Review: The Ottomans, Marc David Baer

Rating: 4 out of 5

I didn’t know much about the Ottoman empire before reading this title. I know much more now, but the case that the book makes–the empire was a part of Europe–could have been simpler and less repetitive.

I was particularly fond of the political chapters though many eras were skipped–probably to achieve some brevity in an already long text. These were, however, interspersed with cultural ones which seemed to be intended to show what the reality of life in the Ottoman state was like. Yet, for proper exemplification there were too few examples while as a general overview, these generally lacked consistency: except for the author’s trend to note how everything he said was an indication that the Ottomans were a part of Europe.

Beyond this repetition, the early expansion of the state was rather compressed. The author had a really long period to describe, so this is understandable, but in effect only the 16th century got a lot of traction prior to describing the empire in the 19th century. Especially when recounting battles, it became a bit odd to not delve into their consequences, presuming any were impactful enough to have an effect on the empire-scale. So, we get a mention of the great defeat at Lepanto, but also a note that the Ottoman fleet was rebuilt during the next year. Was this important? What about the conquests of Venetian territory carried out during the 17th century?

I’ve highlighted a lot of deficiencies above. Yet, this was a very enlightening book, and well worth the time for people who want to know more about the Ottomans. It’s not the only book to shed light on their state, but it’s a big leap forward in understanding an exceptionally successful polity.

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