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on 8 April 2017
This is the first book I read on the subject so my assessment is narrowly based on this book alone rather than a wider context. The score is for the technical merits of this book; and "I love it" is not in the sense of pleasure or enjoyment in reading this book because the content should make us uncomfortable and squeamish over the atrocities committed against humanity,

Just as I finished reading the book, President Trump of the US has ordered missile attack on Syria as a response to Assad's chemical attack on a ISIS held town. The civil war is into its seventh year, and many have been displaced and Europe faces a refugee crisis from Syria. An overarching impression that this book gives is one of volatility and instability of that region of Asia Minor. The necessary consequence of the destruction of Smyrna was a refugee crisis. It brings home that what we are confronted today is nothing new.

The author's mastery in piecing individual eyewitness accounts into a coherent recounting of the event as it unfolded is very impressive. He skilfully zooms in and out so that we have the micro details as we follow the eyewitnesses without losing sight of the big picture in geopolitics. But this book is largely about the former with the latter as the backdrop. It is a book about the people. I don't know how the author does it but reading this book was as if we saw the events unfolding with our own eyes like a first-hand account - yes, it's good. It is not an historical analysis, which would have read more detached.. Rather this book is a historical record of what actually happened, which need to be straightened out first. This is personal and gives a voice to the victims, the survivors and the lost. Sadly there were still many remain as a statistic, faceless and unknown.

The account of the destruction of Smyrna brings us face to face with the human nature of excess. When we take revenge, we won't go for an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth if it were left to our own devices. The Old Testament law is to restrain evil. When people do not heed to the law, each round of revenge will only escalate the level of violence, cruelty and atrocities, until we have purged the last of the enemy from our land. This was what the Turks did to the Greeks, who were cruel to the Turks when they enjoyed the advantage first. Before the Holocaust in the Second World War, we have the destruction of Smyrna where Greeks and Armenians were tortured, violated, looted and massacred with brutality in September 1922. It is very sobering to stare into such an ugly reflection of human nature and what is more sobering is that this capability of monstrous acts is in the nature of each one of us. When I was reading the book, I did not feel morally superior, but was made acutely aware of the shared responsibility. There were human errors in judgement along the way, precipitating and magnifying the crisis and there was tardiness in coming to aid. In contrast, there was also heroic acts like Jennings' who managed to mobilise the Allied's resources to evacuate the refugees albeit limited to women and children. It is soul-searching for us especially pertinent in asking, "what is our attitude towards the refugee crisis today on our doorstep?" I think the reflections that the book provokes have a lot of relevance for today.

Another warning from this historical event is that racial tension takes a long time to ease and heal but takes only a moment to incite out of proportion. It can easily get out of hand. Restraint and disciplines is not easy to exert once the flare has gone out of hand. We must be careful with our speech and should never turn one group of people against another. It is not a fire that we should play for personal political gain, and we should never have too much confidence in ourselves to put out the fire at our will. In this book, we can see the extent of human wickedness such force can unleash. "Their inward part is destruction. Their throat is an open tomb. They flatter with their tongue." (Psalm 5:9)

What surprises me a little however is the lack of mention of personal faith journey in a crisis of a magnitude like this one. Did the eyewitnesses have any faith at all, especially when the persecuted were mostly Christians? What kind of questions did they ask God and what were their spiritual struggles in coming to terms with, in sustaining faith and hope through it and in healing after it? Were there any spiritual reflections having been purged and refined by the fire (literally)? It would be incredulous if no one in their diaries jot down these inner thoughts. I wonder if the author has deliberately screened them out and restricted himself to accounting "facts". If you are Christian, an understanding without the spiritual dimension will not be complete. Furthermore, the eyewitness accounts are from the survivors (Europeans, Americans, officials, marines, Greeks and Armenians); there is no first-hand account from the viewpoints of the Turks. I wonder why.

Here is a human perspective in making sense of what she saw:
"It seems to her [Lovejoy - an American doctor who played a leading role in the humanitarian rescue] how men, women and children who had experienced unspeakable atrocities nevertheless clung to life with hope and conviction for the future: 'Fortunately, there seems to be a point at which human beings become incapable of further suffering. A point where reason and sensation fail, and faith, cooperating with the instincts of self-preservation and race preservation, takes control, releasing sub-human and super-human reservoirs of strength and endurance which are not called upon under civilised conditions of life.'" (p. 362)
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on 30 May 2014
All sorts of eye-openers for me. I knew that the massacre happened and that prior to it Venezelos had been making unrealsitic demands at Versailles and Smyrna was one that was granted which probably shouldn't have been. But I didn't know what a cool place Smyrna had been before the war, that it was Turkey's most important export outlet, that the Venezelos/Smyrna debacle essentially cost Lloyd George his job, that the international community were paralysed by the unfolding horror and that it was down to individuals to organise the evacuation.

My only slight quibble is that the maps aren't great on Kindle (I haven't seen the print edition).
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on 18 May 2017
One of the world's greatest tragedies and part of the problem of the Middle East's current issues with intolerance and prejudice .
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on 19 December 2014
Well written and compelling. Again blood on the hands of British and European political leaders who were responsible for the thousands who died in The Turkey/Greek war that came out of the Paris conference in 1919 but also ensured that a second war could not be avoided. Why have these politicians escaped war crime prosecutions?
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on 1 November 2008
Milton is the author of several engaging histories covering periods as diverse as the Crusades to the Age of Exploration. Ive read most of his other books and found them to be lively and engaging. Milton's style brings his diverse characters to life and his extensive use of personal accounts ensures his stories have the human element that is so often missing from history books. Paradise Lost is no different. Milton has interviewed people who were atcually present at the events he writes about. This gives his narrative a very personal feel.
Even though we know what will happen in the end, Milton manages to build suspense and kept me turning the pages. It is a tragic and heroic story about a part of the world that, I confess, I know only a little. I couldnt help but draw parallels between what happend in Smyrna in 1922 and the more recent human tradgedies in Rwanda, Bosnia and so on. It seems the international community still has a lesson to learn. That said, its not all tradegy, there are some great stories of herosim in there too.
This is not just a book for history buffs. Its for anyone who enjoys a human story, well told. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the period and the area. Its definetly going on my Christmas list for my dad and brother in law!
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on 22 August 2015
A scholarly and highly readable account of an important but little known episode post war WW1. At the turn of the 20th century Smyrna (or Izmir as it became known in 1930 when the Turkish post office renamed the city) was a veritable paradise on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. It was at the head of a wide inlet and had been a deep water port since Roman times. It is thought to be the birthplace of Homer.

During centuries of Ottoman rule the city had developed into a multi cultural, multi ethnic and religiously tolerant centre of commerce. The city gave untroubled access to the Anatolian hinterland and further east to the Caucasus. Cotton, olive oil, figs and other produce flowed out of the port to the west. The Roman Catholic cathedral of St John, built in 1865, dominated the city. It was paid for with funds from the Sultan in Constantinople and the French Government. WW1 by passed the city. The massive, multi tiered opera house was filled with music lovers in evening dress. The consulates of Europe and the USA had open doors and the inhabitants of Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Muslims, Jews and Levantines lived and worshipped in tolerance and freedom.

The Treaty of Sevres (1920) following the Treaty of Versailles (1919) divided Turkey among the WW1 victors. Pushed by Lloyd-George and his crazed dream of the glories of Greece and Churchill, smarting and sullen (as he often was) after the crushing Gallipoli defeat by the German trained Turkish Army, Smyrna was to be a formal Greek zone of influence. The Greek army disembarked from their ships (Smyrna is directly east of Athens and only a short trireme’s row across the Aegean), formed up on the dockside and marched and trotted into Smyrna with a great deal of ceremony but little reaction from the inhabitants. The Greek army pushed into the interior with little or no resistance.

But Mustafa Kemal (Attaturk as he was to become) and his nationalist Army was on the move far to the east. Armed and replenished by the Bolsheviks. He marched to Smyrna, drove the Greek army into the Aegean and destroyed the city.

Through eyewitness accounts and meticulous research the author shows that Ataturk ordered, and stood by, as his soldiers heaved explosives and fuel into the Greek, Jewish and Armenian quarters of the city. They ignited a conflagration that razed the city and murdered the inhabitants. Ataturk, in full ceremonial dress, dined nearby in one of the great houses. He disingenuously told the League of Nations that he could not control his army. Western governments, particularly the USA, stood by as 1000s were killed or drowned as the inhabitants tried to escape the fire.

This thoroughly researched book is written in a style that engages the reader without hyperbole or without the author pressing his interpretative opinion. Lloyd-George, Churchill, Ataturk and USA foreign policy do not come out well. History deals with this episode as the ‘The Great Fire of Smyrna’ as if it was an accidental consequence of the occupation by Ataturk. But the author makes the case, and I am persuaded, that it was a deliberate act by Ataturk and a pivotal event in the establishment of the modern Turkish state.

I have one criticism (that does not detract from my review). Milton goes into great detail in describing the lifestyles of the dynastic 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation families that built fortunes on trade and commerce. Cultural and ethnic lifestyles were maintained – the Americans had their YMCA and International School, the French had their art colleges and riding schools and the English had garden parties, croquet and sent their sons to boarding school in England. I felt a little frustrated as Milton described the garden parties and the activities of Dowagers, the card schools, the dinner parties and the opera outings. The picture was got early on. But still a wonderful book allowing, for me, greater insight and knowledge into that area of the world we know as the Eastern Mediterranean – geographic generic category that covers so much in history. I compare this history with Storming the Eagles Nest (Jim Ring) a history of the WW2 in the Alps, which I have also reviewed.

386 pages. 27 pages of Notes and 11 of index. 5 stars.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 November 2010
Smyrna 1922 is upsetting to read: there is always a disaster lurking in the background, and when it happens it is horrible indeed. The consequences of war are all too often visited on innocent civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this, the closing chapter of the Ottoman Empire, is no exception.

Giles Milton once again has picked out a little bit of history and expanded a complete story out of it (Nathaniel's Nutmeg is an example of a tiny hinge of fate, for instance). This time around, the focus is on Smyrna (Izmir), once a thriving trade port on the coast of Asia Minor. The Levantines - European expats - ran a mercantile community, employing a large chunk of the local populace. Smyrna was a mixed city, with Greeks, Armenians and Turks, as well as the Europeans, and a thriving American expat community.

All this was lost with the disastrous expedition into Anatolia by the Greek army in 1922. There is an early wrinkle in with the revocation of the concessions - trade relaxations - on which this foreign fortune was built, with this being a source of apparent pride among local Turks, but this merely silent foreshadowing of the disaster to come.

In between, we see Smyrna during WWI under Rahmi Bey, and under Greek annexation in 1919. Through all this there is a "ancien regime" feeling in the air: old power and wealth about to be lost in a sea of blood. As it turns out, the blood was largely shed by the servants of the Levantines - a point deftly made by Milton - and Smyrna stands a proxy for the genocide of the period, by Greek and Turk alike.

Others have covered the facts of the book neatly; I won't all over again in any greater detail than I have above. What is horrifying (and occasionally uplifting) is the reactions of various civilised men and women to the fall of Smyrna, and how much easier it is to do evil to others than to do good in such a time.

This is an excellent study of little-known history, told like a novel. This is the horror of war, from the point of view of the civilians who suffered rather than the soldiers that fought and died.
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on 24 April 2009
This book represents a bit of a change in direction for this author's histories. His other books have been biographies, too, of plucky Brits who are usually in foreign climes making a nuisance of themselves and getting away with it. This is the story of an EVENT. Further, it doesn't directly involve Britain or Brits other than tangentially in the form of Britain's meddlesome imperial ambitions and some princely 'Brits' who, actually, are third- or fourth-generation, the "Levantines".

The book is split into three parts: (1) Paradise, (2) Serpents in Paradise and (3) Paradise Lost. Part one sets the scene, part two goes into the background of the troubles that would later arise, and part three is the great event itself. I thought part one was a little boring -- Westerners lording it over and patronising the natives -- standard fare for these types of books, part two was a little disjointed and strangely unfulfilling and part three was gripping, really excellent. To elaborate on my verdict on part two, there is a missing year between the end of part two and the beginning of part three! We go from September 1921 to September 1922 in a blink! The Greeks are being defeated in Anatolia one minute and the next they're embarking on ships at Smyrna quay! If you are going to tell a story at all, then at least finish it more artfully than an abrupt severance.

Another slight problem I found with this book is that in the first two parts (where the background is explained and the scene is set) Milton concentrates far too much on the rich merchant families in their large Palladian villas. Other than a couple of exceptions (which prove the rule) his researches didn't manage to uncover any stories from an average Greek, Turk, Jew or Armenian (the Jews are hardly mentioned). I think their views would have been fascinating and enlightening. They would have offered a different perspective on the events that unfolded. But I can understand why the author quoted the Levantines the most. Their riches-to-rags tale was a sensational journey full of pathos, material loss and an overnight demotion in status.

I have to say that part three is just gripping. I think I've said that before, but it's worth saying again because it's so impossible to put the book down! I had never heard about this catastrophe before reading this book. I don't think I'd ever noticed Izmir (formerly Smyrna) on the map before. But Milton has made me interested in Turkish, Greek and Armenian history. He tells the story with great empathy and humanity. I also liked the ending very much. I really didn't see it coming as I fully expected that after all this time not a single building would be left standing let alone be inhabited by a direct descendent of one of those caught up in the great tragedy.

Giles Milton really is a fine writer and I look forward to reading his next book. Only docked a star because the first two parts were interesting but a little extraneous in places. I hate to admit it, but the build up was a little boring. But finally I've read Milton's Paradise Lost!
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on 4 July 2017
Very disappointing. Full of endless, trivial detail about a handful of Levantine (read European, but mainly British) families, who apparently almost single-handedly created the great city that was once Smyrna. Gotta laugh with this book, it is so Anglo-centric and pompously inaccurate. The real history of Smyrna is that it had been a Greek city for centuries - it was the Greeks who created and set the cosmopolitan tone of the city, who made up the majority of the population, who made the greatest contribution to the way of life then. Milton is a lazy and cynical writer - one can almost hear him calculating what would appeal most to his middle-class readership back in the U.K, - but of course, a history of Smyrna about the British! That's exactly what this book is, a British account of what happened in Smyrna for British readers. Nothing more, unfortunately.
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VINE VOICEon 4 December 2009
Every war has its unintended consequences, and the First World War was no exception. Perhaps its greatest aftershock was the collapse of the centuries-old Ottoman Empire, a fact that perfectly illustrates the complexities of a war that had been sparked by a political assassination in Bosnia and the aggression of Germany's Kaiser Bill. After years of the relatively quiet co-existence of different ethnic and religious groups, the new Turkish republic was carved out in the flames of terrible ethnic tension and indeed cleansing. No city represented the agony of this process more than Smyrna (modern Izmir). Smyrna had been the grandest of cities - huge, ancient, fabulously wealthy with department stores and opera houses, idyllic landscapes and above all, great diversity.

Giles Milton has written a well-crafted, multi-layered account of its fall in 1922. This involved painstaking research on the day-to-day events surrounding its destruction that terrible September - but without the wider national and international perspective, this would have remained simply a remote if chilling episode in increasingly distant history.

But Smyrna's fall was a crucial moment for so many reasons:

- it explains or illustrates so many of the geopolitical tensions that exist today: between Greeks and Turks (especially in Cyprus); within former Yugoslavia; the debates about Turkey joining the EU. Atrocities and follies were not isolated to one side or another - Greeks invaded Asia Minor in vain pursuit of the "Megali Idea" (the big idea). They sought to avenge the centuries of Ottoman suppression of Greek culture in the region by uniting the 1000s of ethnic Greeks with Athens. The new Turkish nationalists were incensed by the occupation of Constantinople by the 1WW allies and the invasion by Greece. Roused by Ataturk, Smyrna was their greatest prize after Constantinople, being the richest trading city of the old empire. Milton convincingly explains that the city was certainly destroyed by Turkish soldiers, despite historical spin to the contrary - and the image of 1000s trapped in the small space between the burning buildings the harbour waters is truly pitiful. The fate of the hundreds of Armenians and Greeks sent on forced marches into the Turkish interior is too grim to imagine.

- it depicts the now lost but charmed existence of colonial life - the so-called Levantines (British, Americans, French, Italians etc) of Asia Minor lived in luxury and extraordinary wealth, strategically placed to capitalise on the European trade with the East. This was epitomised by the fact that there was even a district of the city inhabited by Americans actually called 'Paradise' (hence the book's title). Drawing on diaries and other first-hand accounts, Milton captures the atmosphere of denial and invincibility before Smyrna's inevitable fall.

- most significantly, to my mind however, is Milton's account of how the decisions of a precious few, secluded behind locked doors hundreds of miles away, can affect the fate of millions. Political compromises, prejudices and whims can have the equivalent of the Butterfly Effect. In particular, Lloyd-George bears much of the blame, easily swayed by the charm and rhetoric of Greek Prime Minister Venizelos and his romanticised notions of what Greece had been and should be - and he refused to listen to those who knew better. It took a simple telephone call from one prime minister to another to spark a 3-year conflict in Asia Minor, resulting in the deaths of 1000s, the enforced migration of 100,000s and the misery of millions. L-G is by no means the only one of course. But 'twas ever thus.

None of the principle actors comes out of this smelling of roses - the usual cocktail of pride, folly and passion is at play. But Milton highlights the heroics and nobility of some individuals: like the Ottoman governor of Smyrna, Rahmi Bey - an old Anglophile socially at ease with all the different cultures and groups of Smyrna, he actually resisted the orders to round up Armenians that came from the Sultanate in Constantinople. He even sought to negotiate with the British during the First World War in order to protect Smyrna's diverse population (despite this being treasonable once the Ottoman Empire had allied with the Kaiser). Or there was the decidedly unprepossessing American Methodist minister and YMCA employee, Asa Jennings. He found himself blagging his way into a temporary appointment as a Greek admiral in order to oversee the evacuation of hundreds of desperate refugees - an extraordinary story.

This is a brilliant and gripping book about a terrible time. Milton manages to glide between macro and micro levels with ease, and to my outsider's view (at least) seems sufficiently balanced and objective. But he also intersperses the grim realities with accounts of extraordinary coincidences, moments of absurdity and above all a very human story. Oh that we would learn of the dangers of ignorant war-mongering in distant realms... The story of Smyrna will not be known or remembered by many now (though it should be) - I certainly knew far too little about it. But what its destruction represents is all too contemporary... Iraq and Afghanistan anyone?
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