The best books about Turkey

8 authors have picked their favorite books about Turkey and why they recommend each book.

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Five Years in Turkey

By Liman von Sanders,

Book cover of Five Years in Turkey

For all the interest in the British experience of the Great War in the Middle East, there are precious few books that captured the other side of the trenches in the immediate aftermath of the war. Liman von Sanders was one of the few. His book first appeared in German in 1919, but was published in English eight years later and gave American and British readers their first real sense of the Ottoman and German experience of the war. Liman began service in Ottoman domains as the head of a German military mission to rebuild the Turkish Army after the catastrophic Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Given all he knew about the low level of Ottoman war preparedness, he was outspoken against concluding an alliance to draw Turkey into the Central Alliance. But once the die was cast, Liman threw himself into the Ottoman war effort with all he had. The…


Who am I?

As a professional historian of the Middle East, I’ve long recognized WWI as a vital turning point in the region’s history, when the ancient Ottoman Empire fell and the modern states of the Middle East took its place. Based in Oxford, I am particularly aware of this university’s role in shaping so many of those whose book captured the British experience of the Ottoman Front. But there’s also an element of family history behind my fascination, as in following the story of my great-uncle’s death in Gallipoli in 1915, I came to appreciate the magnitude of sacrifice suffered by all sides in the Great War in the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

By Eugene Rogan,

Book cover of The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

What is my book about?

By 1914 the powers of Europe were sliding inexorably toward war, and they pulled the Middle East along with them into one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region's crucial role in the conflict. Unlike the static killing fields of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East was fast-moving and unpredictable, with the Turks inflicting decisive defeats on the Entente in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Gaza before the tide of battle turned in the Allies' favor. The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands, laying the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Arabia, The Fall of the Ottomans is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Great War and the making of the modern Middle East.

Turkish Letters

By Ogier De Busbecq,

Book cover of Turkish Letters

Living in a world where we can look at images of places we’re planning to travel without even going there means it’s easy to forget the importance of letters sent from foreign countries. Especially ones as well written as these. Ogier De Busbecq was an ambassador for the Hapsburg Empire in the court of Suleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century, but his observations, comments, and snippets of gossip read like he was in Istanbul last month. He had a keen eye for detail and nothing escaped his notice – palace machinations, dirty politics, and even prison conditions, gleaned from the time he spent incarcerated.


Who am I?

I’m a Sydney, Australia born sociologist and writer and back in 1990 I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. After three months in the country I was hooked. I now live in Istanbul and write about the people, culture, and history. Using my less than perfect Turkish language skills I uncover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul even though it means I’ve accidentally asked a random stranger to give me a hug and left a butcher convinced I think Turkish sheep are born with their heads on upside down.


I wrote...

Inside Out In Istanbul

By Lisa Morrow,

Book cover of Inside Out In Istanbul

What is my book about?

For most people, Istanbul is synonymous with its world-famous sights, the Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Dolmabahçe Palace. Few tourists manage to go beyond the beauty of the historical district of Sultanahmet to visit the other face of Istanbul. Yet a short ferry ride from the Bosphorus to the Sea of Marmara brings you to the shores of Asia, to the everyday extraordinary. The stories in the 2nd edition of Inside Out In Istanbul take the reader beyond the tourist facades into a suburban world filled with spice sellers, male belly dancers, and Turkish underwear stores, right into homes traditionally supplied with lemon cologne and slippers. Venture deep into the sometimes chaotic, often schizophrenic but always charming city of Istanbul.

Twice a Stranger

By Bruce Clarke,

Book cover of Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions That Forged Modern Greece and Turkey

We are reminded on almost a daily basis of the plight of refugees in fragile boats that this sea can be cruel as well as kind. The present diaspora has its forerunners – in this book the great population exchange of 1923 that saw the displacement of two million people across the Mediterranean: Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire, Turks living in Greece. Bruce Clarke both explains the chain of events in the aftermath of the First World War and records the personal stories of those who were uprooted from the places they called home. They have a familiar resonance, the repeating patterns of memory and loss: ‘I remember the day they went away,’ recorded a Greek woman of her Muslim neighbours. ‘Some kissed the earth, some took bowls of soil with them. They were decent types; their menfolk used to attend our funerals, and we would exchange presents of…


Who am I?

The Mediterranean is in my family’s history. My dad was a naval officer who worked in the sea in peace and war and took us to Malta when I was nine. I was entranced by the island’s history, by an evocative sensory world of sunlight, brilliant seas, and antiquity. I’ve been travelling in this sea ever since, including a spell living in Turkey, and delved deep into its past, its empires, and its maritime activity. I’m the author of three books on the subject: Constantinople: the Last Great Siege, Empires of the Sea, and Venice: City of Fortune.


I wrote...

Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

By Roger Crowley,

Book cover of Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521-1580

What is my book about?

Empires of the Sea is the history of the great sixteenth-century contest for the Mediterranean between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. It opens with the Ottoman capture of Rhodes in 1521 and concludes with the shattering sea battle at Lepanto half a century later. It’s an epic of military crusading, holy war, piracy, oared galleys, and bloody sieges orchestrated by the two great figures of the age, Suleiman the Magnificent and Charles II of Spain, both vying for a claim to world empire.

Dinner of Herbs

By Carla Grissman,

Book cover of Dinner of Herbs: Village Life in 1960s Turkey

Reading Carla Grissman’s memoir of the year she lived in a small farming village 249 kilometres east of Ankara took me back to my first long stay in Turkey in 1990. I was in Göreme, Cappadocia for almost three months. It was still a small village then so Grissman’s account of her experiences thirty years earlier in a similar place, resonated with me. She found a generous people, strong communal spirit, and much happiness, and aptly named the book for Proverbs 15:17 which reads, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than feasting on a fattened ox where hatred also dwells”. Village life was basic but Grissman expressed no judgements or desire to change things. Instead, she engaged and observed, resulting in a revealing look at a way of life that still continues in parts of Anatolia today.


Who am I?

I’m a Sydney, Australia born sociologist and writer and back in 1990 I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. After three months in the country I was hooked. I now live in Istanbul and write about the people, culture, and history. Using my less than perfect Turkish language skills I uncover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul and throughout the country, even though it means I’ve accidentally asked a random stranger to give me a hug and left a butcher convinced I think Turkish sheep are born with their heads on upside down.


I wrote...

Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

By Lisa Morrow,

Book cover of Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

What is my book about?

At first, I only travelled across the vast expanses of Turkey as a visitor, but then I began to stay for longer and longer periods of time. The initial glimpses of a culture less western than eastern were replaced by an awareness that Turkey is at times both and yet something more. These experiences became a metaphor for an inner journey from the known to the unknown and back. The uncompromising nature of Turkish culture and society meant I had to accept what I saw without changing it. In so doing I started to question who I was and look for an alternative way of being.

Exploring Turkish Landscapes builds on my first collection of stories, Inside Out In Istanbul. This latest collection offers a much more personal insight into Turkish traditions and beliefs, and also takes readers on an emotional journey as I rediscover myself.

Turkish Awakening

By Alev Scott,

Book cover of Turkish Awakening: A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey

Turkish Awakening is the result of Alev Scott’s desire to discover the land of her mother’s birth and explore contemporary Turkish life and politics. Scott combines personal insights with an objective gaze to focus on a confusing and often contradictory culture, to try to unravel the complex relationships between modernity and religion unfolding in Turkey today. She chats with taxi drivers, examines how sex work and transgender inhabitants coexist, sometimes uneasily, next door to conservative Muslims recently relocated from the country, and explores the impact of popular soap operas featuring the newly rich on the aspirations of ordinary Turks and international tourism. The rise of the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP – Party for Justice and Progress) is covered as well as Turkey’s changing relationship with the EU. The book ends with Scott’s observations about the protests that sprang to life in Gezi Park in Istanbul and then spread…


Who am I?

I’m a Sydney, Australia born sociologist and writer and back in 1990 I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. After three months in the country I was hooked. I now live in Istanbul and write about the people, culture, and history. Using my less than perfect Turkish language skills I uncover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul and throughout the country, even though it means I’ve accidentally asked a random stranger to give me a hug and left a butcher convinced I think Turkish sheep are born with their heads on upside down.


I wrote...

Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

By Lisa Morrow,

Book cover of Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

What is my book about?

At first, I only travelled across the vast expanses of Turkey as a visitor, but then I began to stay for longer and longer periods of time. The initial glimpses of a culture less western than eastern were replaced by an awareness that Turkey is at times both and yet something more. These experiences became a metaphor for an inner journey from the known to the unknown and back. The uncompromising nature of Turkish culture and society meant I had to accept what I saw without changing it. In so doing I started to question who I was and look for an alternative way of being.

Exploring Turkish Landscapes builds on my first collection of stories, Inside Out In Istanbul. This latest collection offers a much more personal insight into Turkish traditions and beliefs, and also takes readers on an emotional journey as I rediscover myself.

Dervish

By Tim Kelsey,

Book cover of Dervish: Travels in Modern Turkey

Dervish was published more than twenty years ago, but the Turks about whom Kelsey writes, archaeologists (and others) in search of the Ark, human rights activists, famous pop stars both straight and transsexual, Kurdish insurgents, desperately poor villagers and aspiring politicians, are still in existence today. Kelsey captures the contradictions inherent to life in modern Turkey, revealing a people as diverse as its varied geographical regions.


Who am I?

I’m a Sydney, Australia born sociologist and writer and back in 1990 I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. After three months in the country I was hooked. I now live in Istanbul and write about the people, culture, and history. Using my less than perfect Turkish language skills I uncover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul and throughout the country, even though it means I’ve accidentally asked a random stranger to give me a hug and left a butcher convinced I think Turkish sheep are born with their heads on upside down.


I wrote...

Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

By Lisa Morrow,

Book cover of Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

What is my book about?

At first, I only travelled across the vast expanses of Turkey as a visitor, but then I began to stay for longer and longer periods of time. The initial glimpses of a culture less western than eastern were replaced by an awareness that Turkey is at times both and yet something more. These experiences became a metaphor for an inner journey from the known to the unknown and back. The uncompromising nature of Turkish culture and society meant I had to accept what I saw without changing it. In so doing I started to question who I was and look for an alternative way of being.

Exploring Turkish Landscapes builds on my first collection of stories, Inside Out In Istanbul. This latest collection offers a much more personal insight into Turkish traditions and beliefs, and also takes readers on an emotional journey as I rediscover myself.

The Forbidden Modern

By Nilüfer Göle,

Book cover of The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling

One of the first things people still ask me about living in Turkey is, do you have to wear a headscarf? Whether a woman covers or not and the manner in which she wears her scarf reflects much more than differing levels of religious conviction. Göle explores the extremely nuanced and conflicting relationships around the subject, combining sociological research with historical analysis and in-depth interviews. She examines the ways young women form their identities in relation to the issue of covering, how they adapt fundamental religious tenets in response to the pressures of modernity, what covering contributes to debates about politics, nationalism, and other issues. Anyone wanting to know more about the practice of veiling beyond the standard modern/backward, secular/religious divides should read The Forbidden Modern. By the way, if you’re still wondering, the answer is no.


Who am I?

I’m a Sydney, Australia born sociologist and writer and back in 1990 I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. After three months in the country I was hooked. I now live in Istanbul and write about the people, culture, and history. Using my less than perfect Turkish language skills I uncover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul and throughout the country, even though it means I’ve accidentally asked a random stranger to give me a hug and left a butcher convinced I think Turkish sheep are born with their heads on upside down.


I wrote...

Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

By Lisa Morrow,

Book cover of Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

What is my book about?

At first, I only travelled across the vast expanses of Turkey as a visitor, but then I began to stay for longer and longer periods of time. The initial glimpses of a culture less western than eastern were replaced by an awareness that Turkey is at times both and yet something more. These experiences became a metaphor for an inner journey from the known to the unknown and back. The uncompromising nature of Turkish culture and society meant I had to accept what I saw without changing it. In so doing I started to question who I was and look for an alternative way of being.

Exploring Turkish Landscapes builds on my first collection of stories, Inside Out In Istanbul. This latest collection offers a much more personal insight into Turkish traditions and beliefs, and also takes readers on an emotional journey as I rediscover myself.

Portrait of a Turkish Family

By Irfan Orga,

Book cover of Portrait of a Turkish Family

Orga’s memoir begins with scenes from his idyllic childhood as the son of a great beauty, adored by his autocratic grandmother and indulged by all. His was a prosperous family, their future secure under the Ottoman sultans until the First World War broke out and everything changed. They went from enjoying elaborate dinner parties, going to the hamam and sleeping on soft sheets, to living in poverty, waking in dank rooms, and never knowing if there’d be enough to eat. Orga writes without sentiment of the impact of the war on his upper-class family, and the complete reconstruction of society under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish republic. Orga lived and observed the tensions and struggles around sacred and secular life, the divide between rich and poor, and the importance of family to all. Despite the passing of the years, many of the events and…


Who am I?

I’m a Sydney, Australia born sociologist and writer and back in 1990 I hitchhiked through the UK, travelled in Europe and arrived in Turkey just as the Gulf War was starting. After three months in the country I was hooked. I now live in Istanbul and write about the people, culture, and history. Using my less than perfect Turkish language skills I uncover the everyday extraordinary of life in modern Istanbul and throughout the country, even though it means I’ve accidentally asked a random stranger to give me a hug and left a butcher convinced I think Turkish sheep are born with their heads on upside down.


I wrote...

Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

By Lisa Morrow,

Book cover of Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

What is my book about?

At first, I only travelled across the vast expanses of Turkey as a visitor, but then I began to stay for longer and longer periods of time. The initial glimpses of a culture less western than eastern were replaced by an awareness that Turkey is at times both and yet something more. These experiences became a metaphor for an inner journey from the known to the unknown and back. The uncompromising nature of Turkish culture and society meant I had to accept what I saw without changing it. In so doing I started to question who I was and look for an alternative way of being.

Exploring Turkish Landscapes builds on my first collection of stories, Inside Out In Istanbul. This latest collection offers a much more personal insight into Turkish traditions and beliefs, and also takes readers on an emotional journey as I rediscover myself.

The Ottomans 1700-1923

By Virginia Aksan,

Book cover of The Ottomans 1700-1923: An Empire Besieged

Hot off the press, and building on the success of Aksan's earlier volume on the later Ottoman empire, this book charts the transformation of this once-formidable state into a colonial client of Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. It traces the lives of friends and foes of the Ottomans who witnessed the rise and fall of a constitutional experiment in an era of shrinking borders, global consciousness, ethno-religious nationalism, and revolutionary fervour. The narrative's primary focus is on those who negotiated with, fought for, defended, and finally challenged the sultan and the system in its final days just prior to WWI, resulting in a legacy of international relations and communal violence that continues into the present.   


Who am I?

I am a Scottish Ottoman historian who has lived half my life in Istanbul. Realising that the archive-based research of my PhD and after was read by too few, I wrote Osman's Dream, which has been translated into several languages and is read generally, as well as by students. I am fascinated by the 'where' of history, and follow historical routes the slow way, by foot or on horseback, to reach the sites where events occurred. That's the thing about living where the history you study happened: its traces and artefacts are all around, every day. I hope I have brought a sense of Ottoman place to Osman's Dream.


I wrote...

Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire

By Caroline Finkel,

Book cover of Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire

What is my book about?

I wrote Osman's Dream to counter the widely-held notion that Ottoman history—the history of a dynasty and empire that held sway over far-flung territories on three continents for over six centuries—was nothing more than a succession of salacious sultans, evil pashas, hapless harem women, and obscurantist clerics. The nineteenth-century trope 'Sick Man of Europe' has a long shelf-life, but I wanted to probe more deeply, to get beyond such distorted perceptions with the aim of bringing to a general readership better understanding of a complex civilisation whose history is intimately bound up with our own.

The narrative unfolds chronologically, to reveal the multifarious connections between past and present, and why Ottoman history matters today.

Anyush

By Martine Madden,

Book cover of Anyush

Anyush’s eponymous heroine is a young Armenian girl whose life is turned upside-down by the genocide carried out by the Ottomans under the Young Turks during fighting in World War One. I was only vaguely aware of the genocide before picking up the novel and it combines a beautiful love story between Anyush and Turkish captain Jahan with a vivid account of the horrors people faced. Beautifully researched and written by Martine Madden, it’s a book that both enthralled and humbled me. 


Who am I?

I am a writer based in Ireland. When I was fifteen, I read about the Battle of Verdun, and the horror and ineptitude of it led me into an obsession with World War I. Visiting the Imperial War Museum, I learned about the white feather of cowardice, bestowed by girls upon men out of uniform. Such a transformation of a symbol of peace to an instrument of stigma and shame made me think of Irish society as well as British. When White Feathers was published, its refusal to follow a sentimental “Tommy in the trenches” line angered some revisionist critics. But in the end, it is a passionate and intense love story with resistance.


I wrote...

White Feathers

By Susan Lanigan,

Book cover of White Feathers

What is my book about?

White Feathers – a tale of passion, betrayal, war – and resistance.

Young Irish immigrant Eva Downey jumps at the chance to escape her stultifying life in London and attend finishing school in southeast England after a legacy from an old suffragette. There she finds kinship and, eventually falls in love. But when World War I breaks out and the man she loves refuses to enlist, Eva’s family starts pushing her to present him with a white feather of cowardice – an act which will have devastating consequences.

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