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Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire Paperback – April 24, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What Finkel calls the "old" narrative of the Ottoman Empire is simple to relate: "it rose, declined, and fell." An exotic parade of salacious sultans, grand viziers and duplicitous eunuchs inhabit the sultry harems and domed palaces of Istanbul—at least in our imaginations. Finkel, a long-time resident of Turkey and Ottoman scholar, relates a "new" narrative of empire that properly accounts for the richness and complexity of the Ottoman state over nearly seven centuries. By presiding over their multiethnic empire for so long, and ushering it from medievalism to modernity, the Ottomans should be ranked alongside the Hapsburgs and the Romanovs, she argues. That they are overlooked is the fault of Western historians who have peered at their subjects through the lens of their own prejudices. Finkel's striking innovation is to turn a mirror on the Ottomans and examine how they saw themselves and their empire. While this approach yields a refreshingly original perspective, Finkel's quest to improve Westerners' understanding occasionally leads her into some questionable stretches (an implication, for instance, that Westerners think all Muslims are terrorists). Happily, these remain unintrusive and this history makes a riveting and enjoyable read for all audiences. 16 pages of photos; maps. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* To be blunt, historians have neglected the Ottoman Empire. Stifled by language barriers, problematic sources, and cultural blinders (and no doubt somewhat bewildered by the task of narrating an empire that lasted from 1299 to 1922 and extended from Sarajevo to San'a), American and European academics have been content to chew on small pieces of Ottoman history, limiting public conception of the empire to narrow notions of sultans, military maneuvers, and elaborate bathing facilities. With this superb book, Finkel boldly covers new ground in striving to show the Ottoman Empire from within, as the Ottomans themselves saw it--a perspective that, thanks to centuries of politically motivated selective perception, even modern Turks have had great difficulty ascertaining. Having spent 15 years living in Turkey, Finkel is uniquely positioned to overcome the practical hurdles to Ottoman research, but her real strength is in historiography: she has a keen ability to extract salient observations from her sources even as she renders their political motives transparent. The result is a panorama of the Ottoman Empire to rival the best portraits of the Romanovs and Habsburgs, and a must-have for history collections. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 674 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465023975
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465023974
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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126 of 136 people found the following review helpful By MarkK VINE VOICE on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though more people today associate the word "ottoman" with fancy cushioned footstools than with a mighty regime, the Ottoman Empire dominated much of southeastern Europe and the Middle East from the fifteenth century to the end of the First World War. In many respects it was the last of the great Muslim empires which challenged Christian Europe, while its' lengthy decline concerned generations of Western statesman and its successor states still demand the world's attention.

In this book, Caroline Finkel offers us a single-volume history of the Ottoman Empire, ranging from its obscure origins to its demise in the 1920s. Though similar overviews have been written before, her goal is to dispel the traditional "rise and fall" approach and to free the empire from its' stereotyping as, in her words, "a theatre of the absurd." Tapping into the enormous wealth of recent scholarly work on the Ottomans, she offers a far more complex and nuanced portrayal of the empire than in most popular accounts - pointing out, for example, that the ranks of the soldiers of the early empire included as many Christians as it did Muslims, and that it was not until well into the empire's decline in the 18th century that the Ottoman sultans began to embrace the previously disused title of caliph.

Yet the book suffers from a relatively narrow focus. Most of the text is dominated by a narrative of high politics, one concentrating on the machinations and maneuvering of the sultans; other elements, such as the complex social and economic structures of the empire, are addressed only in passing. Moreover, Finkel rarely explains the empire in any depth.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a decent survey of Ottoman history. In many ways, this is traditional history from above, mainly a political history concentrating on the ups and downs of the reigns of the Ottoman Sultans. Finkel does well in constructing the basic narrative, covering centuries of Ottoman history in solid prose. The complicated dynastic politics of several periods are covered well. Finkel makes a less successful attempt to integrate social and economic history. She describes different phases of social and demographic history in the Empire as related to the political history but rarely provides enough detail to be satisfactory. For example, she mentions the declining Muslim population of the 19th century empire but never describes the size of the population or whether this was an absolute or relative decline. In many sections, she devotes more text to architectural history than relevant economic or social history. This book is largely descriptive and useful on that basis. As a basic political history, it will probably be useful for many, but its analytic shortcomings make its utility limited.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Wheatcroft on April 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In the last few years there has been many good new studies on the Ottoman Empire. But none has been a history of the Ottomans from start to finish, based on a wide range of sources, but also a flowing narrative, not a textbook. Now with Osman's Dream we have a narrative history that will be hard to surpass.

The only other book that comes close in its readability is Lord Kinross's classic, written in the 1970s. But that was an old-style study, based on ancient legends and old prejudices. Caroline Finkel's book comes from deep knowledge of the Ottoman sources, and for the first time, the long story rings true.

Few empires were more complex and more opaque to the outsider than the Ottoman world. Finkel understands it and she never lets her own opinions get in the way of opening up that world to the reader.

She draws together this long history in a manner that disentangles its complexities, brings its individuals to life, and connects the Ottoman past to the Turkish present. Even with well known episodes, she manages to add something new, often through the deft use of Ottoman sources in a sprightly translation. It is a huge book, but for this reader, never seemed overlong.

There is often one book that will outlast all the others on any given subject, and will define the topic for a generation. Finkel already has a reputation in her academic area of Ottoman studies. The truly remarkable aspect of Osman's Dream is that it is good not just on her speciality, but all the way through, from the 14th to the 20th century. A magnicent achievement.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Suchos on August 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a scholarly review of the political and military history of the Ottoman Empire, from its foundation in the early 14th century until the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Because the material covers over six hundred years in just over 550 pages, it is unavoidably superficial in most places. As a result, it is helpful as a college-level, introductory survey of the Ottomans, best followed up with more detailed study. It is far too general to be of much use to a specialist. I believe it is too dense for the casual reader, so I would not recommend it to anyone without a real interest in middle eastern history.

The book is a political history, with extremely rare forays into matters of culture, religion, ethnicity, art or architecture. We are presented with an endless list of Sultans, viziers, military commanders, battles, treaties and boundaries, and virtually no analysis. For example, we have no discussion of the reasons the early Ottomans were so overwhelmingly successful at expanding the empire. The Ottomans were one of the first middle eastern empires to adopt gunpowder weapons, but Finkel does not discuss this adoption, or the impact it had on early conquests. Indeed, Finkel's discussions of warfare in general is universally vague -- she tells us who won the battles, but not why.

Another problem is that the book gives extremely little notice to more distant Ottoman realms, in North Africa, Egypt, the Hijaz and Syria/Palestine. Near the end, when the Empire begins to fragment, we get some mention of Mehmet Ali [Muhammad Ali] and the sharifs of Mecca. This is extremely cursory, and the subject is abandoned soon after it is taken up.
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