Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire

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9780805040814: Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire

Since the Turks first shattered the glory of the French crusaders in 1396, the Ottoman Empire has exerted a long, strong pull on Western minds. For six hundred years, the Empire swelled and declined. Islamic, martial, civilized, and tolerant, in three centuries it advanced from the dusty foothills of Anatolia to rule on the Danube and the Nile; at the Empire's height, Indian rajahs and the kings of France beseeched its aid. For the next three hundred years the Empire seemed ready to collapse, a prodigy of survival and decay. Early in the twentieth century it fell. In this dazzling evocation of its power, Jason Goodwin explores how the Ottomans rose and how, against all odds, they lingered on. In the process he unfolds a sequence of mysteries, triumphs, treasures, and terrors unknown to most American readers.

This was a place where pillows spoke and birds were fed in the snow; where time itself unfolded at a different rate and clocks were banned; where sounds were different, and even the hyacinths too strong to sniff. Dramatic and passionate, comic and gruesome, Lords of the Horizons is a history, a travel book, and a vision of a lost world all in one.

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Review:

Jason Goodwin, a young English journalist, writes history as if it were today's breaking news, and with Lords of the Horizon, he delivers an anecdote-filled and breezy account of the long, troubled career of the Ottoman Empire. That empire endured for nearly 600 years and embraced not only a large territory--stretching, at one point, from the border of Iran to the gates of Vienna--but also hundreds of ethnic groups and three dozen nations. United under the banner of a tolerant form of Islam, the Ottoman Turks forged a culture that, Goodwin writes, "was such a prodigy of pep, such a miracle of human ingenuity, that contemporaries felt it was helped into being by powers not quite human--diabolical or divine, depending on their point of view."

Drawing on memoirs by European visitors as well as standard histories of the era, Goodwin traces the Ottoman Empire from its origins in the 14th-century collapse of the Byzantine state to its centuries-long decline and final collapse at the end of World War I. Along the way, he writes of the Ottomans' addiction to wealth (and to hiding their gold in fabulous hoards), the pleasure they took in holding picnics in their lush cemeteries, and the prowess of their elite military both in battle and in organized crime. ("The janissaries were magnificent extortionists," Goodwin notes. "People paid them not to burn their homes and business, then they paid them to come and put the fires out.") Full of vivid detail, Goodwin's narrative makes for an enjoyable introduction to this historically influential, but little understood, culture. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Historian, journalist, and travel writer, Jason Goodwin lives in West Sussex, England, with his wife and two sons. A regular contributor to The New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler, Jason Goodwin received the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for On Foot to the Golden Horn.

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