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The Ottoman Centuries (1977)

by Lord Kinross

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6601035,631 (3.63)18
The Ottoman Empire began in 1300 under the almost legendary Osman I, reached its apogee in the sixteenth century under Suleiman the Magnificent, whose forces threatened the gates of Vienna, and gradually diminished thereafter until Mehmed VI was sent into exile by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). This text elaborates on the grand, audacious, and sometimes ruthless personalities involved, while keeping in focus the larger economic, political, and social issues.… (more)
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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Kinross' book, of course, is extremely well written and convincing. But reading through it all, you realize he has essentially composed an Ottoman apologia, aimed at elevating his hero, Atatürk, to the position of enlightened liberator of modern Turkey. So he may be to some. But in order to get there, Kinross had to conduct a sly campaign of turning Ottoman history itself into an unappreciated successor to Rome as a fountainhead of tolerance and statecraft, with this version of empire having its origins in Islam.

And so he then goes, applying his quite substantial skills as a biographer in sketching one imposing Sultan's life after another on the reader's mind. It's especially persuasive for the first ten Sultans. Thereafter, it quickly descends into tragedy and the weakening and dismemberment of the empire. Until, that is, Kinross gets to his villain, Abdul Hamid II. It is on Abdul Hamid, the Sultan of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that the blame is placed--he is autocratic, despotic, devious, cruel, and manipulative. It is he who brought about the destruction of the empire. Never mind that the Sultan, through his constant strategy of playing off one great power against the other, managed to preserve the Ottoman dynasty from an even earlier grave.

Then, Kinross' craftiness becomes most apparent. It applies to his treatment of the Armenian genocide. Kinross spends several pages outlining the Armenian massacres of 1894-1896, giving full weight to the atrocities in his description. He also ascribes it all to the background maneuvering of Abdul Hamid. All very true, it is. But in emphasizing the massacres, it is as if Kinross is trying to indemnify himself against his rather lackluster exploration of the much more terrible, thorough, and systematic Armenian Genocide of 1914-1922/23. Why? Because the people responsible for the greater genocide were Kinross' heroes, the Young Turks directly, and, indirectly, Atatürk, a member of this revolutionary group who seized control of the government from the sultans and led the empire into a catastrophic alliance with Germany during World War I, which eventually saw the destruction of the empire as a result. Proof? Kinross writes only two sentences about the Genocide. Ah, but those Young Turks. They revitalized the administration, the bureaucracy, and they modernized Turkey. Yes, they made the trains run on time.

The dismissive analysis of the genocide, of course, is what most sticks out to modern readers. But if you go through the entire history Kinross has written, you will see a pattern of excusing or belittling Ottoman massacres, enslavement of other peoples, and terror. In its place, he erects a benevolent multiracial, universal empire, welcoming to all and seeking world betterment. But for a few bad apples. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Kinross portrays historical eras very engagingly (I liked his 'Rebirth of a Nation'). I suppose his views are reflective of a Euro-Brit-centric bias. Nonetheless, his telling of this history seems well-founded on good sources. A little too many military engagements told in too much depth for my taste. Then, I had to skim the last third of the book ~ a consequence of having borrowed from a public library with only one copy! ( )
  SandyAMcPherson | Oct 10, 2018 |
The author refers to the Sultan's sex slave prison as a harem (finally closed in the early 20th century) and he glosses over the slaughter of millions of Armenians in the early 1900's. Otherwise a useful treatise for those interested in today's Middle East.

Published prior to Sept. 11, 2001 this volume isn't biased by the attack on the U.S. ( )
  4bonasa | Mar 10, 2017 |
This is a well written and researched history book - assertions that is it like fiction or reads like a soap opera (suggested by a couple of other reviewers) are simply wrong.

Kinross manages to squeeze about 500 years of history into ~600 pages and in my opinion succeeds in covering the most important content in sufficient depth for the general reader. I particularly enjoyed the coverage of Ottoman diplomacy conducted with European powers in the latter part of eighteenth century onwards.

On the negative side, I believe that there are too few pictures and certainly too few maps for a book of this length, and those that are included are not high quality. The paper itself is also low grade, which is a shame considering the content is otherwise really good.

I highly recommend getting a copy of this book, but it is perhaps worth exploring editions published by other companies - the Amazon marketplace appears to have several. ( )
2 vote cwhouston | Nov 21, 2010 |
In early modern times--say 1300 to 1700--the Ottoman Empire ("Turks") was a dreaded neighbor for Europe. Most of the works available on the subject were from an extremely negative point of view. This book was probably the first that made a good Ottoman history accessible to the general reader. It was first published posthumously in 1977. John Balfour, Baron Kinross (d. 1976) was best known for his biography of Ataturk and is scholar of the Middle East. Coverage is for the Ottoman Empire from its beginning in 1300 to its end after WWI. The writing is accessible to the general reader, and at the time of its publication was the most accessible work on a somewhat esoteric subject. ( )
  patito-de-hule | Dec 19, 2008 |
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Stone, NormanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Ottoman Empire began in 1300 under the almost legendary Osman I, reached its apogee in the sixteenth century under Suleiman the Magnificent, whose forces threatened the gates of Vienna, and gradually diminished thereafter until Mehmed VI was sent into exile by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). This text elaborates on the grand, audacious, and sometimes ruthless personalities involved, while keeping in focus the larger economic, political, and social issues.

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