Review: Lords of the Horizons, Jason Goodwin

Rating: 1 out of 5

It is rare to see an Anglosphere historian take notice of an “external” power, and to focus upon one in a title of narrative history. Nevertheless, such ignorance should not excuse the few who do make the attempt. Mr Goodwin fancies himself a reborn Gibbon, but where the old MP’s style and flourish gave life to a logical understanding of the Romans, this author only manages to confound the reader and haze his arguments.

The writer is keen to make striking claims — which then do not end up supported. There’s also a distinct preference of describing conflicts with Venice and Austria over all other options, such that many other interesting and important areas end up barely mentioned. Russia and Britain feature more in the later periods, but never enough. I also think there’s a special place in hell for people who bring up some failures of the Austrian army without mentioning any of their successes just because they think it’s cool to mention Karánsebes.

Beyond bumbling foreign affairs, the author’s treatment of domestic issues is even worse. I’ll give credit where credit is due, and Mr Goodwin does give a relatively decent account of the sipahi. However, nearly every other Ottoman concept — and some of the main principles of government are never described!– is introduced without explanation. Further, very often the reader is brought two centuries forward, confounded with some more titles, people, and places without providing any context, and then thrust back a century or three.

These attempts to be poetic scuttle all hope that the book could act as an informative history. So, yes, this is “beautifully written”, but regrettably it is not well-written.

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