Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1923 by Caroline Finkel - review by Jason Goodwin

Jason Goodwin

What Makes A Turk?

Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300–1923


John Murray 660pp £30

People in this country can’t have heard so much about the Turks since Gladstone vilified them in 1876. They’ve been in Brussels; they spooked the French; and they had the turnstiles rattling with the RA’s recent show, Turks: A Journey of 1,000 Years. Who are these people?

The timing of Caroline Finkel’s splendidly written Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire reflects the buoyant state of Ottoman scholarship. Neglected archives have been triumphantly mined by a new generation of scholars, and Finkel’s intimacy with the material makes this the most authoritative narrative history of the empire yet published.

In 1777 an Istanbul Armenian, d’Ohsson, wrote his Tableau général de l’Empire othoman. Finkel, though she quotes him, is not interested in tableaux: look elsewhere for details of battles, rituals, costume, and the like. Her narrative focuses on the dynamics of the imperial story, bucking the outworn thesis that this

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