Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Salon, October 28, 2007

The Sunday Salon is an informal "reading circle" where a group of willing individuals discuss their readings. You can read more at . I wanted to get something in for the first week, so I threw something together pretty quickly; excuse the roughness. I think this will be fun.

Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire: Books
Caroline Finkel

Osman’s Dream is a one volume history of the Ottoman Empire. The book is a much needed antidote to the West’s Eurocentric historical view. Like many people who are not Middle East specialists, our perceptions of the Ottoman Empire are filtered through histories of their adversaries and their relationship to the West. We learned that the Ottomans were the people who finally lay to rest the rump of the Roman Empire with their conquest of Byzantine Constantinople. They were the people whose empire was itself finally defeated by WWI. Osman’s Dream demonstrates conclusively that the Ottoman Empire is worthy of our attention in its own right.

Finkel’s treatment of the Ottomans does not ignore Europe, rather it does provides a nuanced analysis of the often complicated and contradictory set of relationships between the Empire their western counterparts. The book’s major strength, however, is its detailed description of the relationships within the empire. Finkel’s periodization is natural and dictated by the political and social forces native to the Ottomans, not artificial western models.

Like any book that tries to relate 800 years of history in a relatively short book (600+ pages), there are some glosses. Especially missed was a detailed description of the relationship between the highest levels of the bureaucracy and the middle. A greater attention to the cultural achievements of the Ottomans would also have been welcome.

Osman’s Dream is a great book to introduce a non-specialist to the Ottoman Empire. With the general knowledge gained by reading this book, the interested layman could easily move on to more specialized histories or reinterpret western histories, such as Norwich’s A short History of Byzantium.