Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey has not lacked for biographies. Nonetheless, Hanioğlu's compelling book offers something that most Atatürk literature, particularly in Turkish, has yet to offer. It demythologizes the legendary soldier and politician by illustrating the social, intellectual, and political settings that influenced his ideals and which, in turn, led to the nation state of Turkey.
Hanioğlu presents an intelligent and ambitious leader who studied and was enriched by ideas and techniques formulated by a variety of people on the cutting edge of the political theories of his day. Instead of portraying him one-dimensionally as a man of intellectual miracles, the author objectively analyses Atatürk's thought within complex historical contexts. Atatürk was not the "inventor" of ideas as other hagiographic biographies suggest. Instead, he was heavily influenced by a wide spectrum of thinkers including Gustave Le Bon, Emile Durkheim, Ludwig Buchner, and even H.G. Wells.
Hanioğlu's Atatürk is a "literatus" who wanted to build a Western nation from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Relying on both these "outside" theories and his own strongly-held vision of a Turkish nation, he tasked himself with encouraging his fellow citizens to accept progressive ideals that have, a century later, lost their appeal to the Turkish masses. The virtues of secularism, religious reform, and materialism are the very characteristics that today's government aims to replace with a neo-Ottoman, religiously conservative, and socially restrictive approach.
Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography will be a valuable source for amateur and professional students of both Turkish and Middle Eastern studies and for anyone who might wish to understand the deep political polarization between today's secular Turks who cling to Atatürk's dream and more religiously conservative-minded Turks who are retreating from the path on which he set the nation.