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Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924 (1995)

by Philip Mansel

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272470,698 (3.92)9
In 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror entered Constantinople on a white horse. This was the start of the Ottoman love affair with the city that lasted until 1924, when the last Caliph, Abdulmecid, hurriedly left on the Orient Express. For almost five centuries Constantinople, with its enormous racial and cultural diversity, was the centre of the dramatic and often depraved story of an extraordinary dynasty. Philip Mansel's highly acclaimed book on the history of a city and a dynasty is an absorbing account for the interaction between the vibrantly cosmopolitan capital, the city of the world's desire, and its ruling family.… (more)
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Though technically in Europe, Constantinople remains obstinately Other. One has no general map of Ottoman history, one sultan seems much like another, or perhaps one worse than the other. The system of heredity tempered by fraternal strangulation is so unlike the home life of our own dear Queen. I reached the 20th century with some relief, where familiar names like Churchill and Lloyd George start to appear. A long book and very detailed; the author has a track record as a writer on palaces and this sometimes peeps through bit too much. Sense that he has bitten off a bit more than he can chew in trying to cover every aspect of the City's existence: fashions, foods, social life, poetry, politics, power. ( )
  vguy | Dec 16, 2015 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1823682.html

a fascinating history of a fascinating city. After the first chapter, which describes the immediate aftermath of its conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, the first half of the book looks at various aspects of the city's life - religion, hammams, the role of the vizier and the dragoman - and then the second half is an entertainingly meandering narrative of events from 1700 to the twentieth century. I have worked a lot on various former fringes of the Ottoman empire, and of course am following the Byzantine era via Gibbon, but this was the first book I have read about the empire as a whole. While it lasted, it was a fascinating and diverse multilingual society; though probably doomed from the moment that nationalism became a political paradigm among its peoples, the Ottoman Empire still survived Allied occupation of its capital and outlasted the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires by several years.

Apparently one of the problems for a historian of the Ottoman Empire is that there is too much source material - all in Ottoman Turkish, which is written in the Arabic script abandoned almost a century ago and has many loan words from Persian no longer used by Turks. It's not awfully clear that Mansell used much of this primary material, but he has done a thorough job on other sources, including contemporary memoirs by foreign visitors and, for the later period, local colour from novels by the city's inhabitants. (Though he has much less to say about the rest of the empire, noticeably pulling his punches on the Armenian genocide.) It adds up to a compelling and informative read. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 26, 2011 |
A history of a city. Because it was the capitol of the Ottoman Empire, much history of the Empire is told but the book also includes a picture of everyday life from Sultan's palace to back street homes giving a sense of the feel of the city from many perspectives. Its tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity was particularly refreshing ( )
  snash | May 16, 2010 |
Turkey History
  Budzul | Jun 1, 2008 |
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In 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror entered Constantinople on a white horse. This was the start of the Ottoman love affair with the city that lasted until 1924, when the last Caliph, Abdulmecid, hurriedly left on the Orient Express. For almost five centuries Constantinople, with its enormous racial and cultural diversity, was the centre of the dramatic and often depraved story of an extraordinary dynasty. Philip Mansel's highly acclaimed book on the history of a city and a dynasty is an absorbing account for the interaction between the vibrantly cosmopolitan capital, the city of the world's desire, and its ruling family.

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