Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), one of the great political figures of the twentieth century, has not been the subject of a full-scale biography in English since one published by Lord Kinross in 1964.1 The author, Istanbul-born and a writer on things Turkish, has produced far and away the best biography of Atatürk in English, one boasting solid research, fine presentation, and sensible judgments. The result is a more textured and complex picture than hitherto available.
Mango skillfully captures the themes of his tale. "Atatürk was a competent commander, a shrewd politician, a statesman of supreme realism. But above all he was a man of the Enlightenment. And the Enlightenment was not made by saints." "Atatürk was often described as a dictator – a description he hated above all others. It was, in fact, inappropriate, for he behaved not like a modern dictator, but like a latter-day king, who had delegated government to his chief minister, and then sought to amuse himself as best he could." Atatürk emerges from this biography as resolute yet contradictory. He forwarded women's rights but in his private life "could not accept women as equals." He was a devoted rationalist but invented "fantastic historical and linguistic theories."
Mango concludes with an assessment of the Atatürk experiment that bears quoting for its succinct insight and enduring message: "Atatürk's message is that East and West can meet on the ground of universal secular values and mutual respect, that nationalism is compatible with peace, that human reason is the only true guide in life. It is an optimistic message and its validity will always be in doubt. But it is an ideal that commands respect."