Ottoman Collapse and Aftermath Reading List
Editor’s Note: Ralph Peters’ insightful article, “Unleashing the Devils,” his examination of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its aftermath, is our cover story in the May 2010 issue of Armchair General magazine. Peters prepared a reading list on the subject to guide readers who want to learn more about a subject that shaped the world we live in today – and that still creates world crises.
There’s such a vast literature available on the twilight of the Ottomans and the still-unresolved aftermath of their empire that I thought it might help Armchair General readers if I winnowed a near-lifetime of reading on the subject down to a “dirty dozen” books in English. Most are still in print, although a few may need to be purchased from a used-book store or web-site. Each is worthwhile — and damned good!
The Ottoman Centuries, by Lord Kinross. While Kinross had a soft spot for the Ottomans, this is still the best single-volume study of the subject. This is a very well-written, fine historical overview — a good foundation for further reading on the Ottomans.
Atatürk, The Rebirth of a Nation, by Lord Kinross. A great biography of a great, if far from perfect, man. Kinross admired Atatürk. You will, too. He remains arguably the greatest “unknown” giant of the last century.
A Peace To End All Peace, The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin. Superb research, excellent analysis, and high-quality writing. No other book I know comes close to Fromkin’s masterful recreation of the Great War in the Middle East and its tragic aftermath. Provocative, brilliant and terrifically helpful in understanding what happened and why. Fromkin will change your thinking of a number of historical events — he changed mine.
The Shaping of the Modern Middles East, by Bernard Lewis. Lewis is the grand old man of Middle-Eastern studies in the U.S. — and in the West, overall, as far as I’m concerned. He never wrote a book that wasn’t worth reading. Essentially, Lewis picks up where Fromkin leaves off.
The Emergence of Modern Turkey, by Bernard Lewis. Atatürk and his legacy from an objective standpoint. For a marvelous feel for the region’s quirks, try Lewis’s compilation of historical eyewitness accounts and letters, A Middle East Mosaic.
Bible And Sword, England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, by Barbara Tuchman. Popular history at its best: Sweeping, engaging, clear-headed and wonderfully readable.
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, by Margaret McMillan. The Versailles conference, in all its ambitions and moral squalor. A fine account of the nest that hatched the monsters we’re still battling today.
A Prince Of Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence, by John E. Mack. “Lawrence of Arabia” was a genuine hero with an uncanny ability to work with Arab tribal leaders. He was also a deeply troubled man, an aggressive liar and self-promoter, and unwilling to share credit with other British officers who arguably accomplished more. In the end, he was much more interesting than the hero in the film.
Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence. I purposely listed this book after the Mack biography. This is splendid adventure writing, and it does offer real insight into the (enduring) Arab mentality. But Lawrence admitted to friends that he made up a lot of things in the book (inspired, not least, by American journalist and entrepreneur Lowell Thomas’s romanticized reports and largely fictional stage show about Lawrence’s achievements — Lawrence fell for his own embellished image). The real problem with the book is that Lawrence never revealed which events he invented and which were true. Guess for yourself.
A History of the Arab Peoples, by Albert Hourani. Another one-volume masterpiece. Along with much, much else, this comprehensive history views the Ottoman centuries and their aftermath from the Arab side.
Armenia, The Survival of a Nation, by Christopher J. Walker. I regard this book as a classic. Its carefully documented account of the Young Turks’ genocide against the empire’s Armenian subjects is as heart-wrenching (and stomach-turning) an account as you’re likely to read. Hitler learned from the Turks about the “civilized world’s” unwillingness to intervene to stop extermination campaigns (has anything changed?). In the end, all the grandeur of the Ottoman world came down to this horrendous torture, rape and slaughter of as many as a million-and-a-half innocents. This is an important work to read to balance the books that concentrate on the Ottoman-Turkish side.
The Other Balkan Wars, A 1913 Carnegie Endowment Inquiry in Retrospect (with a New Introduction and Reflections on the Present Conflict by George F. Kennan). Issued during the long, brutal collapse of the former Yugoslavia (another post-Ottoman mess), this study documents the horrific atrocities perpetrated by the Turks (and sometimes by their opponents) in the series of Balkan wars that immediately preceded World War I. This isn’t a fun, easy read, but it makes it clear that there were plenty of rehearsals-for-genocide committed against Slavs before the Young Turks turned their grim attentions to the Armenians.