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Lords of the Horizons:
Jason Goodwin, a young English journalist, writes history as if it were today's breaking news, and with Lords of the Horizon, he delivers an anecdote-filled and breezy account of the long, troubled career of the Ottoman Empire. That empire endured for nearly 600 years and embraced not only a large territory--stretching, at one point, from the border of Iran to the gates of Vienna--but also hundreds of ethnic groups and three dozen nations. United under the banner of a tolerant form of Islam, the Ottoman Turks forged a culture that, Goodwin writes, "was such a prodigy of pep, such a miracle of human ingenuity, that contemporaries felt it was helped into being by powers not quite human--diabolical or divine, depending on their point of view."
Drawing on memoirs by European visitors as well as standard histories of the era, Goodwin traces the Ottoman Empire from its origins in the 14th-century collapse of the Byzantine state to its centuries-long decline and final collapse at the end of World War I. Along the way, he writes of the Ottomans' addiction to wealth (and to hiding their gold in fabulous hoards), the pleasure they took in holding picnics in their lush cemeteries, and the prowess of their elite military both in battle and in organized crime. ("The janissaries were magnificent extortionists," Goodwin notes. "People paid them not to burn their homes and business, then they paid them to come and put the fires out.") Full of vivid detail, Goodwin's narrative makes for an enjoyable introduction to this historically influential, but little understood, culture. --Gregory McNamee [via]