Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities

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Istanbul has been the site of human settlement for several centuries. As best as we know, the Thracian tribes first settled there, most probably, between the thirteenth and eleventh centuries BC. It was colonized by the Greeks in the seventh century BC. Later, it was incorporated into the Roman Empire, first as Byzantium, and then as Constantinople. As the Roman Empire declined, the Byzantine Empire outlasted its western counterpart by a millennium. With the Muslim conquest in 1453, it became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. When the Republic of Turkey was formed in 1923, the capital was moved from Constantinople to Ankara. In 1930, the city was officially referred to as Istanbul. This book focuses on Istanbul’s history from primarily Roman times to the early years of the twentieth century.

Any undertaking that spans such a large swath of history will inevitably result in selectivity, and this work is no exception. This 800-page work consists of 78 short chapters (around half a dozen pages per chapter). Of the 800 pages, 600 of them are devoted to substantive chapters, while the remaining 200 contain an index, chapter notes, timeline, and other table of contents. As each chapter focuses on a different theme (people, events, innovations, etc) and references other time periods, the narrative – while arranged chronologically – reads non-linearly.

Details abound to a fault (and some could be safely omitted without detracting from the overall text). The style is flowery and in some cases requires the reader to read a sentence more than once to grasp the intended meaning. Services of a good editor could make the text more readable. Chapter notes of the galley version are at the end of the book but would have been easier to reference if they were at the end of their respective chapters, or ideally at the bottom of the page. A list of relevant references at the end of each chapter would be more helpful than the almost 60-page list of references at the end.

While the information that is presented is excellent, the way it is presented could be improved. For completeness, I wish the narrative would extend to the opening years of the twenty-first century and that the treatment of Constantinople’s history from the seventeenth century onwards would be more thorough.


Reviewed By:

Author Bettany Hughes
Star Count 3/5
Format Hard
Page Count 856 pages
Publisher Da Capo Press
Publish Date 2017-Sep-12
ISBN 9780306825842
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue September 2017
Category History
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