolitical intervention: the First World War.

In this book, Stacy Fahrenthold examines the politics of Syrian and Lebanese migration around the period of the First World War. Some half million Arab migrants, nearly all still subjects of the Ottoman Empire, lived in a diaspora concentrated in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. They faced new demands for their political loyalty…


Book cover of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present

Emrah Sahin Why did I love this book?

Threading provocative arguments and creative narrations, this book is an outline and an inspiration to learn about US engagement with the Middle East since the Ottoman ages. My students loved it in uncommon read seminars, eventually appreciating our species produced a transatlantic history that is engaging and more entangled with the Middle East than it came to be imagined to this day. 

By Michael B. Oren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Power, Faith, and Fantasy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This best-selling history is the first fully comprehensive history of America's involvement in the Middle East from George Washington to George W. Bush. As Niall Ferguson writes, "If you think America's entanglement in the Middle East began with Roosevelt and Truman, Michael Oren's deeply researched and brilliantly written history will be a revelation to you, as it was to me. With its cast of fascinating characters-earnest missionaries, maverick converts, wide-eyed tourists, and even a nineteenth-century George Bush-Power, Faith, and Fantasy is not only a terrific read, it is also proof that you don't really understand an issue until you know…


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By Bruce Tate,

Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

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What is my book about?

The plan was insane. The trap seemed to snap shut on Bruce and Maggie Tate, an isolation forced on them by the pandemic and America's growing political factionalism. Something had to change.

Maggie's surprising answer: buy a boat, learn to pilot it, and embark on the Great Loop. With no experience, and knowing little about seafaring, diesel motors, or navigation, Maggie, Bruce, and the family dog decided to take on the six-thousand-mile journey down inland rivers, around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and across the Great Lakes. They would have to navigate canals, rivers, seas, and locks. But along the way, they made new lifelong friends and were forever changed.

For nine months, Bruce and Maggie navigated shallow rivers, bottomless lakes, joy, and loss. Against all odds, they conquered the Great Loop, and along the way, found common cause across political divides with new friends while blowing the walls off their world.

Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

By Bruce Tate,


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