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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 22 May 2017
I have just finished reading this wonderful book for the second time,immediately following my first reading. This was not because of any problem, but simply the sheer exuberant generosity with which Jason Goodwin has endowed his history of the Ottoman Empire. A cornucopia, horn of plenty, about the Golden Horn.
Previous reviewers seem dismayed that this book is not a dusty academic piece of writing, accurate to the letter, but not the spirit, of the Ottoman Empire. It is written, not like a list on a war memorial - just names & dates but, in a way it is like a beautiful wall of Iznic tiles, or an embroidered quilt, and that style reveals far more of the multi-faceted culture & six century-long Osman dynasty's rule over vast lands & diverse peoples.

I came to this book via an abiding affection for all things to do with the Ottoman Empire and especially Istanbul, its heart. Various novels, Jason Goodwin's own Yashim ones and other authors like Elif Shafak and Jenny White, Katie Hickman & Barbara Nadel encouraged me in a desire to explore more about Istanbul & hence resort to non-fiction.... the dark side!
The great thing for an amateur who revels in ancient regimes is that works of historical fiction can spawn a serious interest in studying a person or period in a greater depth. This book, Lords of the Horizons is my bridge to that, as it combines a lightly worn but profound erudition ( doubtless the result of hours of research, reading dusty tomes) with a beautiful style of writing - friendly, amusing and delightfully digressive. Goodwin's footnotes area little treasure trove in themselves.

So this largesse is why I have re-read Lords of the Horizons. I have no doubt I shall happily read it again & discover yet more interesting facts about this fascinating world.

I would also recommend Ogier de Busbecq' Turkish Letters' trans.E.S.Forster
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on 24 August 2017
If what you want is a 'true tale' of the Ottoman Empire written in an attractive literary style, then this is a good bedtime read. I'd recommend it. Goodwin is an entertaining and pleasant companion throughout the book's 300-odd pages. He can turn a poetic phrase with ease and deliver a good metaphor, and he has all the merits of an excellent raconteur or story teller. If you want a history book, though, then Lords of the Horizons is probably not the book for you. Goodwin is a journalist and writer of travel books and detective stories. He's not a historian. And it shows. His engaging, poetic style floats over details like a fuzzy cloud. Time and again clarity is sacrificed to the seductive appeal of a well-turned phrase, and too often I was left with only the haziest sense of what was going on. I would be extremely surprised if this book was written from anything but secondary sources, so it lacks penetration and insight into its subject. I also did some research and found a number of errors, dodgy dates among them. There are also inconsistences in rendering Ottoman names into English. All of which suggests a certain carelessness over detail.

Having said all that, Goodwin obviously loves his subject and wants you to love it too. So, once I have obtained the information I need from elsewhere, I will probably come back to this book, settle down on my sofa and enjoy a good read.
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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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on 19 August 2016
A very different book Mr. Goodwin really makes the Empire come alive before one's eyes. His description of both daily life and life in war, together with his use of descriptions from historical sources really makes this book stand out. Nevertheless the book is sometimes confusing, especially the first chapter, and some are real nuts to crack. Sometimes historical events are just thrown into context without being explained, or it is explained several pages or chapters later. This is the reason I only give it four stars. I still recommend the book highly, both to those familiar with this part of history and those entirely new to it.
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on 11 August 2017
I enjoyed this book
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on 10 June 2009
1993 John Llewellyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday Prize winning travel writer Jason Goodwin built on his studies of Byzantine history at Cambridge University and laid the foundation for his Yashim the Eunach mystery series with this exquisitely written single volume history of the Ottoman Empire.

This overly ambitious little volume compresses over 600 years of Ottoman history into a measly 384 pages that bring the reader sweeping out of Central Asia to the very gates of Vienna and then into a slow decline of decadence and debauchery in a compelling story worthy of any of the great empires of history.

The author has a fine eye for detail and brings the era to life with quirky little anecdotes that help to humanise the broad sweep of history but his flowery language and breakneck pace mean much is lost in the process and while I thoroughly enjoyed the ride I can't help but wander if I actually learnt anything from it.

And this time they never tried to swim back.
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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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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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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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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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