Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Palmer

Here is Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no. 1 performed by the incomparable Itzhak Perlman.

After Josh and I read Orlando Fige's history of the Crimean War, it whetted our appetites to know more about the history of the Turks.  As much as we enjoyed reading Palmer's history of the Ottoman's decline, we now are looking for a book that will tell us about their rise to power.  One book seems to lead to another.  I wonder which book we will want to read after we read about the Ottoman's rise?

The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman EmpireThe Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Warwick Palmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In lieu of today's world events I think it pertinent that we read about the history of one of the most significant Empires to affect the Western world. For some reason it is little known and most of us in the west are guilty of a profound ignorance as to the culture and influence of the Ottoman Empire, and consequently, the religion of Islam and its aggressive spread through out the world.

The Ottoman Empire was created by Turkish tribes in Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor and what today is known as the country, Turkey. During the 15th and 16th centuries they became one of the most powerful states in the world, the empire stretching as far as the gates of Vienna, across eastern Europe, and most of what we know today as the middle east: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and northern Africa, including Egypt.

Alan Palmer's fine history starts in the seventeenth century, when the Ottomans have become weak and corrupt. Their demise seemed imminent; however, they tottered on for the next couple of centuries, even surviving several European powers and kingdoms.

One problem that contributed to their demise was the way the Sultans assumed control. The sultanate stayed in the family but the usual practice of the ruling Sultan to assassinate his siblings was deemed "inhumane" (really?) and so instead he would imprison them in quarters inside his palace where they stayed until it was their turn to rule, if at all. This limited life was hardly training for leadership and it showed in the increasingly incompetent way the succeeding Sultan's ruled.

Palmer gives us a nice soap opera ride as we learn of the various sultans, some mentally ill, some paranoid, most of them inept as they try to deal with the ever encroaching European powers hungry for a warm water port. Not to mention oil rich lands.

We see the small yet crucial role the Turks played in the initiation of the Crimean war, their diplomatic relations with Russian Tsars, English ambassadors and French and Austrian Kings and Emperors.

What led to their demise was the Sultan's increasing dependency on European money. Instead of properly governing their citizens and providing for their welfare, they considered the leadership in the form of an all expense-paid vacation. Their luxuriant lifestyles and extravagant palaces made their states bankrupt and they turned more and more to Europe to borrow money. Even this had its limit and a time came when no country would lend to them.

Underneath all of this were divisive groups within the Empire. The Young Turks had become disenchanted with the way the Sultans led and they led a revolutionary regime against the absolutist reign of the Ottoman Sultanate.

Finally, during WWI, the Ottomans picked the wrong team. They sided with Germany and when Germany lost, they lost. England, France, and Italian forces came in to divide up the lands occupied by the Ottomans, creating the world map of the area we know today.

Armenia and Kurdistan lost their land and those unfortunate people have been homeless and persecuted ever since.
This book is instrumental in increasing one's understanding of today's world events in the middle east by enabling us to know its past.

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  1. Great review Sharon. I think that I would love this book. I know a little about The Ottoman Empire, but just a little. I agree about one book leading to another. After reading this I also would want to read something on the earlier period. In fact, almost everything that I know about the empire is about the later days when they were in decline, I know almost nothing about the early days.

    1. Hi Brian! I find how our world and its civilizations developed very interesting. I hope to read more books like this in the future. Happy Easter!

  2. IP is a fine jolly fiddle player... he looks like he's having a lot of fun. i put the earphones on Albert(our dog) and he smiled! anyway, an informative review on a subject that i ought to know more about... tx...

    1. Hi Mudpuddle. Animals are sensitive to music. My cats and dogs (when I had them) would always gather around the piano, stretch out, and go to sleep while I practiced.

  3. Hmm. All empires collapse but people endure. So when will the American empire implode? Who will endure? What will be next?

    1. HI R.T. Good question. We should take nothing for granted. Happy Easter!

    2. Sharon, may your Easter and everyday be filled to overflowing with blessings and joy.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.