Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire
by Jason Goodwin
New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998. 352 pp. $32.50.
Reviewed by Sabri Sayari
Middle East Quarterly
The Ottoman Empire finally came to an end in the aftermath of World War I, after ruling over a vast territory in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans for more than 600 years. Not surprisingly, the legacy of this major world empire continues to be a potent source of contemporary events, as the recent tragedy that befell the Bosnian Muslims starkly illustrated. Goodwin's principal goal is to explain what made the Ottoman empire tick and how this well-crafted engine eventually ran out of steam, succumbing to the winds of nationalism raging in the Balkans and the Arab world.
The author finds that the success of the Ottoman enterprise stemmed principally from its ability to manage successfully complex relations among a multiplicity of ethnic and religious communities. "The most impressive feature of Ottoman rule," Goodwin writes "was its opposition to the thin inadequacies of national identification. The Ottoman system made no national distinctions; and truly there were few to be made with any clarity." The author devotes considerable space to the description of how different communities in the Balkans, Istanbul, and Anatolia coexisted in relative peace for several centuries and how this pluralistic social order fell apart with the rise of nationalist movements, administrative and economic problems, and foreign intervention.
Lords of the Horizons makes little effort to incorporate recent scholarship by historians of the Ottoman empire but relies heavily on observations by Western travelers and diplomatic envoys. These tended to emphasize the exotic, the picturesque, and the bizarre, and Goodwin's colorful and stylish prose makes for interesting reading. However, the book is more of a travelogue and popular history than a work of serious historical analysis throwing new light on the Ottoman Empire or its legacy.
Related Topics: History | Sabri Sayari | June 2000 MEQ
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