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3.8 out of 5 stars39
3.8 out of 5 stars
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2003
I was looking for a comprehensive account of the history of the Ottoman Empire and I stepped into this book. This is a strange book. It is divided in chapters not in a chronological order, but rather by mixing up chronology and the exam of particular issues: quite strange and diverse issues, I must say, like sieges, dogs(!), houses, dresses...
Political and economic analysis are not made in depth, although the author makes here and there some very interesting remarks.On the other hand, the narration is full of funny (and sometimes scary) anecdotes, and actually the atmosphere of the Ottoman empire in its various phases is conveyed quite effectively. The chapters on the "cage", the harem and the early expansion of the Empire are excellent.
It's a good reading, in the end, althoug people looking for a serious, structured and reliable account of the empire should look elsewhere (Kinross?).
A final note: the language used by the author is very sophisticated and quite often (my mother tongue is not english) I've needed a dictionary....and sometimes I couldn't even find in the dictionary some of the nouns and adjectives used by the author!!
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on 20 April 2006
I bought this book to read on my recent trip to Turkey, to help give me some historical context, but I was sorely disappointed.

I know a little bit of history about a lot of places as well has having a fairly detailed knowledge of some subjects (I have a history degree) but I knew very little about Turkey so I hoped that this book would give me a quick overview.

Unfortunately the structure of the book didn't give me any kind of historical perspective; it didn't really talk about events or the causes of events. I wanted to understand how the Turks came to form the Ottoman empire, how they held it together. I wanted to understand the personalities of its rulers and their impact on events so that when I saw their portraits in the Topkapi Palace I had some appreciation of who they actually were.

In short, it is not a history book as such, more a collection of cultural and historical snapshots. I felt that to really get the best out of this book the reader would need to have a fairly good basic grounding in Ottoman history. Sadly, I still don't!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2013
Reviewer's opinions on this book seem to differ much more than they usually do. One can understand why, as 'lords of the horizon' has got some things to really like and some things some people might potentially really not like. I really liked the writing and I think the writer did a very good job in producing an entertaining book. I also agree with those who feel that the lack of chronology is sometimes irritating (not to mention a number of mistakes on years, especially of battles - clearly Mr. Goodwin is not a war buff). Then again, given that we are talking about half a billennium and dozens & dozens of sultans, I can understand why Goodwin chose not to follow the strictly chronological track.

All in all, if you like a very well written book that provides a general feel of the ottoman empire, go for this one because as I said it is superbly written (I will definitely try his crime novels set in the latter-day empire!). If you want a sultan-by-sultan and war-by-war type of book, go somewhere else.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2002
I was given this book as a gift. I was looking for an informative history of the Ottoman Empire, having very little knowledge on the subject.
I am left with the impression that the author has a wealth of knowledge on the subject but has not managed to communicate it to me. Unfortunately the book is written in a style making it difficult to follow the thread of history, jumping constantly from one part in time to another, introducing quotes from people without explanation of who they were or why their quote might be important. The author seems to assume that the reader already knows what he is talking about. The addition of more maps to the text would greatly help to illustrate the history.
Perhaps my requirements were never going to be met by this book, but I wouldn't recommend it. Sorry!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2000
This is a somewhat impressionistic history of the Ottoman Empire and might make a good introduction for a reader new to the topic. It does have the significant advantage that the writer obviously likes Turkey and the Turks and that his enthusiasm for this wonderful nation is communicated itself through the page. This reviewer found the book pleasant and entertaining reading in its earlier sections but by the time one gets half way the style begins to irritate and one wishes for something more substantial. This said, the first-time visitor to Turkey would be well advised to pack this work in his luggage along with John Freely's "Istanbul: The Imperial City". The latter, as well as providing an excellent guide-section, has short but readable accounts of the reigns of every Sultan and of their Byzantine predecessors. As such it complements Mr.Goodwin's book excellently.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2013
Although this is an enjoyable read, those who like their histories tautly rational and highly disciplined might find Goodwin's rather discursive, eclectic approach intently irritating (as some obviously have). In fact, some might come to the conclusion that as an historian Goodwin is a wonderful travel writer. And while he clearly knows his stuff, there are times when his insight fails him or his enthusiasm for the subject matter blinds him to telling details.

First, while he mentions the Emperor Charles V's need to placate the Protestants to muster enough force to counter the Ottoman threat, he never once reflects how this example of centralised control influenced the development of absolutism in the decades and centuries that were to follow. He also glosses over the extent of the slaughter after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and while pointing out that an Italian cannon ball did it for the Acropolis in Athens at the end of the 17th century, he fails to mention the fact that the impact would never have had its devastating affect if the Ottomans had not used it as a dump for their gunpowder in the first place.

Even so, your knowledge will increase as a result of reading this, though perhaps not as thoroughly and as extensively as some would like.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2002
Jason Goodwin's book is more of a portrait than a history.
The book's strength lies in its succeesful evocation of some of the moods of the empire.
With a lot of ground to cover, his butterfly style can be difficult to follow at times but his energy carries him through. Recommended, but not quite as good as the quotes on the cover suggest. For a more substantial read, try Patrick Balfour Kinross's outstanding The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2000
Lords of the horizons: a history of the Ottoman empire Jason Goodwin
This book explains extremely clearly the phenomenon of the Turkish expansion which occurred from the ninth century until it ran its course in the middle of the sixteenth century. The rolling frontier (similar to the American wild west) and the conflict between the non conformist frontiersmen and the incipient bureaucracy of Constantinople are well explained. Jason Goodwin gives a good explanation of the nomadic influence on the culture of the Ottomans of this period, with its emphasis on horses and tents, rather than castles and palaces.
The reasons for the decline of the Ottomans, with the decline of the Jannisary and the gradual enfeeblement of the organisation of the empire is well delineated. The attempts to reform the empire, either by returning to earlier values, or by adopting new western values of liberalism and industrialisation are also clearly shown, as is their fall before the forces of nationalism and underdevelopment.
He explains the process of rise and decline so that I could understand why it happened much clearer than I ever could before. The overall feeling which the book gave me was a feeling of wonder at this culture.
My only reservations concern Goodwin's knowledge of the Balkans. Is he careless or ignorant when he refers to a voivode as a Hungarian governor, as opposed to a military leader or duke of the Serbs? And when he claims that the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Gavrilo Princip as a member of IMRO (the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) has he discovered new evidence for Princip's political allegiances or has he just confused IMRO with the Young Bosnians or the Black Hand? Do these areas reflect ignorance or carelessness in an area which was peripheral to the main subject of the book or are they symptomatic of a more general problem?
Anyway despite my minor reservations, (and they really are minor) I found this book was well written and well worth reading.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2006
This book disappointed me. Trailed as a history, I expected something more robust than what seemed to me to be a collection of jottings from the author's limited library.

To be fair to him, Jason Goodwin gives us the list of books he's read and clearly he has noted down little snippets he has enjoyed in many of them. Lady Mary Wortley for instance contributes a lot of her views of 18th century Istanbul. But this collection lacks substance and completeness and the reader is left with the feeling of having had a lot of appetisers but no main course on which to chew.

Disappointing too are the appendices inserted no doubt to give a semblance of authority to the book. A long list of Sultans is incompletely drawn up, leaving details of the last few sultans unfinished. The dates in the list bizarrely don't entirely match the dates used in the text of the chapters of the book. Occasionally, the author forgets what he has written, only to write the same story very slightly differently on the following page.

For the newcomer to Turkish politics (and that of the Ottoman period), this book could be helpful, as long as they don't try to expect accuracy in all that they have read. If only it were quite a lot shorter, though, to justify the effort of reading what is at best an incomplete taster for a complex political story.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 11 June 1999
Most people think of the Ottoman empire (if they think of it all), as an ornament of the distant past. Most of us I am sure would be suprised to learn that in fact it wasn't formally abolished until 1922. And in the Kossovo crisis it's influence can be still keenly felt today.
The Ottomans dominated middle eastern politics for 500 years, and Goodwin has painted an beautiful impressionist landscape for this tale.
It is not a genuine history, but more a story of how the Ottomans who rose so swiftly, terrorising the heart of European Christendom sank into a gilded if inevitable decline.
Not only a satisfying read, but a must for anyone who wishes to understand the foundations of today's Balkan troubles, and the rivalry bewteen Greek and Turk
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