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Balanced but critical for the sake of being critical
on 28 April 2006
This is the first major biography of Ataturk after Kinross's 1960s opus. Unlike Kinross - whose book has been called hagiographical - this one deliberately approaches the subject with from a critical viewpoint. In places, this is apt, and leads to a better understanding of the consequences of certain actions. In others, it appears to place the author himself into the category of "those who can't, criticise". For that latter reason, I found the book to be vaguely unsettling, since all too often, the author starts taking himself and his criticism so seriously that the subject matter gets obscured. In addition, in an attempt to trump Kinross, Mango sometimes loses himself in cul-de-sacs; for example, Ataturk's love life is certainly interesting (and more varied than reported here) but is about as relevant to describing the man as is a study of Stalin's mistresses during the purges. Indeed, there is precious little here that is new or original, merely more detail which previous biographers appear to have chosen (wisely) to ignore. Moreover, the book sometimes resembles an autopsy rather than a biography. Calm, detached and clinical, yes, but with all the charm of an umeployment claim form. Mango's writing style is certainly less fluid and nowhere near as entertaining as Kinross's.
The superlatives piled on by the official reviews are a trifle overblown. I would recommend this book, but even more, the Kinross biography.