The Ottomans: Dissolving Images

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9780140168792: The Ottomans: Dissolving Images

The Ottoman Empire was a "mystery wrapped inside the enigma". This book aims to unravel the mystery in two ways. Firstly, it looks at the Ottomans and their world in terms relevant to an eastern Islamic society, with its own principles and practices that seemed merely barbaric to the West. The book also comes to terms with the West's expectations of the Ottomans. The author's aim is both to tell the story and offer some explanation. The book interprets the Ottomans, to make sense of a society that to Western eyes seemed feckless and utterly corrupt, cruel and craven by turns. It was frequently all of these things but not without reason or cause.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

An illustrated popular history that attempts to demystify the often enigmatic, feared, and misunderstood Ottoman Empire. Historian Wheatcroft (Univ. of Sterling in Scotland) begins with Mehmet's taking of Constantinople in 1453 and ends with Ataturk and the founding of modern Turkey after the First World War. Wheatcroft claims that the Ottomans are still largely reviled, a legacy of the Cruel Turk of legend (and indeed of fact). But this view seems somewhat dated now. His book doesn't contain anything startlingly new as far as the ``inner life'' of the Ottomans is concerned, nor is this culture ``shamefully neglected,'' as claimed. However, that life is perennially fascinating to the West, and Wheatcroft's evenhanded, urbane approach is admirably gripping, especially when recounting the great dramas of Ottoman history: the crushing of the Janissaries by the reforming sultan Mahmud in 1826, the agonizing and unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 (with its fascinating account of Ottoman siege techniques), and the endless palace coups ending in ``the silken cord,'' the execution by strangulation reserved for the nobility. We see both Ottoman strengths (a huge military machine capable of massive deployments) and weaknesses (imperviousness to change, corruption, and the volatility of court politics rooted in the Yeni Saray, the palace built by Mehmet to which the harem was later moved). Wheatcroft explains the intricate hierarchies of Ottoman life and shows how the West created an image of its most formidable enemy by turns picturesquely orientalizing, as in Craig's picture of a pipe- smoking pasha having a petitioner grovel under his foot, and grimly factual, as in Mayer's 1800 picture of an Ottoman road flanked by the impaled corpses of criminals. Wheatcroft's contention that Ottomanism is a ``state of mind'' that has survived in the Middle East is less easy to verify. He has, though, drawn up a readable and colorful portrait of a complex history. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

In this well-researched study, Wheatcroft, a Scottish historian and professor of English, helps to correct the skewed Western view of the Ottomans, who ruled much of the Near East for four and a half centuries. Modern politics in the Balkans, Palestine, Arabia, and North Africa owes much to an Ottoman past. Wheatcroft's work is no dull theoretical presentation. The author excels in lucid description. To show us the Ottoman world, he brings us to the great capital of Stamboul, with its mosques, palaces, marketplaces, barracks, and slums. We see sultans and viziers, beys and pashas, janissaries and sipahis, eunuchs and slaves. We observe Ottoman politics, military practice, and social customs. Sometimes the narrative pace slows amid the plentiful detail, but this is a small criticism. The work is well illustrated and offers an up-to-date bibliography. Recommended for both academic and public collections.
James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, Va.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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