23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Good content but hard to wade through,
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This review is from: Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923 (Paperback)
This book draws on contemporary Ottoman sources, and on modern writing in a range of languages to present an account of the Ottoman empire from start to finish. It has a few maps, several pages of illustrations (sadly not in colour) and a substantial apparatus of endnotes, bibliography and index. It sets the story in a broad international context, and sheds in passing a lot of light on more recent situations, such as the Balkan wars, or the conflict over Kurdish identity. It's an old-fashioned history in the sense that it's preoccupied with political leadership and with the strategy and tactics of international affairs, rather than with the day to day life of ordinary people, and this is particularly striking with relation to wars, battles and executions, of which there are a great many, often with no attempt to give even the numbers of combatants, let alone their experiences. Some of the worst events, like the burning of Smyrna / Izmir in the war of Independence, are simply not mentioned, and her discussion of the Armenian genocide is superficial.
Finkel is not a fluent writer. Or it would be more accurate to say that she doesn't make for fluent reading. She is given to long sentences - often very long (with parentheses inside parentheses) indeed - they loop on and on with semicolons marking extra bits tacked on at the end; like that, only longer. Too often I found myself deep into a sentence, still searching for a subject, an object, or the main verb. Sentences that sprawl over five or six lines are common, and on at least two occasions there were sentences that covered ten lines. It is always possible to construe a meaningful and grammatical sentence, but goodness it's hard work at times. She also presumes in the reader a very thorough knowledge of both the geography and history of Eurasia from the mediaeval to the present. Obscure geographical references are often dropped into the text with no gloss whatsoever, and neither the maps nor the index provide sufficient reference. I needed to keep a good atlas to hand, and to make extensive use of Wikipedia. I have some knowledge of Istanbul, otherwise would have been stumped more often. The index is uneven - even Kiev, which is of great strategic importance and features often in the narrative, isn't indexed.
It reads like the first draft of a really excellent book. It needs serious work on sentence structure, more and better maps, and more provision of signposts for the general reader. Informative chapter headings would be a start, with clear subheadings. Finkel claims to be writing for that general reader, but at the moment the book is unnecessarily opaque and difficult to read.