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.

The books I picked & why

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Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State

By Cemal Kafadar,

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

Why 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.

Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State

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.


The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It

By Suraiya Faroqhi,

Book cover of The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It

Why 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. 

The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It

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…


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

By Kemal H. Karpat,

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

Why 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.

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

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.


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

By Stacy D. Fahrenthold,

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

Why 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.

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

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…


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

By Michael B. Oren,

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

Why 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. 

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

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Ottoman Empire, international relations, and Turkey?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Ottoman Empire, international relations, and Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire Explore 43 books about the Ottoman Empire
International Relations Explore 184 books about international relations
Turkey Explore 68 books about Turkey

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Bountiful Empire, The Ottomans 1700-1923, and Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean if you like this list.